Sunlight Peak

Date to Climb: June 27, 2009

Date Climbed: June 27, 2009

Elevation: 14,059

Range: San Juans, Needles

Latitude: 37.62730, Longitude: -107.59579

Route: South Slopes ll, Class 4

Round-Trip Mileage: 5 (from Chicago Basin)

Pre-Approach Comments

After a long drive from the Missouri Group (230 miles) we plan on starting our approach to Chicago Basin as soon as we get there. After hiking to the Chicago Basin area, finding a campsite, if the weather will allow us to climb, we will. We will walk in from Purgatory to keep from being dependent on the train schedule. Oh, and Jake would not be able go with us on the train. Our first scheduled day not to climb a peak. The sixteen mile approach should be enough for the day. Oh, we are sort of worried about Jake and the goats. Hmm.

Post-Approach Comments

Lots of experiences to tell in such a short time...

We spent the night (after climbing Uncomparghe and Wetterhorn) in Montrose. After eating a large meal for dinner we had no energy to pack for the 16 mile hike up into Chicago Basin. Looking back, however, our postponing this duty until the next day was a big mistake.

On June 26th I got up at 4am to write so I could try and keep the sites updated (still not packed). I worked for four hours and finally finished updating the sites around eight. Check out time was at ten, therefore I had to hurry to get cleaned up and packed in just two hours.

We left the motel a little after ten, but then stopped at a bakery for breakfast. It was very (very, very) good. We didn't leave Montrose until 11:30. Route 550 from Montrose to Durango (and beyond) is a windy, twisty road. Finally arriving at the Purgatory Ski Resort at 1:30 we began looking for the trailhead.

Roach (Colorado 14ers guide) said the the trailhead was on Hwy 550 across from the ski resort, next to a campground. Heading south on 550, we found no signs for the Purgatory Creek Trailhead. But going north there was a sign to Purgatory Flats. We drove back and forth twice before we decided that the Flats was what we we must be looking for, but neither of us knew what a ’Flats’ was. Heading back north we turned right at the first road and found it led us up a driveway (we turned around in the backyard.) The second road lead to a construction area (we turned around at a gate). A third road led to newly built resort condominiums, but a sign pointed us to the left at a Y. Finally, we had found the trailhead.

As quickly as possible, we made the finishing touches to our pack and were ready to begin hiking. It was two.

Animas River

Crossing the Animas River

The trail was supposed to drop about a thousand feet to the Animas River, four miles away. After dropping an initial seven hundred feet the trail then climbed and continued to climb. We voiced our disapproval to the trail gods as we climbed the hills just to drop back down and climb again.

At the Animas River we headed north for about seven miles to Needle Creek. The trail was mostly flat, but had minor hundred foot bumps just so we would not forget what it was like to hike uphill. The main problem with this section was the flooding. It had rained so much that the trial was a stream or mud bath. I changed into my sandals and walked the rest of the trip in my Keen sandals. Amy suffered with wet feet for the entire trip.

When we arrived at Needle Creek we saw that we had a chance to arrive at the camping area for Chicago Basin before dark. We put our heads down and continued to walk up the moderately steep trail.

It became clear that major trail work was being done to the trail during the previous days. To help support the crews, pack horses brought supplies up the trail. Though the horses were helping with trail work, they were also doing their share of damage. Their hooves on the muddy base made the trails even messier. Then there was the poop which lined the trail. We even deemed a forty foot section of the trail that was particularly littered with the mess, horse poop hill.

At 8:45 in the evening, just as we began losing daylight, I saw a tarp and tent matching the description of the items Nick said he would be using. We called out and he jumped out of his tent to greet us. We were happy to be there.

Pre-Climb Comments

Jake will not climb any of these peaks. We are hoping to take him as high as he is comfortable and then leaving him tethered, while we run to the summit and then return to him. He won’t like it, but he will be okay. We will leave a pack with him and a tag explaining that we will be returning in a few minutes. My wife and I will climb the summit block on Sunlight together. We have never climbed Sunlight but are looking forward to the experience. We probably will carry a short piece of rope to safe guard the final moves. After Sunlight we are planning on traversing to Windom.

Post-Climb Comments

Beat tired we did not leave camp for Sunlight and Windom until 6. We just could not move any quicker. Our pace was slow as we forced ourselves to keep moving.

Jake joined us.


Sunlight Peak

The upper areas of the basin still retained a thick snow pack. At that time of the morning the snow was bullet proof. We donned crampons after everyone almost fell on the would-be skating rink. The icy texture made us leave Jake’s boots in the pack. He needed his claws to keep from sliding out of control. At about 13,500 feet we finally decided Jake had done all he could do. We found a narrow rock shelf below the upper snowfield, and Amy agreed to stay with Jake while Nick and I went to the summit.

Nick and I fought through the steep, softening snow. Finally we gained the rocky crest and wound our way to the top. We did not find the correct route, instead followed cairns to a couple of difficult moves that unlocked the summit.

Down climbing

Nick on the Rocks

I took a quick video and tried to find the correct path down for Amy to climb and for myself to down climb. After a couple of tries and a bit of help from other climbers I found the correct path. Nick was going to stay on the top and I descended through the slushy snow.

After I arrived, Amy left almost immediately for the summit. The going was slow in the soft snow. I sat on the ledge below watching and worrying.

While sitting on the ledge Amy had tended to Jake's paws. I, in turn, put boots on his sore front paws.

Finally, Amy and Nick returned after reaching the summit. It was after one o'clock and the clouds were threatening. We discussed our options and decided to return to camp and not do Windom until the next day. Amy and I needed lots of rest and lots of food.

20 peaks climbed, 34 to go.

Sunlight Peak - June 27, 2009 summit check