Prior to setting out on this climb of Eolus, I researched trip reports, but didn't find anything that was done in the spring s
Prior to setting out on this climb of Eolus, I researched trip reports, but didn't find anything that was done in the spring snow season, and so decided to post this. I hope it is useful to someone.
5/15 - We drove up from Phoenix, AZ and arrived at Mesa Verde National Park mid-afternoon where we enjoyed trails down to some of the cliff dwellings. It was a nice time to visit the park - small crowds, and it is well worth the visit if you have the timeWe had originally planned to stay at the campground, but decided to splurge for the lodge instead. We were partially motivated by the idea of not having to break camp so early when we would be rushed to get the rest of the way to Durango to catch the train in the morning, by the idea of having one less day without a shower - ahhh the pleasures of indoor plumbing and hot water, and partially by the idea of getting at least one more good night's sleep on a real bed after a long drive.< - We stopped at a grocery store across the highway from the train station in Durango for some last minute supplies and asked for, and were given permission to leave our car in the grocery store parking lot for a few days. That way we saved the $7 per day charge to park in the lot at the train station. We had a very nice train ride. It was the early season and we had our train car near the front of the train almost to ourselves, though the rest of the train was a little more crowded. Apparently the cars towards the back of the train are more popular. >We arrived at Needleton via the Durango Silverton Train at about 11:00 a.m. When we got off the train, a lone wilderness skier was getting on. We crossed the footbridge across the Animas and headed up the trail beyond some private property to the National Forest boundary.At the trail register we saw that one group had come in a couple weeks earlier, but turned back after they encountered snow on the trail a couple miles up. In March there was one skier registered. Other than that, we were the first group since last fall to register at the trailhead. A few miles up the trail - about halfway to Chicago Basin - we started to encounter snow - spotty at first, and then pretty continuous. The only human track we observed along the trail was the one pair of skis. Unfortunately by the time we arrived at snow level it was mid-afternoon and the snow was soft in places and we experienced some post-holing.< So we took turns breaking ground.< Once the snow became continuous, I found myself wishing I had brought my skis, but realistically, I know that I am not up to carrying them so far in my current poor state of physical condition to get to skiable terrain. In a meadow at about 10,600 feet we found an area that was both clear of snow and relatively flat. We checked Chicago Basin about a mile farther up, but everything was pretty well covered with snow. We opted for the clear meadow a little lower for our campsite.
5/17 – My two sons and I left camp at about 6:00 a.m. and hiked up and through Chicago Basin climbing the headwall on its west side. We continued North up the snow filled basin below the East face of Eolus for what seemed like a never ending slog.< But at the top of the basin, the East Couloir opened up to our left and this aesthetic line rekindled some excitement for the climb and along with that came a renewed feeling of energy. We donned crampons and headed up. The climbing in the couloir was fun and enjoyable. The snow conditions varied a lot within the couloir from soft snow to ice and kept it interesting. But it was all quite stable. There was a very small cornice at the top of the couloir that we had no trouble pushing our way through. From the notch at the top of the couloir, the most obvious exit was to scramble straight up the rock blocks on the north side of the notch up to the ridge.< For the most part the rock was solid - just a few loose blocks to watch out for here and there.< We followed the South Ridge (heading North), or dropped a few feet down on the West side where appropriate, on mixed snow, ice, and rock.< It was an enjoyable scramble to the summit where we posed for a couple summit photos and enjoyed the spectacular view. I was surprised that our radio, with its one-mile range, was able to get through to my wife who had remained back at camp. The signal was amazingly clear. It sounded like she was right there with us and we were able to report our progress and check on her status. Her only complaint was that the marmots had been making such a racket all morning that they must have attracted in a pack of wolves she heard (but did not see) howling at close range.< She blew her emergency whistle and did not hear from the wolves again. We had considered continuing down the east face and north ridge and over to North Eolus.< But the combination of snow, ice, rock, and loose dirt on intermittent slopes between cliff bands did not look appealing.< Since we had not come up that way, we judged the route finding would be tedious and slow at best, and perhaps hazardous as well. So we opted to go back the way we had come.< Our choice rewarded us with a fast and fun glissade back down the snow couloir to the basin below.< After the long slog and hike that followed, my wife had some hot chocolate and dinner ready for us when we arrived in camp.<
5/18 - We spent our second night in the meadow below Chicago Basin.< This morning we broke camp at a leisurely pace and then made our way back down the trail along Needle Creek.< We set up camp a mile or so from the Needleton whistle stop.<
5/19 - Again we were able to take our time getting breakfast and breaking camp.< We arrived at the train stop early and got to watch the first train, which is not scheduled to stop at Needleton, blow on by.<>(The two train per day schedule started Monday.)< About an hour later, our train approached and we signaled for it to stop for us.< We loaded our packs into the boxcar and took the train on in to Silverton where we enjoyed a very nice lunch and played tourist for a couple hours. Then we took the same train back to Durango where we found our car undisturbed and waiting for us in the grocery store parking lot where we had left it three days earlier, and we faced our long drive home.