Peak(s):  "West Eolus"  -  13,740 feet
Peak Fifteen  -  13,700 feet
Peak Sixteen  -  13,500 feet
Date Posted:  09/26/2019
Modified:  09/29/2019
Date Climbed:   09/21/2019
Author:  Boggy B
Additional Members:   Kylie
 "This is just what I want to be doing on my birthday," she thought   

West Eolus South Face Direct, 5.7 (no-nonsense version here)

After I again failed to rally more inclined partners, Kylie agreed to accompany me for some scrappy climbs in the Weminuche. West Eolus, which I had attempted the week before and whose secrets were yet concealed, was foremost on the agenda. We also hoped to climb Peaks Fifteen, Sixteen, and potentially make an effort on Little Finger.

The technical route up Little Finger is documented and would dictate our gear load: A 70m half rope, four medium cams, and a full set of stoppers. We packed food and fuel for three nights and drove to Durango early Friday morning. We stepped off the train at 11:30 and took our sweet time hiking into Chicago Basin, where we planned to spend the first night. After setting up our tent below the West Eolus basin, we set out to beg a spoon from nearby campers. Jerry from Massachusetts graciously lent us his "second-favorite camping spoon" and we chatted him up for some time before heading to bed.

A casual start had us breaking camp at 7:30 am. We hiked up the ridge south/west of the creek draining the basin below West Eolus, which turned out to be a much better route than the steep trail further west I had used the week prior. A well-traveled game trail led up the scenic ridge, hugging the eroded cliffs above the creek. We stayed on the ridge to 12,200', where we followed a game trail contouring north into the basin. We reached the saddle to the east of West Eolus at 10 am and dropped our overnight packs. Our plan was to climb West Eolus, then descend to camp in upper New York Basin.

Contouring into the basin

We set about exploring scrambling options on the east side of West Eolus and made another attempt to access the southeast face ledge system, but as for me the week before, we were unable to locate a reasonable way up. Wasting no time, we continued west across the big ledge to the gully/chimney system I had attempted. Kylie thought it looked doable, so we geared up and set our minds to the task.

Looking up the route

I scrambled up the 25m class 4 or 5.0 first pitch that I had soloed the week before, placing one piece of protection about halfway up, and belayed Kylie from the slot at the top. I then stepped across a narrow ledge/corner into the base of an off-width chimney--my previous highpoint--jettisoned my pack, and battled my way up. The chimney is 10 or 11 inches wide at the front and narrows towards the back, where a smaller crack advertises placements for medium cams, which I strained to reach without getting completely stuck. Eventually I wriggled up to a capstone on the right side and extracted myself from the chimney. I don't know how to grade off-width, but my guess is 5.7. Above this, a stretch of manageable 5.6 terrain deposited me on a gravelly ledge with a nasty garbage chute to my right. Here I found good stopper placements in angling cracks and belayed Kylie up the pitch, which was about 30m.

Starting up P1
Kylie topping out P1
Looking up P2 offwidth

Though I couldn't watch her progress, I could tell by the sounds she made that Kylie was enjoying the off-width. Did I mention today was her birthday? What a sport. She hauled herself onto the belay ledge, grabbed the remaining gear, and launched up the next pitch. After dispatching the initial 4th class, she moved up into a two-foot-wide chimney with a chockstone at the top. She protected the top-out with a #2 camalot, pulled over the chockstone, and scrambled out of view, and a few minutes later I was on belay. Given the relative ease with which Kylie had climbed it, I expected the chimney to climb easier, but seconding the pitch I discovered that the chimney narrows at the top, making the final moves over the chockstone even more awkward, 5.6 or so. I scrambled up to the belay, a large boulder with a horn and a good .5 camalot placement in a crack behind it. This final pitch was around 20m.

Kylie leading P3

Here we left the rope and scrambled up easy 3rd class terrain to the summit ridge, which though itself is quite solid, is host to the junkiest summit block I have ever seen. Large chunks of it disintegrated straight to gravel and ejected into space as I stood atop it. We reveled a while in the success of our little mountaineering adventure and enjoyed the fantastic views from this lofty perch, particularly of New York Basin and the next day's objectives to the north.

Kylie on the summit
View east from summit
View west from summit
Pigeon, Turret, Fifteen, Sixteen, Little Finger

To descend, we scrambled back down to the rope, slung the belay boulder with some cord, and rappelled back to the ledge above the second pitch. Gravelly boulders and chockstones tend to snag, so I was very concerned about stuck rope, but it pulled clean. Not seeing any decent boulders to sling here, we sacrificed a blue #9 stopper in the belay cracks and rappelled down the second pitch. With the 70m rope, Kylie was able to rappel past the exposed corner and into the slot at the top of the first pitch. I stopped at the base of the off-width to pull the rope, then traversed into the slot. We slung a horn a couple of feet down, and Kylie rappelled back to the approach ledge. Having soloed this pitch before in hiking shoes, I cleaned the rappel and downclimbed to the ledge.

Starting the rappels
Route overview from the ledge
Route overview from the basin

Camping and water access in upper New York Basin had appeared tricky, so we nixed our plan to camp there and instead descended south to a flat, grassy area near a tiny spring below the south face of West Eolus at 12,900'. A couple of huge boulders strewn across the flat offered protective barriers to rockfall off the surrounding cliffs.

Camp below West Eolus

At nearly 13,000' the night grew cold, and lacking any white noise, I didn't sleep well. Around 10 pm I heard something scratching around outside; I assumed goats, but when I opened the tent fly and swept the area with my headlamp I was surprised to see a porcupine retreating from the beam. Five minutes later, I heard more noises and again hit the varmint with the beam. It was in the same spot as before, and I realized that whatever it was doing didn't involve us, so I determined to ignore it. A few hours later we both awoke to a very strange sound, a monotonic vocalization that went doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-..., first increasing then decreasing in pitch. I think it must have been some kind of bird, maybe an owl. The sound repeated three times, and then I dozed off.

Peaks Fifteen & Sixteen South Couloir

At 7 am we packed our technical gear, hiked back up to West Eolus, and crossed the south face ledge. Near the end of the ledge, we scrambled up a short 3rd class chute to the saddle west of the peak and began the unpleasant descent into New York Basin. First we traversed steep, loose scree below the north face of West Eolus until we were nearly below the eastern saddle, then we picked our way down through a maze of gargantuan boulders, many the size of large rooms. Escaping the boulder field proved challenging due to the huge gaps around the blocks near the bottom, and it took us almost 1.5 hours to descend 1,000 feet to the basin.

We contoured west at 12,500' on mellower terrain and started up the gully between Peaks Fifteen and Sixteen. Both cruxes were covered in ice, and we bypassed the first one via a brief 4th class scramble out left, past a rappel anchor with rings and new webbing. At the unavoidable second crux, we both tried unsuccessfully to make the few ice-encrusted moves necessary to reach a dry hold about 15 feet up. Eventually, we decided to employ classic mountaineering tactics and executed a courte echelle: I braced against the icy runnel and Kylie, rope in tow, was able to grab the key hold by standing on my shoulders. She belayed me up and we continued to the Fifteen-Sixteen saddle, scrambling left again to bypass the big chockstones near the top.

Scrambling up the gully

From the saddle, we climbed east across a 5.0 face on good rock to reach a small saddle below the Peak Sixteen summit block. We then scrambled up on 3rd or 4th class boulders, trending right into a gully and, at its top, further right to the summit of Peak Sixteen. This short, (relatively) fun scramble allowed us to survey the route up Peak Fifteen to the west. Critically, we noted the bushes to the left of the main ledge and spotted rappel anchors above the 3rd class chimney and leading down to the Fifteen-Sixteen saddle.

Kylie scrambling up Peak Sixteen
On Peak Sixteen
Animas, Thirteen, Monitor

We reversed our route to the saddle, then descended a bit and traversed west on ledges across the southeast face of Peak Fifteen to reach a point directly beneath the aforementioned bushes, which can be seen from the saddle as well. There was no viable anchor at our staging area, but the climbing looked easy enough, so we agreed that Kylie would wait to put me on belay until I had gear in, and I started up, aiming for a right-facing, flaring dihedral below the bushes. The initial 4th class turned to rotten slab, and after 70 feet I was really wanting some form of protection. Any gear placements on this line involve undermining large, dubious flakes, upon which a fall would likely be fatal for the leader and anyone attached to him. Most holds crumbled at a touch and the climbing therefore consisted of balancing up on small, gravel-covered feet. I reached the dihedral around 110 feet up and placed a solid #2 camalot. 40 feet of easier ground led to the bushes, where I belayed off the stouter one and a crack.

Sixteen from the narrow ledges on Fifteen
Starting up the slabs
Cleaning the bush belay
View of Fifteen from Sixteen, with our route

Kylie cruised the pitch and, happy to put the sketchy climbing behind us, we hiked up the ledge and scrambled the class 3 gully, where we stashed our gear at the rappel anchor and hiked to the summit. Birthday festivities continued with some little plastic cakes we found in the register, though we didn't stay long as it was after 1 pm. Returning to the gear, we rappelled the class 3 gully and made three more short rappels from the east end of the main ledge to reach the Peak Fifteen-Sixteen saddle. With our 70m rope we could have skipped one of these but our concern over stuck ropes persisted. Descending the south gully, we rappelled both cruxes, which were now just wet instead of icy.

Kylie on the Peak Fifteen summit ridge
Plastic birthday cheesecake
West Eolus looks about to collapse into New York Basin
Approaching the class 3 gully rappel
Peak Sixteen from rappel ledges
Another rappel down Peak Fifteen
Final rappel to Fifteen-Sixteen saddle
Fun downclimbing in the upper gully
Rappelling the second crux
Kylie's turn

Although the gully would have been straightforward in drier conditions, we still found the climb and descent of Peak Fifteen extremely tedious. My spotty pre-trip research seemed to indicate the route we took--or a similar route--is common, but were I to climb this peak again, I would use the Garratt & Martin route, also described here, which sounds much easier and less dangerous.

It was now too late for an attempt on Little Finger, so we started the climb back up to the West Eolus saddle. This took only one hour--30 minutes faster than we had descended it--and we reached our campsite just after 5 pm. We broke camp and hiked down to Chicago Basin, this time contouring out of the basin on the highest and best game trail at 12,500'. We dropped off Jerry's spoon at his tent but unfortunately missed him. Thanks, Jerry, and hope you sent the peaks!

The boulder field below West Eolus
Hiking down the nice game trail
Eroded creek bed
Post-climb stoke
Dusk at final camp

In the morning we hiked out to Needleton, hopped on the morning train to Silverton, and hitched a ride back to the car in Durango.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
09/27/2019 09:13
I fondly remember that slabby climbing on Pk 15, haha. I slung a boulder only to notice 50 ft above that it disintegrated from the rope pull. Yeah, there is no good pro for about 100 ft until that ledge, but I don't mind slab, so it was kinda fun the gully crux where you found ice, was much harder for me. Only a few peaks left, huh?
P.S. Garatt&Martin route goes over from Turret?

Natalie is correct...
09/27/2019 20:49
Awesome is the proper response. I was looking up at West Eolus last Saturday as we passed under it en route to the Sunlight Spire. I'd bought my train ticket months ago & was definitely stoked to see your attempt of West recently. We also met Jerry in the basin on Thursday (then talked to him again Saturday) - nice guy. Seems everyone's plans in the Wemi were working out nicely in these few days! So close to your bonus list! I can't wait to read the remaining TRs!

Nice report & photos
09/28/2019 06:48
When do you plan to do the Monitor/Thirteen/Animas tour? It looks like that's all you have left to finish the ranked 13ers .


09/28/2019 13:20
... trad climbing on that Needles kitty litter. I'd think a cam would just destroy the rock if you fell on it, not to mention the cheese-gratering you would receive hitting the rock. Nice work.

Dinky Plastic Birthday cake?
09/28/2019 18:44
Reminds me of the birthday cake she brought up for you. Made of gourmet cheesecake fed 6 people on a13er summit with candles and a lighter. what's up with that?
Seriously, Congratulations on some really tough Peaks. Makes my stomach turn thinking about them.
Now back to Kylie and the cake. she needs special treatment. daily foot rubs, fluff her pillow, run her bath water, cook dinner. Stuff like that.
Maybe even make her a cheesecake the size of a16" pizza from all natural ingredients from your Grandmothers secret recipe.
You two are quite the amazing climbing couple. love ya

I like this fepic1 guy
09/29/2019 19:54
Roses are red
violets are blue
make me a real cake
and I'll climb another 13er with you

lol! It was a good birthday baby xoxo
Love ya John! You are too funny and very smart.

Nice job dude
09/29/2019 20:22
Looks like some fun adventuring. Y'all pushing those trad grades.

Boggy B

09/29/2019 20:40
@natalie - I don't have G&M's book, but from the Cooneys description it sounds like their route is also from the Fifteen/Sixteen saddle, but more direct, perhaps not far left of the rappel line? They mentioned chimneying, which I'll take any day over slab..
@tmtys - Yeah, we definitely hit a good weather window. Heard it was rough a couple days before. The "bonus peaks" will probably wait until next year, though.
@eddie - We went back for them this weekend. (Kylie just couldn't get enough of backpacking into Chi Basin.)
@seano - There are a few surprisingly solid rocks in there. Nothing I'd whip on. But "cheese-gratering" falls under the umbrella of "engaging" right?
@john - Yes sir. I'm not worthy!

I got an idea...
10/01/2019 20:45
Congrats on finishing, nicely done. Now you should go ask Furthermore about those towers in Utah.

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