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San Juan Eolus 14ers

Early morning view of Twin Lakes icy waters.
Early morning view of Twin Lakes icy waters.
Jilly Salva

A mountain is just a mountain without the color, candor and camaraderie of new climbing partners. The experience might not be what you expect. That’s the life lesson of adventure, the unexpected. My ascent of North Eolus 14,039 feet and Mt. Eolus 14,083 feet proved this true.

Route view, down valley, from Mt. Eolus
Jilly Salva

Wandering in the dark
Our first alpine start was a rough one to say the least. Not so much because of the early hour we left camp, but more due to one member of the team revealing an alcohol and drug problem. That climber self-medicated the previous evening with alcohol followed by a sleeping pill. The result was an overnight filled with thunderous snores from his tent, which shook the entire campsite.

Without sleep for two of us, our team of three schlepped up the basin in the dark. We missed the turnoff to Twin Lakes and walked ten minutes in the wrong direction before correcting our error.

Note: In daylight there is a clearly marked left turn to Twin Lakes. In the dark, it’s very easy to walk past the carved signpost.

Steep goat territory
In the soft early dawn we high-stepped up, up and more up, traveling across bundles of steep high stone stairs intermixed with tight switchback paths eventually reaching Twin Lakes.

The crystal water reflects a surreal landscape of jumbled rock and clusters of white wispy haired mountain goats. The range of complications involving the self-medicated team member were not reflected in the water although these were very real.

North Eolus 14,039 feet
From Twin Lakes the trail is easy to identify rolling across tundra up to the base of a large seeping ramp. Ascending upward without a word, I enjoyed the challenge of exertion at altitude and began to experience that familiar feeling of floating across giant prehistoric rocks. But this momentarily bliss was interrupted by a constant stream of questions about the route by the one climber who didn’t have a map and apparently never reviewed the route description.

At last, standing on the summit of North Eolus at 14,039 feet I turned my back to the team and pretended I was with good friends looking out at the jagged alpine peaks extending as far as my eyes could see.

Mt. Eolus 14,083 feet, Northeast Ridge
From the summit of North Eolus the famous Catwalk section connects you with Mt. Eolus. It looks intimidating and much narrower than it actually is. Allow at least 45 minutes to reach the Mt. Eolus summit. Cairns identify the class three route.

If you’re rushed or summit-crazed, it’s easy to get sucked into forth and fifth class terrain. Our troubled climber grew increasingly impatient with the circuitous route and began to choose sketchy shortcuts of loose leaning rock. The result was one accidental trundling event, which could have easily killed any climbers below. After this incident, we were able to complete a safe and uneventful descent back to basecamp.

Stats from a Chicago Basin basecamp
Roundtrip mileage for both peaks: 5.5 miles
Elevation gain: 3,063 feet

Lessons learned
Mountaineering is an inherently risky activity. Mountaineering with untested partners boosts the risks. Be prepared for the unexpected. Bring your A-game, always.

Dear readers, the Boulder flood put a large crimp in my life. However, I’m happy to report that I’m back online and look forward to writing more columns.

Additional resources:

Colorado’s Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs, Third Edition by Gerry Roach

National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map #140

USGS Quad Maps: Mountain View Crest, Columbine Pass, Snowdon Peak, Storm King Peak

Have fun and be safe out there!

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