At 13,830 feet, Jupiter Mountain is Colorado's 92nd highest peak. Jupiter sits at the head of Needle Creek and shares the remote Chicago Basin with four fourteeners--South Mount Eolus, North Mount Eolus, Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak--so it is an often overlooked mountain by those who venture into Chicago Basin.
Jupiter Mountain's standard ascent route, the Southwest Slopes, is a class 2+ climb up steep and grassy slopes. The route is easily seen during the approach into Chicago Basin along Needle Creek. In fact, the first major peak hikers see when hiking into Chicago Basin along Needle Creek is Jupiter Mountain.
Jupiter Mountain also boasts some fun snow climbing on the mountain's north side. As these routes are snow climbs, they are best done in winter or spring when there's good snowpack. Once the snow melts, they likely become 4th class scree slogs. Gerry Roach has named four couloirs on the peak's north face after the major moons of the planet Jupiter--Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Cleverly, he named the couloirs in order based on their proximity to the planet Jupiter relative to the couloirs' proximity to Chicago Basin. When you ascend towards Jupiter's north face from Chicago Basin you first come to the Callisto couloir followed by Ganymede, Europa and Io. Of these couloirs, Io is the most interesting as it is steeper, narrower and more direct to the summit than the others. (Please refer to my Trip Report for photos and route beta of the Io Couloir.)
The most common way to access Jupiter Mountain is via a hike up the Needle Creek drainage. However, just getting to the Needle Creek trail is difficult due to its remoteness. Most people take the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train from Durango to the Needleton stop. Average on-train time is 2.5 hours one-way from Durango to the Needleton stop. From the Needleton train stop to a high camp in Chicago Basin is approximately 6 miles and 2,800 vertical feet of ascent. The train approach is a unique and enjoyable experience that I recommend. Be sure to bring ~$20 spending cash for margaritas and nachos from the train's concession cart for your return ride back into Durango. In spring 2007, round-trip tickets on the train were $65.00/person. In 2010 round trip tickets were $81.00/person. For 2013, tickets are $85.00/person. Ouch. Reservations on the D&SNGRR can be made online.
2013 D&SNGRR Summer/Fall Schedule
May 4 - Oct 26
May 14 – Oct 12
Jun 3 – Aug 8
Aug 8 - Oct 31
No sched yet
The cheaper but much longer alternative for reaching Chicago Basin is hiking from the Purgatory trailhead and campground on highway U.S. 550 about 25 miles north of the town of Durango across the street from the Durango Mountain Ski Resort. Hiking from the Purgatory TH equates to about 14 miles of approach hiking and 4,500 vertical feet of gain to a high camp in Chicago Basin.
When To Climb
Jupiter Mountain can be climbed year-round but most people climb it during the spring snow season through early fall. The train runs to Needleton from early May through the end of October. After that, the train only runs to Cascade Creek due to snow closure of the tracks. Climbing Jupiter Mountain in winter is an awesome accomplishment due to the distance and committment required.
Camping is allowed in Chicago Basin and all along Needle Creek during the approach. Camp a sufficient distance from the creek for good karma. Numerous camp sites are found in Chicago Basin around 11,000 feet and on top of the small headwall at 11,600 feet. Camping above 11,600 feet is prohibited due to the fragile alpine environment. There is a sign around 11,600 feet that marks the "no camping" boundary.
Finding current conditions for Chicago Basin is best done through a query in some online forums. Recommend forums, beside the Rockies sections of the SummitPost message board are 14erWorld.com and 14ers.com.
Jupiter Mountain is in the Weminuche Wilderness. There are no permits or fees required as we American's take care of the fees with our federal taxes! It's your wilderness, enjoy it!
Parking at the Purgatory TH is free but limited space. There's a hotel (formerly a Best Western) across highway 550 from the trailhead that could potentially be used for parking but inquire with the hotel management first.
The animals of Chicago Basin have become very accustomed to hiking visitors. The mountain goats, marmots and even the rabbits are very brave and will often invade your camp during the night. I'd suggest to be a good citizen and hang everything you can to help keep the wildlife from becoming less "wild". I try to be especially diligent about not dropping food in camp.
The goats love to eat vegetation that has been peed on by humans. So when you pee in Chicago Basin, please pee on the rocks, not the vegetation, to keep the goats from unnecessarily eating the vegetation.
It's also been suggested that Coyote urine can be an effective repellent for small critters. I've never tried this stuff out but it may be worth the investment of a few bucks if it means a good night's rest at your camp.