From Camp in Chicago Basin
Saturday July 16, 2011
My watch alarm sounded at 4:45AM and I looked on as my climbing buddy Bob arose with a quick drop-and-roll out the tent after tripping on the entry flap. We donned our headlamps and both chuckled but it was a good thing there wasn’t a nearby rock to land on; Bob was a little dusty but no more worse for wear, thank goodness. Breakfast consisted of the normal instant oatmeal, instant coffee and Gatorade and after pumping some water from Needle Creek and readying our daypacks we were soon on our way out on the trail heading up into Chicago Basin at 6:02AM with partly cloudy skies above.
This morning was cooler as we were getting an earlier start than the day before and the clouds were blocking the sun which made things more comfortable. However, we soon found we weren’t as fresh as the day before and the trek back up to Twin Lakes went a bit slower and we could see a large group of 6 well ahead nearing the top of the basin headwall. We both knew this to most likely be the CMC group from yesterday out earlier with the same agenda as us.
Reaching the top of the headwall and Twin Lakes after a few brief stops to catch our breath brought a resurgence of sorts and finding the exit left for the trail to Eolus was the next task. We soon crossed some rocks at the very end of Twin Lakes where the creek exits and found a well-worn path to lead the way.
Traversing along the sloped terrain on this trail was going very well and we actually found the gradual to near level incline as a way to advance while resting to some degree as we were clearly gaining on the CMC group ahead. Before long the trail takes-on a much different look as the traverse gave way to much steeper elevation with dirt/scree, boulders and gullies where thawing snow waters and rains had scoured a pretty lousy passage. Footing was poor and rather wet in places and things slowed-down considerably although we were making progress and could now see a large snow field up ahead with a large rock rib/shelf above and right of that. Pausing often but briefly for a breather, water and a short snack kept us going as we wanted to clear this unpleasant section as soon as we could.
Mt Eolus Lower Approach
Little did we know that upon leaving this “lousy” section there would be another, only worse. Reaching the snowy section we were now right behind the CMC group and things came to a halt; the snows created a saturated/slushy portion about 30 yards long just before the rock shelf and here the going was all you could do to advance. The snow was too soft to support your body weight and trying to climb up the dirty/scree mixed with snow was the only way and it seemed with every step taken you’d slide back half a step. Finally getting beyond this short section brought us to the rock ledge/shelf and here the wet rock with the mixed slush/dirt-scree on top was down-right hazardous. We crept along right behind the CMC group and up the shelf we all went until after much effort we all topped-out on solid ground.
CMC paused for a break and Bob and I passed and found some cairns leading up around and to the left on more level ground on solid rock. Above we could now see the signature notch with green rock and a large deposit of snow guarding the way. After a few short switchbacks and more elevation gain we reached the base of the snow and saw where another had either gone up or down through the steep snow. This section was short (25 yds) but quite steep and I was soon kick-stepping and clawing with my gloved hands up the snow as Bob waited until I got a ways ahead. The CMC group came up and stopped to check out which way they should go, I had committed myself and my progress was good as I just kept kicking/climbing until I reached the steep pitched, rounded rock above the snow patch where I stopped and waited for Bob.
Bob came right up step-for-step and we rested on the rock looking for our next move. Above was the notch slightly to our left and here we hadn’t much choice but to crawl up and over this last rounded/rocky section and see just where we were at in relationship to the approach to the summit. Bob dislodged a football size rock that fell harmlessly into the soft snow below and stopped well short of tumbling down. The older guy in the CMC group bellowed “rock!!” no less than three times after the rock had stopped and the older gal in the group added, “that’s why WE wear helmets!”…….So be it, to each their own. They went well right as we went up and over and to our surprise we now found ourselves right in position to pursue the next challenge; the infamous “catwalk.” Up ahead was Mt Eolus standing tall right in front of us and over our right should the ridge leading right to North Eolus. We were right where we wanted to be. Nice.
The clouds overhead were building and areas of precipitation could be seen in the distance coming in with mixed clouds and blue skies and a breeze from the southwest.
We paused briefly and viewed the approach leading right to the catwalk and started over some rounded boulders and then on the left side we found a steep, narrow ledge with little room to move and less room for a mistake as I slowly grabbed a hand hold and slipped across this exposed section single-file. Here Bob stopped and said this wasn’t for him and chose to wait as I proceeded across and over to the catwalk which consisted of stone blocks one after the other about 3’ wide and maybe 50’ long total. I was glad there was only a breeze as a strong wind here would be a big problem, I negotiated across without stopping and was quickly across and headed to the left side of the mountain. Here I heard voices behind me and as if from nowhere came Eric & Whitney the young couple we’d seen twice the day before and I felt blessed to now have companions to climb with on this uncertain ascent. We removed our day packs and wrapped our rain jackets around our waists; from here we would go as lightly and quickly as we could manage.
Following the cairns provided a worn path as we initially proceeded slowly as the rock on this mountain now had much the same attributes as the Maroon Bells with its ledges comprised of broken rock mixed with dirt, grass and scree. We tested every hand hold and followed right on the path that others had taken. Eric quickly took the lead, Whitney behind him and I brought up the rear and stayed close behind as the cairns showed the way and the climb was advancing quite quickly with the weather becoming a bit more of a concern with now a cooler breeze from the southwest with thicker clouds building overhead. Eric kick-stepped across one steep, snowy section about 20 yards wide where we picked-up the cairns again and found this trail to be pretty well defined in spite of the somewhat poor condition of the rock. We did not stop and the three of us made the final ledge switchbacks/scramble in about 15 minutes and with one last push were on the empty summit at 9:32. We’d made it!
Mt Eolus Summit
The wind was now a bit stronger and it looked like it could start raining any moment as we congratulated each other and I couldn’t have been happier to have found these two young people right when I had. I would now refer to them as my “guardian angels” as they were sent to me by God right when I needed some guidance most; this had also happened for me one other time on Crestone Peak a couple of years earlier and I know I will never forget the feeling of well-being and having been watched-over. However dramatic this may sound I can only describe it as Divine Intervention. Truly. I asked if they would be going over to North Eolus as well and they didn’t seem to want to chance it with the weather as it was. I told them I would be going to close-out my last 14er and they didn’t know that North Eolus was a named 14er and thus changed their minds. We stayed only a short while as the stronger winds and building clouds spelled impending precipitation, I snapped a few quick photos and took in some food and drink and we soon exited as we had come at 9:45.
Mt Eolus Summit Shot
Sunlight, Sunlight Spire & Windom Peak
North Eolus with Arrow & Vestal Peaks background left
My 57th 14er on this cloudy, breezy morning…….Sweet!
Now back down and over to North Eolus…………More later.
Sorry to hear that Eolus and its catwalk left you both feeling uncertain. Certainly in such situations it is good to have extra company, glad you found it in the form of the 'young couple'. I am sure you both will gain confidence as your experience level increases. Keep on climbing and best of luck.