North & South Mts. Eolus
August 18, 2010 - North Ridge & East Face
I'd been up South Eolus about seven years before this climb but did not tag North Eolus as I was bugging out to catch the train on the same afternoon. Now, I would tag North Eolus and conclude the climbing of the 14'ers if one defines "finishing" as including all of the "soft" summits as well as the traditional hard points. For G this would be #52 and one of the early 40's for Lady G. The Nipper and A would pick up #7 and #2 respectively and everyone would have a good time on these two close but very different summits.
We knew from the ongoing weather pattern that the monsoon was still on so we set the alarms for 4 a.m. and figured to be away from the camp by 5 or so. G and spouse were going to try to get about one half hour lead on us, figuring we would catch up by Twin Lakes. Nipper and A knew where they were going as they had gone up Sunlight the day before and I had heard that the route to Twin Lakes had been improved, hence no route finding issues were expected. We were indeed up at 4 and soon after the three of us were moving out, the second section of the day's climbing effort.
I found that the route had been improved, starting with a signed cut off from the trail that would otherwise lead one to Columbine Pass. The route from there was easily followed in the dark, especially sections across the talus flows that had been transformed into formal switch backed trail sections. The rest of the course to Twin Lakes was little more than a well worn slog in the dark, crossing slick rock sections here and there and then just working its way up the drainage from the Lakes. We topped out on the approach and met up with G at the edge of the Lakes. There was just enough light to dispense with the headlamps, which went into the packs, as we discussed the route up Eolus. I noted a trail trace and from memory recalled that the path was an obvious course up the wide U shaped valley that was terminated by the flank of South Eolus.
We crossed the creek below the lakes and intercepted the path, a course well worn and leaving no doubt as to being the regular route. My group of three took the lead and we slowly but without intent, put distance between us and G as both groups leisurely worked their way up the valley. The route up the valley is curious as it appears to be terminated by cliffs however as one gains elevation, the existence of a ramp becomes obvious, leading to the climber's right. I knew from years before that would be the course to the saddle between the two Eolus peaks. As we neared the top of the valley, we came across a group of goats, working their way down and grazing en route. I always enjoy the goats in Chicago Basin and once again, the two legged's and the four legged passed one another with little fanfare.
The ramp to the saddle was now obvious as we finished a ratty section of braided trail through small talus and scree that leads to the start of the incline. The ramp is composed of a set of linear weaknesses or in the rock that comprises the headwall below the Eolus "catwalk" section and we easily scampered up to the flat area that lies below the saddle between the two peaks. We turned and waited a bit for G and LG to catch up before we climbed a steeper section of solid rock for about 40 feet to arrive on the saddle proper. There are certainly easier routes than the class 4 route I chose but none of us were looking to reduce the terrain to the lowest degree of difficulty.
The helmets went on at the saddle and we began to traverse to the bulk of South Eolus. The catwalk comprises the middle third of the traverse and I found the approach to the narrows to be more challenging. A route with good exposure but nothing that has in the past or on this trip caused me pause beyond taking time to make good ground contact and pay attention. Regardless of my take, this is "don't slip" territory that has done in at least one climber. We next crossed the catwalk proper, which is not on a par with the knife edge of Capitol but it does offer exposure on both sides of the three foot wide passage. From the catwalk proper, the route continues with an exposed drop and climb or two until the shoulder of South Eolus is reached.
The last part of the climb comprised picking and choosing a route to the summit. There are multiple cairned routes to choose from so with a group of two ahead of us, my route selection goal was to climb but do so while remaining anywhere but below the forward group for fear of falling rock. In the mean time, Lady G had decided not to proceed through the down climb immediately before the catwalk and would wait at that point for the group to return from the summit. G was making quick work of the ground separating us and by the time we covered half the vertical to the summit, he had caught up to join us for the rest of the ascent. The terrain reminded me of some of the pre summit ledge climbing on Capitol peak but to a much smaller scale of course. Regardless, soon enough all four of us were on the summit.
We took a sip and snack before moving back down the flank to regain the Catwalk and pickup LG as we traversed back to the North/South Eolus summit. As we came to the narrows of the Catwalk, a group of four passed us, decked out in large packs, ropes and a plethora of climbing gear. I was amazed, all the gear in the world, lots of weight and they were virtually crawling across the narrow section, hands groping for purchase in terrain that a half hour before we had simply walked across. We literally just sat down as this group passed to as to avoid the results of any disaster their methods and experience might bring about. They passed and thus opened the way for us to scramble back to the saddle before taking on North Eolus.
For me, North Eolus would be a new summit, a soft summit, but the last "summit" that any nitpicker could insist upon before granting the tile of "finisher". The route to the top of North Eolus is just a scramble up a short and solid granite ridge to the top. The climb took about ten minutes at most and soon enough Nipper, A and I were on top. G and LG asked of the difficulty and I guessed the route was 2+ at worst and after a moment of discussion, they followed and were soon with us on the top. I am amazed at the difference between the two peaks. For all the loose and blocky nature of the southern peak, clearly there is a change of geology as the north is simply a solid monolith of the most grippy granite one could ask for. These two peaks may connected but they are really a world apart as to terrain.
We took in the incredible views, not only of the Chicago Basin Peaks but of the Grenadiers, the Turrets, and in the distance, the Wilsons and Rio Grande Pyramid. We were contemplating a climb of Windom so everyone was soon on their way back down to the saddle and then onto the trail that would drop us with a minimum of fuss at Twin lakes. I would guess that our descent to the lakes took no more than an hour, slowed only be a bit of conversation here and there with peak baggers, lugging heavy guidebooks uphill in hope of gaining the summit much later than any experienced party would consider. But alas . . . it was summer and these are the San Juans!
We arrived at the Twin Lakes and then dropped steadily down the developed trail that I had not seen much of on the way up as our ascent was in the predawn darkness. I will note that the amount of work put into the talus field crossings is impressive for sure. We dropped back to the trail to Columbine Pass and then hoofed the short distance on back to our camp, where unlike the day before, we had not been invaded by an army of goats. I guess they found another camp to work over that afternoon.
While we had enjoyed a wonderful sunny day, we did not have the pleasure of a similar star lit night. The weather came in after dinner and the rains began again. We retreated to the tents and that was it for the social aspects of the evening. The next morning we awoke to low scud, no more than 500 feet above the level of our camp and we made the decision to call it a trip and go down to catch the train out for an evening in Durango instead of what looked to be more of the monsoon. Our trip out was a nice walk and we met up with many of the folks who had come in on the same train we had a few days before, a good 20 or so looking to catch the train out that afternoon.
We all made the train and a few hours later we were back in Durango for a good meal, after which the skies opened up and Durango was drenched. I was quite content that we'd come out for the night and everyone was satisfied to go tentless in a motel before we headed back to Cheyenne the next day. All in all everyone had a good trip and scored at least two new summits. For me, North Eolus was the last of the 14'er soft summits and perhaps in the minds of some, constituted the end of the 14'er quest. However for me, the end had come many years before at the 54 mark . . . but another 14k+ foot point, hard or soft sure didn't hurt my feelings any.