Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak from Needleton

Durango

A two-peak combo deep in the Weminuche Wilderness featuring one of Colorado's most technical 14ers.

Hiking Extreme

Distance
30 km
Ascent
2.1 km
Descent
2.1 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
2.5 km
High Point
4.3 km
Gradient
28˚
VIEW ON MAP
Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak from Needleton Map

Description

Note: this route warrants a "Difficult" Mountaineering difficulty rating.

Windom and Sunlight peaks are two of four 14ers "located deep in the rugged Needle Mountains of Southwestern Colorado," according to Rmjwinters on SummitPost.org. The other two mountains in this formation are Eolus and North Eolus, but comboing all four of these peaks into one day is quite rare.

While this route is mapped from the trailhead near Needleton, most climbers opt to backpack deep into the Weminuche Wilderness and set up a basecamp in the Chicago Basin below these lofty mountain peaks. From that basecamp, they often summit Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak in one day, and Eolus and North Eolus on a second day. With one day for the approach and one day for the egress, this is a burly four-day backpacking and peak climbing itinerary!

The route as mapped here begins by heading for the summit of Windom Peak. The climb to the top of Windom is quite achievable, only garnering a Class 2 rating. To reach the summit, hike past the lake and through the rocks to the base of a headwall. Follow the cairns to climb the right side of the headwall to access the upper basin. Once in the upper basin, head east and right to locate cairns and sections of trail that will take you to "a saddle on Windom's west ridge," according to 14ers.com. From the saddle, the trail largely disappears, but you simply need to follow the ridgeline through a notch and to the summit of Windom.

From the summit, you can either choose to descend the way you climbed back to the upper basin before angling toward the summit of Sunlight peak, or you can drop down a slightly different route to avoid losing quite so much elevation. Note that the ridge between Windom and Sunlight is generally not utilized as a traversing route.

Despite its inviting name, Sunlight Peak's south face is actually one of the most technical standard routes up a 14er in Colorado. This Class 4 climb features technical climbing, extreme exposure, and considerable rockfall potential, route-finding, and commitment, according to 14ers.com. Yet the technicality and challenge make Sunlight Peak highly attractive to a certain subset of mountaineers.

"Sunlight is famous for it's exposed summit block," writes Rmjwinters. "Some consider the move onto this block as the single hardest move on a 14er by its easiest route." To reach the block, follow cairns up a talus field and into a dirt-filled gully. Near the saddle at the top of the gully, climb through a notch and begin traversing and scrambling a ridge. Follow cairns to locate the easiest route through this rock section. Note that one of the first holes through the rocks to reach the summit is actually even more difficult than carrying on and climbing up and over the final major block.

If you can surmount the final pitch to the summit (thankfully, the rock is quite grippy), you'll have successfully summited one of Colorado's most technical 14ers!

Sources: https://www.summitpost.org/sunlight-peak/150917 https://www.14ers.com/routelist.php?peak=Mt.+Eolus%2C+Windom+Peak%2C+and+Sunlight+Peak

Difficulty

Extreme

Scrambling up mountains and along technical trails with moderate fall exposure. Handholds are necessary to navigate the trail in its entirety, although they are not necessary at all times. Some obstacles can be very large and difficult to navigate, and the grades can often be near-vertical. The challenge of the trail and the steepness of the grade results in very strenuous hiking. Hikes of this difficulty blur the lines between "hiking" and "climbing".

Extreme Exposure

4 out of 4

Some trail sections are extremely exposed where falling will almost certainly result in serious injury or death.

Remoteness

4 out of 4

In the high mountains or remote conditions, all individuals must be completely autonomous in every situation.

Best time to visit

July, August, September

Features

  • Alpine
  • Summit Hike

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