Best American Adventures: Bag Fourteeners in the Weminuche Wilderness
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By Robert Earle Howells; Photograph by Dan Cox
The Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains of southwest
Colorado would be almost impossible to access without the fortuitous
presence of a famous (and spectacular) sightseeing train, the Durango
& Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Savvy peak baggers see it as a
sweet symbiosis—they hop aboard with the tourists, take the train as
far as Needleton, then hop off to cross the Animas River footbridge for
a seven-mile (11-kilometer) hike into Chicago Basin. The prize is
access to a feast of peaks called the Needle Mountains. Notable Needles
include three fourteeners: Mount Eolus (14,083 feet/4,292 meters),
Sunlight Peak (14,059 feet/4,285 meters), and Windom Peak (14,082
A classic route is to ascend the west ridge
of Sunlight—nontechnical, but a Class IV blast to climb on clean,
highly aesthetic rock. Then descend via the south slope and head up the
west ridge of Windom for about as much fun as a mountaineer can have in
a single day. Unless it’s to tick off Eolus the same day to score the
highest of bragging rights. Then you can knock off thirteeners in your
spare time. No matter what, a very early start is de rigueur to beat
the afternoon thunderstorms. Going with a guide can save you some
route-finding frustration and get you swiftly to the sweetest rock.
Basin is no secret among climbers—nor among increasingly brazen goats,
who will eat pretty much anything. Hang your stuff while you’re out
peak bagging, even your hard goods. And consider a fall trip, when the
climbers are fewer and the aspen are shimmery gold.
Need to Know: General info is available at www.fs.fed.us/r2/sanjuan. Southwest Adventure Guides (www.mtnguide.net) offers three-day backpacking trips to Chicago Basin starting at $750.
- Nat Geo Expeditions