Colorado, Colorado 14ers, Colorado Hikes, Colorado Summits, Southwestern US

Colorado 14ers #6 and #7: Mount Eolus and North Eolus

It was 4:15pm when Kaylyn and I trudged back into our campsite after summiting Sunlight and Windom Peaks. We’d been gone for 10 hours, during which time we’d hiked just 6.6 miles (10.6 km) but gained – and then lost – 3750 feet (1145 m) of elevation. To say we were exhausted was an understatement. At the time, I was seriously doubting my ability to do it all over again the next day.

When the alarm went off at 5:30am the next morning and I could tell – without getting out of my sleeping bag – that I was sore pretty much everywhere from the shoulders down, my doubt was not assuaged. At all.

Nonetheless, I forced myself out of the tent and into the cool morning air. After a quick breakfast we were off once again, heading up the trail from our campsite in Chicago Basin to Twin Lakes. My muscles slowly loosened as we walked and, much to our surprise, we made it to Twin Lakes 10 minutes faster than we had the previous day.

This time, we turned left at the lakes. An obvious trail leads across a grassy hillside toward Mount Eolus (pronounced ee-oh-lus) and North Eolus. Eventually, the grass turns to talus. The trail through the rocks is well-constructed and solid, making this aspect of the hike tolerable. The elevation gain, however, kicked our butts. While the trail is initially relatively flat, it becomes progressively steeper, gaining about 1000 feet (305 m) of elevation in the last 0.8 miles (1.3 km) up to the saddle between the Eoluses. Or would that be Eoli?

Mount Eolus (center) and North Eolus (right) as seen from the trail up Sunlight Peak
Looking back down the route and into Chicago Basin
Sunlight Peak (left of center) and Windom Peak (right of center) as seen from the Eolus trail. It was neat to look across at them knowing that we’d summited them the previous day.

Anyway.

From the saddle, we had an excellent view of the remainder of our route up Eolus. It looked… intimidating. The route description made it sound intimidating as well. In reality, it was a lot of fun! Mount Eolus was my favorite of the four Chicago basin 14ers, and my favorite of all the 14ers I’ve summited so far.

The route up Mount Eolus

From the saddle, we donned our helmets and then turned left, making our way along the ridge toward Eolus. We scrambled up and over a rocky bump to the beginning of a narrow strip called the catwalk, visible in the photo above. There is a lot of exposure here, but it wasn’t as narrow as it looked and the rock was pretty solid. After the slippery sufferfest of Sunlight and Windom, the solid, grippy rock on these peaks was very welcome.

Navigating the catwalk, with North Eolus in the background

We carefully made our way across the catwalk to the east face of Mount Eolus. From here, the route alternated between flat class 1 trail and vertical class 3 scrambling to reach the summit. Cairns guided the way, though as we approached the summit there were multiple sets of cairns. I followed one set and Kaylyn followed another and we both made it up just fine, so clearly it’s a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure situation. From saddle to summit was 0.3 miles (0.5 km), about 300 feet (91 m) of elevation gain, and took us about 45 minutes.

Looking up at the Eolus summit
Summit views from Mount Eolus (elevation: 14,087 feet/4294 m)
Soaking up the sunshine and the view on the Eolus summit

We hung out on the summit for 25 minutes before retracing our steps down the east face and back across the catwalk to the saddle. From here, it’s a quick scramble to the summit of North Eolus.

Kaylyn enjoying the view as we descended Eolus
Me descending Eolus
The route up North Eolus, as seen from the catwalk

Technically – if you want to be picky – North Eolus is not one of Colorado’s 14ers. Although the summit is 14,042 feet (4280 m) above sea level, the prominence from saddle to summit is less than 300 feet (91 m). Some people in the mountaineering community subscribe to a rule stating that if a high point has less than 300 feet of prominence above a saddle shared with a taller summit, it’s not its own mountain but is instead a sub-peak of the taller summit. According to this rule, then, North Eolus is a sub-peak and not its own mountain.

I personally think that rule is kind of dumb, and it seems the majority of Colorado 14ers hikers share this sentiment. It only took us 15 minutes of very straightforward scrambling to summit North Eolus from the saddle, so why would you climb all the way up there and not summit it? Plus, the view from North Eolus was different enough from Mount Eolus that I think it’s worth the climb.

North Eolus summit (elevation: 14,042 feet/4280 m)
Kaylyn on North Eolus

We ended up spending quite a while on the summit of North Eolus. Which, by the way, we had entirely to ourselves. The remote location and the fact that it was the middle of the week meant that not many people were summiting these mountains.

But the weather forecast called for late afternoon thunderstorms and we had at least 2 hours of hiking to reach tree line, so eventually we began our descent. Initially, our plan was to hang out at Twin Lakes for a while, but by the time we arrived the sky was looking pretty stormy and we heard a couple rumbles of thunder, so we continued down.

Headed back to Twin Lakes.
Final glimpse of Twin Lakes
Looking up toward Twin Lakes one last time

That, as it turned out, was a good decision. While those particular storm clouds passed us by, the next batch did not. Instead, they pelted us with hail. A lot of hail. We were back at our campsite waiting for our dinners to rehydrate when it began, and though we huddled together under our shelter, the hail was bouncing around so much that we both got wet.

The next batch of storm clouds brought lightning and thunder and rain so, though it was only 6:30pm, we retired to the tent for the evening. It rained on and off into the night, and we woke to a soaking wet… everything. Except the inside of the tent, thankfully. Fortunately, we didn’t have to catch the train to Durango until 2:45pm, so we had plenty of time to dry out our gear before packing up and heading back to the trailhead.

I imagine anyone who has backpacked before can relate to this scene. We didn’t have the best sun in our campsite, but at least our stuff mostly dried out.

We arrived back in Durango at 5:30pm, ordered some pizza, and set off in hopes of making it back to Denver that night (though we were prepared to stop and camp if necessary). We took turns driving and spent the last hour loudly singing along to the radio to keep ourselves awake… and we made it. It was 12:15am when Kaylyn dropped me off.

And just like that, our Chicago Basin trip had come to an end. I was sore, covered in scrapes and bruises – most of which I had no idea where they came from – and completely exhausted. This was by far the most challenging backpacking trip of my life. Over four days, we hiked 27.2 miles (43.8 km) with 10,175 feet (3100 m) of elevation gain. It was exhausting. It was exhilarating. The views were unreal. As I stood on each summit, I felt like I was on top of the world.

But I also want to acknowledge that there were moments of frustration and self-doubt. There were moments when we weren’t certain we were going to make it to the next summit. These mountains challenged us in ways I wasn’t expecting. But when one of us was struggling, the other was there with words of support and encouragement. We were in this together, every step of the way.

And together, we did it. We summited all four 14ers. We did exactly what we set out to do. And I’m so freaking proud of us!


The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: Mount Eolus and North Eolus are located above Chicago Basin in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. The easiest way to reach Chicago Basin is via the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which will drop you off at Needleton. From here, you can hike into Chicago Basin.
  • Fees and passes: The cost for round-trip train fare, baggage transportation, and parking for 4 days (split between the two of us) was $142 per person. No fees, passes, or permits are required for the hike itself, however you should sign the trail register at the Needle Creek Trailhead on your way in
  • Hiking: From Needleton via train, as outlined above, it’s approximately 6 miles (9.6 km) and 2850 vertical feet (870 m) to the beginning of Chicago Basin. If you don’t want to take the train, access is via Purgatory Trailhead, which is a 16 mile (25.7 km) one-way hike with nearly 4000 feet (1220 m) of elevation gain. From Chicago Basin to both summits and back is 7-9 miles (11.3-14.5 km) round trip, depending on exactly where in the basin you are camped, with about 3350 feet (1020 m) of elevation gain.
  • A complete and detailed route description can be found here. Before heading off on this hike, download the 14ers.com app and save the text and photos for offline use.
  • Where to stay: Chicago Basin is the basecamp for an Eolus/North Eolus summit attempt. Backpackers must obey all signage; camping is not allowed above Chicago Basin (there is a sign that says ‘no camping above this point’), and campfires are not allowed anywhere along Needle Creek Trail or in Chicago Basin. Leave No Trace guidelines specify that, whenever possible, you should camp in an existing spot to minimize impact.
  • Other: This is a challenging hike. It took us 9 hours to summit both peaks and return to camp, and we are acclimated, in shape, and experienced hikers. We had to route find, navigate talus and scree, and scramble up class 3 terrain. We also had to keep an eye on the clouds and make decisions about whether it was safe for us to continue. This is not a hike for beginners. These mountains should only be attempted by experienced hikers who have proper navigational skills; are comfortable with scrambling, heights, and exposure; and possess the necessary gear (including a helmet) to safely reach the summit.

51 thoughts on “Colorado 14ers #6 and #7: Mount Eolus and North Eolus”

  1. Congrats on those two other summits! Just like the previous ones, the scenery looks stunning, though the route to Mount Eolus and North Eolus look a bit scary! It’s a good thing that you made it before the hail storm, but it must have been pretty intimidating inside a tent as well – but I’m not much of the camping type so maybe it’s just me ahah!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, the hail wasn’t fun. We weren’t even in our tent, we were under a shelter with open sides, so the hail hit the ground and bounced and a lot of it ended up under the shelter with us. Not so much fun.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The fact that you did these hikes back to back is incredible!! I can totally agree with not wanting to move in my sleeping back. Makes all of the sense! Also, those summit views are totally incredible! Looks like a fun day!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, huge congratulations to you, Diana, I am not too sure if I would be brave enough to try the catwalk, it looks very challenging! The views from the summit are nothing short of amazing. Thanks for sharing and happy trails 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Definitely Eoli. 🙂 Well done. I really think I would have rebelled on day two and stayed immobile in my sleeping bag. Did you do much stretching after the first day? That’s what would have killed me – my muscles would have balled up like tight fists and I just wouldn’t move. That catwalk brought back memories of our climb up Mount Snowden in Wales. Now that I’ve done it, though, and looking closer at the picture, I agree with you – it does look doable. It also looks like a fun hike on day two. It kinda creeps me out when there aren’t other hikers though – like if something bad happens no one will find us or help us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We did stretch some after day one, and we also soaked our legs in the creek at our campsite which was freezing cold but ultimately felt really good.

      There were a handful of other hikers we saw each day even though we mostly had the summits to ourselves. If you went on a weekend, you would avoid that concern for sure (we headed out on a Friday and there were so many people hiking in). We also had an SOS GPS device with us, which brought some peace of mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Glad to hear that the trail exceeded your expectations and that you were able to complete it despite all the soreness from the previous day of hiking. The catwalk looks terrifying and thrilling! The views from the summit look stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Congrats! Those look like pretty tough ones. I know there are many worse 14ers, but a catwalk always strikes a bit of fear in me (even though they do tend to look worse in pictures than in real life). I love the photo of Kaylyn on North Eolus; it really captures a nice chunk of the range and gives some great perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow…you did two climbs and then two again the next day? That’s a feat in itself! Absolutely gorgeous vistas from the summits. I bet you had some well deserved rest days after those climbs!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Now that’s a catwalk that I would hesitate to try, haha! All the same, the daunting hike is also very beautiful, and it’s great you scale that monstrosity of a peak. Two down, more to go!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. While there was not a physical Leap of Faith on the Eolus peaks as there was on your previous summit, it appears that it was certainly a mental Leap of Faith to conquer these the day after your previous day’s hikes. You made it. Congratulations.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Nothing like a good hailstorm to make hiking in the mountains real. On my 3 day backpack trip, we got pelted just as we were setting up to rehydrate lunch. Good thing the tents were up. Awesome views from the top Diana. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Isn’t it amazing how early in the morning you feel like you can’t put one foot in front of the other… only to be hiking up a mountain an hour later 😄! Oh – that catwalk looks (very) intimidating! I think … no, I know this is not something I will be able to do! But, once again, I must admit your views are breathtaking beautiful! Happy days that you missed that hail storm – that would have been challenging! A great trip, that’s for sure! And well done – that is one hell of an achievement!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, there were some people still out hiking when it started hailing and we felt bad for them. Fortunately they all made it back to camp safely, but they were certainly wet and miserable. And thank you! We felt pretty accomplished!

      Liked by 1 person

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