Windom Peak: Colorado fourteener of the week No. 53

By JOsh Friesema Special to The Gazette - Published: December 19, 2013 | 6:50 pm 0

Windom Peak is one of three fourteeners that are hiked from Chicago Basin. It is the easiest of the three at a class 2, but it is the most hard-earned class 2 fourteener in Colorado.

The class 2 climbing stays barely within that ranking if you remain on the correct route. Additionally, the round-trip distance is 17 miles if you ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train to reach the Needleton Trailhead. Bypassing the train adds 16 miles to the hike. If you can handle the extra mileage and have the time, I recommend skipping the train.

The approach to a mountain generally is viewed as something to endure before the final stretch to the summit. Try instead to look at it as an important part of the whole experience. There is no better place in Colorado to experience the approach than the Weminuche Wilderness. It's the largest wilderness area in the state, encompassing more than 488,000 acres of rugged terrain. Windom is at the heart of the wilderness.

Selecting the approach can be difficult as they all present their own beauty. The Vallecito approach follows the roaring Vallecito Creek and eventually leads to the abundant waterfalls of Johnson Creek and up over Columbine Pass. The Endlich Mesa approach stays above treeline most of the way to Chicago Basin except for one large drop to cross Florida River. The route also crosses Trimble Pass and Columbine Pass. While overwhelmingly scenic, this route has little cover when thunderstorms roll through. If Endlich Mesa is your approach, watch the forecast closely and have an alternative plan if the weather is questionable.

The Lime Mesa approach is the shortest of the nontrain routes but also the most rugged. The approach reaches a high point of nearly 12,600 feet before dropping 2,500 feet on faint to nonexistent trail to join the standard route on Needle Creek, which then requires more climbing to make it to Chicago Basin. Finally, there is the Beartown approach. This is the only approach from the north and requires quite a bit of driving on four-wheel-drive roads. This trail crosses over the 12,500-foot Hunchback Pass and then follows Vallecito Creek down from its headwaters, connecting with the Vallecito approach at Johnson Creek. This approach offers views of the rugged northern faces of some of the famous peaks of the Weminuche Wilderness such as Mount Silex and Storm King Peak.

No matter the approach used, all roads lead through Chicago Basin. Camping is only allowed below treeline, so it can get pretty crowded. Windom looks daunting from Chicago Basin, but after breaking treeline and climbing to a group of alpine tarns, the gentler north side becomes visible. The route remains easy to follow as long as hikers pay attention. The rocks near the summit are very cubic, giving the appearance of a peak made from giant Legos. Be careful because the rock on the highest point is wobbly.

Study your map and peer out to where your journey began. This aerial view will help you realize how far you traveled and how much you accomplished to reach this goal. It also will remind you of how much you have left to experience on your way out.

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Friesema is a Colorado native who has scaled each of the state's 14,000-foot peaks. Read about his high-country adventures at hikingintherockies.com.

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