This hike isn't for the faint of heart. It's 5 miles, 3,500 ft of gain (STEEP), and has danger at every corner: exposure, scrambling, and loose rock. While Windom Peak
is the easiest Chicago Basin 14er, Sunlight Peak
is regarded as the hardest, and its summit block is the single most committing move on any Colorado 14er standard route. Even the fastest hikers should expect this to take around 4 hrs from the top of the Twin Lakes Approach
. Helmets are a must. Remember, you're probably camping lower in the basin, so include the Twin Lakes Approach
round trip in your planning.
From Twin Lakes Approach
, hike east (right) on fairly flat alpine tundra. In about 0.2 miles come to a headwall at 12,600 ft separating the sub-basins of Sunlight and Windom Peak
. From here the trail is unclear, but the route is generally well-cairned. Hike up the left side of the headwall to come to a sub-basin around 13,000 ft at the bottom of Sunlight and Windom. Sunlight is the peak to your left, while Windom Peak
is to the right.
You should be able to see a saddle between Sunlight Peak
and Sunlight Spire, a 13,999 ft tower with a 5.11 trad crack route. Hike up talus and slick rock to a gully leading up to the saddle at 13,700 ft. Traverse loose rocks and gravel in the gully before turning left at the saddle onto solid class 3 rock. When the route's wet, the geology makes for a slippery scramble, so exercise caution. Come out of the gully and up to a well-cairned notch in the rock. From here, head up and to the right, traversing underneath some small cliff bands to your right. When the cliff bands break, hike a few feet down to the left before coming to a steep rock slab about 10-15 ft high to your right. Scramble up this and come to a rock chimney. Pass through the hole in the rock (sorry, claustrophobics), and turn left. From here it's just a short way to the summit. Talus hop to the infamous summit block at 14,000 ft.
This bit is extremely exposed, and a fall would almost certainly prove fatal. Scramble up slabs to your left, traversing to the right. From here, jump forward to the next rock, and then up and to the left. The best way down from here may be to jump from rock to rock. Again, be careful - this is the most exposed move on any Colorado 14er standard route. Many hikers skip the summit block entirely and simply check Sunlight Peak
off without ever standing on the summit. Do you want to be one of these people?
From here, descend and traverse over to Windom Peak
. Scramble back down the class 3 section of Sunlight, and once about halfway down the talus gully cut across a rock field to hike up the NW face of Windom Peak
. The going here is pretty vague, and the rocks are loose. Make sure to push down on rocks to test them rather than simply pulling at them - this will help prevent rockslides. Pick one of many lower gullies, all of which will be steep and rocky. Switchback while low and hike about 200-300 ft up the gully before coming to a larger drainage, after which the rocks are more solid. Continue up some mostly good class 3 scrambles before coming to Windom Peak
's summit block.
From here, turn right and follow the well-cairned standard route back down to Twin Lakes. Most of the route is on solid, blocky boulders. Scoot down on class 2+ rock before coming to a trail on the west ridge of the mountain. Follow the trail back to the junction with Sunlight Peak
, staying left to head back to the lakes to take Twin Lakes Approach
back to camp.
Up this high, there's not much other than marmots and pika. The wildflowers fade out at the lower portions of the trail.