Ski mountaineering out of Chicago Basin Spring 2021
Patrick Berry, Ryan Burke, Chris Jaquet and myself in front of the Durango narrow gauge train station fueled up and ready to take the 2 hour train ride, 6.5 mile hike 3000’ elevation gain and 2 days of ski mountaineering out of Chicago Basin in Southwest Colorado.
After riding the train for two hours we were dropped off in the middle of the San Juan mountains.
Now at 8232’ elevation we hiked 6.5 miles climbing over 3000’ to our camp at 11,356’.
Because of COVID the trail had not been cleared in two winters and there was not enough snow to cover the trees. So we had to navigate over 389 trees on the way up (yes we counted them) with 75lbs packs.
The next morning we woke at 3am to darkness and strapped on our skis with skins and started to skin in the dark using headlamps in red light mode. As the sun lifted in the sky we realized the weather may not be in our favor.
We climbed to just under 14,000 feet to the couloir of Mount Eolus in wind and blowing ice. Chris and Patrick were feeling strong. Ryan is new to ski mountaineering and had little experience to exposure like this.
I was dealing with a pant malfunction. While the others wore hard shells, I was in soft pants that wouldn’t stay up on my backside. They kept sliding down exposing me to the wind cold and ice. My fingers and toes were nipped. I decided to take protection between a snow drift and a the mountain with Ryan while Chris and Patrick climbed the remaining few hundred feet to the top.
Chris and Patrick at the top of Mount Eolus.
And the ski down.
We got back to base camp feeling good. Ate some freeze dried meals and slept hard to wake again the next day and climb Sunlight Peak 14,065’
I should probably mention that we are base camped out of Chicago Basin which is a very popular place to backpack to in the summer. People come from all over the world to ride the Durango-Silverton train and hike up to Chicago Basin which is surrounded by many of the tallest peaks in the USA. We took the first scheduled train of the season. There were few people like us going to ski in the winter like conditions this time of year. Ski mountaineering is a sport only attempted by a handful of people around the world.
The weather was better this day and we had a pretty successful morning. I was wearing my shell pants this time and was feeling warm and strong. Here is a video we’re I transitioned from skinning to boot packing.
Here is a video summing up the ski on the way down.
Chris and I at the summit of Sunlight Peak
Of course I have to share my foot equipment - Atomic boots custom fitted to the shape of my foot by heat molding the plastic shell. A stock liner and of course a Kevin Orthotic fabricated by our talented team.
Here are some more shots of the trip. And of course a Mexican feast when we got back to Durango.
That’s a wrap!