La Plata County Highpoint Trip Report

Mount Eolus (14,083 feet) and Windom Peak (14,082 feet) via Chicago Basin

Dates: August 12-14, 2006
Author: Adam Helman

This effort was part of a larger journey collecting Colorado county highpoints in August and early September 2006.

Tim Worth of Fort Collins was my partner for this backpack into the very heart of the San Juan Range.

Train Schedule

Overall the reliance on a train for transportation is a negative because the schedule is very climber-unfriendly as explained here:

The only train from Durango that actually stops at the Animas River footbridge departs at 9 a.m. sharp and reaches the bridge at 11:30 a.m. Thereby one begins the uphill backpack at a somewhat late hour. Given the standard afternoon storms of July and August this means you will probably get wet before reaching a camp high in Chicago Basin.

Tim and I encountered rain at 2 p.m and were soaking wet by 3 o'clock - the final hour to our 11,100 foot camp in a downpour. My Gore-Tex raingear proved insufficient to the task - an alarming realization. It was the most miserable hour of my entire month-long journey.

The only train returning to Durango stops by the footbridge at 3:45 p.m. If you have completed all climbing the previous day then breaking camp at a liesurely 8 or 9 a.m. means you wait at the trailhead over 3 hours for the train ride.

If you must climb a mountain the same morning, then the day's itinerary is too hectic. Assuming 3 or 3 1/2 hours for the walk out, one must leave camp about 12:30 p.m., suggesting that one must return to camp (from the summit) an hour earlier still - 11:30 a.m. That means a pre-dawn start since there is at least 3,000 feet of elevation gain from the allowed camp locations to either of Eolus or Windom.

Similarly disappointing considerations apply if you start from Silverton rather than Durango. The Animas River footbridge is 32 miles from Durango and only one-half that distance from Silverton. Thus you get more of your train ticket's value starting in Durango - but the 15 m.p.h. average pace is excruciatingly slow by most measures; and, again, results in a very late start time.

It surprised me how much tourists get awed by what I consider "standard" mountain scenery. Then again if you come from Iowa anything nonlevel is commendable and worthy of photographs.

Summit Day

Tim and I arise at 5:15 a.m. and are walking just before six. A trail maintainance crew is already at work - and one of them points the way across a large slab. They are all teenagers, obviously very fit from weeks in the backcountry, and probably get paid very little for their efforts.

A section of steep, Class 3 grass is surmounted where we lose the trail. I am not kidding - handholds were helpful just as one defines Class 3 rock scrambling.

In short order we reach Twin Lakes and head for Mount Eolus as our first objective. We figure that Eolus, being more "technical" than Windom, is the very last place to be in a storm - and hence is climbed first.

The famous Catwalk is Class 2; fun; and is not narrow enough at any spot to be of concern for the acrophobic. The ledges on the east face of Eolus are more interesting. You zigzag along, following cairns as best one can, until the summit. Ascent time is 3 hours from camp.

Back at Twin Lakes by 10:30 a.m., we agree to attempt Windom and, by 11 a.m. get some hail with thunder and lightning. Tim continues without hesitation while I wait until verifying that the thunder is diminishing in volume as the rogue storm cloud departs. I have a problem with Tim's decision.

The final dozen vertical feet is Class 3 as hands are required - and I cannot fathom how to climb Windom Peak and still call it just "Class 2".

We enjoy a relaxed afternoon, in the sun, after return to camp around 2:30 p.m.


The net elevation gain from the Animas River footbridge to either summit is 5,900 feet. The total elevation gain for climbing both county highpoint candidates is calculated based upon Twin Lakes being 1,600 feet below either summit - so making 7,500 feet. In addition I estimate 75 feet of gain on the hike out - an additional 2 x 75 = 150 feet. Thereby the total elevation gain for Eolus and Windom is 7,500 + 150 = 7,650 vertical feet.

Fourteener chasers would add to this value if they climb Sunlight from Chicago Basin. It is possible to climb all three peaks in one day with either a very early start or decent afternoon weather.

Securing La Plata County raised my home glob radius from 575 to 615 statute miles.