"Crowded? Chicago Basin?"
Memorial Day Weekend 1995
Paul "LeD" Beiser
Larry "Badger" Chapman
Andy "Agasm" Goris
Bob "BLZ" Latta
Ken "Tullio" Lewis
Ed "Gomer" Ogle
(with Quiche Skiis)
Chicago Basin is one of the most beautiful areas in the state of Colorado.
Ringed with high peaks (including three 14ers - Windom, Sunlight, and
Eolus) it really looks more like the Alps than the Rockies. It is
logistically more difficult to reach than most areas in the state. It
takes either a very long (15+ mile) hike or a ride to Needleton on the
Narrow gauge railroad out of Durango followed by a more sane 6 mile jaunt.
We try and leave for Durango in three cars at noon on Thursday the 25th.
Ken is late since he is the only person in his organization who can both
run and spreadsheet and knows what "POR" stands for.
Our car makes sure to stop at Taco Hell for maximum food pounding. The
front range is, yet again, being drenched. The huge amounts of spring snow
leave us wondering what the conditions will be like. We are hoping for
either deep powder, hero corn, or temps in the 60s so we can get our
In a "normal year" we've been told to expect 3-4 miles of hiking, followed
by 2-3 miles of snow to get into the Basin. A contact at the Narrow Gauge
told us that the snow was "deep" at Needleton just a week before our
planned departure! As we reach the end of our 7 hour drive we begin to
doubt the "deep" data. The snow on Wold Creek Pass is just not that
Check in to the hotel. Check voicemail for the status of our co-travelers,
Latta, and lo and behold Beiser estimates his AT (that's Arrival Time, NOT
AT Sissy Ski gear) to within 60 seconds - Voice Mail strikes again.
We're off to mingle with the college types at a "healthy" restaurant in
town. Carvers, the BEST spot in Durango - good food, atmosphere, and
After dinner we fill a condom with blue cheese dressing and make plans to
secretly stash it in Ogle's backpack the next morning (aren't men great?).
A pair of panty hose make the rounds also.
Our train departs Friday at 8:30am and we all meet around 7:45am to get our
gear loaded onto the train. We all have hiking and skiing gear along with
crampons and ice axes. We plan to stay out three nights. Our packs weigh
anywhere from 50-70 pounds but they feel like 200 lbs (damn we hate getting
old). The weather has slowly cleared with nice partly cloudy skies. We're
We share our train car with a tourist group from France. Larry uses his
Gutter French to keep them entertained. Andy spills a coke. We get to
Needleton (8,200') around 11:00 and the weather still looks good. However,
there is no snow at Needleton so the skis get attached to the packs.
After just about an hour of hiking the weather begins to change. We now
get intermittent snow. Three hours, and three miles from the train the dirt
trail finally turns white enough that we don our skis.
Ed gets his water bottle out, and finds his blue-cheese filled condom. We
get lots of photos of this for his son Scott and wife Anne.
The weather is still on-and-off snow. Three more miles and three more
hours and we finally reach the basin (11,000')! The clouds are just
spitting and we're tired. Nobody else is here. Quite the contrast from
summer time when 50+ people might be occupying the area.
The area is totally SPECTACULAR! There's more ski terrain than you could
cover in a month.
We pick a camp with open/running water nearby and with a great view of some
of the peaks we want to try and climb/ski. Our goals - Windom and Jupiter.
Windom is a 14er that Paul has yet to climb and Jupiter is a "Colorado Top
100" peak that Tullio needs to bag and also looks like a good ski. We
decide to go for Windom Saturday and Jupiter Sunday.
It snows on-and-off all night but without much accumulation. We leave camp
at 8:45am for Windom on Saturday morning. The clouds are in-and-out with
the peaks just touching the cloud bases. As we reach the lakes at 12,500'
in the upper basin Andy (tummy ache) and Ken (sore hip) decide to turn
around. The weather is slowly getting better. None of us feel very good
and we make slow progress. When the sun is out you cook, when the clouds
come in it's cold . . . Ah, the Yin and Yang of climbing - take
something off, it's cold, put something on, it's hot. Endlessly repeat.
Just above the upper lakes the snow turns pretty hard and we get off our
skis and, once again, attach them to our packs.
At 13,700' we finally ditch the skis and summit Windom without them around
1:30pm. The weather is now really nice and we spend 40 mins on the summit
taking pictures and calling home (ain't technology great!).
The ski back to camp goes well. Our ski styles vary greatly - Ogle uses
plastic boots with lockable heels ("Quiche skis"), Beiser, Latta and
Chapman have tele-skis with cable bindings.
Latta & Beiser tele while Larry parallels.
The lower we go the softer the snow gets with the last 500 verts or so being
miserable, bottomless, slush BUT the upper sections are sweet!
Back in camp we discover that Andy and Ken have built a snowperson (you
know us, "PC" to the very end). Before the trip is over that poor effigy
had been turned various genders, smoked a Camel no-filter, and had burning
white gas poured on its head (gawd I love men!).
Sunday morning we head off at 8:30am for Jupiter. The space ship is
waiting at the pad. Oops! Wrong Jupiter . . .
Beiser still thinks he is climbing Pigeon, but we give up on his babbling.
The weather is still marginal and we've heard a weather report from Andy's
handheld 2m radio (more technology) that it's going to get worse. The
climb of Jupiter is much more direct than Windom and we make better time.
Tullio, recovering from his hip, climbs the 600 foot hill behind our tents
with virtually no switchbacks - that boy is a CLIMBING MACHINE TODAY!
However, none of us are very psyched about carrying the skis up Jupiter's
steeper, harder, slopes. Everyone but Ed leaves the skis at around
12,500'. He stashes his about 500 verts higher,
Latta (not being a peak bagger) decides to do some skiing and leaves us to
climb. We summit quickly in snowier and snowier conditions. Tullio leads
the way and is un-stoppable. Because of the weather we don't spend much
time on the summit. Coming off in a whiteout is not an option we want to
pursue. We plunge step and glissade back to our skis and are back in camp
around noon! The skiing through the trees above camp was awesome! Perfect
But we almost did not get to enjoy it, as we mistakenly trusted Captain
Orienteering himself, Ken "I'm Lost" Lewis, as he takes us right next to a
large cliff and debris zone. Then there was his assault on South Sneffels
some years ago . . .
It snows the rest of the day with only a few breaks. We read. We Hike.
We bond. We smoke Camels.
We talk of going back to Carvers so Ken can have some pleasant conversation
with some of the locals, and Ed can ice skate with his Quiche skies.
It snows almost all night. We pack-up in the snow and leave the basin
about 9:30am on Monday to make a 3:00 pm train back to Durango. I hope
they're ready for our 3-day old long underwear!
The wet snow makes for a nice ski out.
And, the weather breaks, AWESOME blue sky with everything coated in snow.
Once we're forced to hike again the slush dropping off the trees gets old
(and makes our packs REALLY HEAVY from all the water) but we're back to the
tracks by 12:30pm. We put stuff out to dry on the bridge (including using
a 'biner to hang one of Ed's Scarpa boots out on a cable over the river
during a movement he wasn't watching.) Men can be soooooooooooooooooo
cruel. The sun is in-and-out but there's no precip.
The train is 40mins late so we don't get back to Durango until 6:00. We
slam down plenty of vitamin-G (grease) at McDonalds and drive all the way
home. Chapman hits his bed at 3:30am.
-- LSC & PSB