Best American Adventures: Bag Fourteeners in the Weminuche Wilderness


We've just updated our popular America's
Best Adventures
feature with 50 new trips, bringing our grand total to 100 iconic escapes (see the map, state-by-state list, and photo gallery, too). So no matter what your pleasure—hiking,
heli-skiing, surfing, climbing, biking, or paddling—we've got the perfect adventure
for you. Check in each day for a new, out-the-backdoor adventure highlighted here on our blog.

By Robert Earle Howells; Photograph by Dan Cox

The Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains of southwest
Colorado would be almost impossible to access without the fortuitous
presence of a famous (and spectacular) sightseeing train, the Durango
& Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Savvy peak baggers see it as a
sweet symbiosis—they hop aboard with the tourists, take the train as
far as Needleton, then hop off to cross the Animas River footbridge for
a seven-mile (11-kilometer) hike into Chicago Basin. The prize is
access to a feast of peaks called the Needle Mountains. Notable Needles
include three fourteeners: Mount Eolus (14,083 feet/4,292 meters),
Sunlight Peak (14,059 feet/4,285 meters), and Windom Peak (14,082
feet/4,292 meters).

A classic route is to ascend the west ridge
of Sunlight—nontechnical, but a Class IV blast to climb on clean,
highly aesthetic rock. Then descend via the south slope and head up the
west ridge of Windom for about as much fun as a mountaineer can have in
a single day. Unless it’s to tick off Eolus the same day to score the
highest of bragging rights. Then you can knock off thirteeners in your
spare time. No matter what, a very early start is de rigueur to beat
the afternoon thunderstorms. Going with a guide can save you some
route-finding frustration and get you swiftly to the sweetest rock.

Basin is no secret among climbers—nor among increasingly brazen goats,
who will eat pretty much anything. Hang your stuff while you’re out
peak bagging, even your hard goods. And consider a fall trip, when the
climbers are fewer and the aspen are shimmery gold.

Need to Know: General info is available at Southwest Adventure Guides ( offers three-day backpacking trips to Chicago Basin starting at $750.


  1. New york city car hire
    October 10, 2010, 12:02 pm

    The San Juan Mountains are just one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.. Colorado has hundreds.. I can only tell you if you have not visited then put it on your list for vacation

  2. Ski touring Alps
    October 11, 2010, 2:07 am

    Great pic, great story. Have you considered doing a Best European Adventures series as well?

  3. Trekking
    October 12, 2010, 2:07 am

    The pic scares me – I always get very nervous when near a ledge as I start panicking – making me even more likely to fall.
    Otherwise looks like awesome trekking fun though.

  4. Age UK
    October 19, 2010, 11:35 am

    Awesome looking ridge there, I wonder how easy it is to approach from the other side?

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    Great picture and great story

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    August 3, 2011, 4:11 am

    I’m always looking to learn more and get new ideas, and Nat Geog is respected, so I started looking at each new “adventure” entry.
    The first thing I noticed, is the emphasis on guided trips. If the economy is sluggish, this orientation is either way out of line, or an attempt to jump start it by spending a lot of money.
    The commercial emphasis was so noticeable, I wondered if the publication was getting placement payments each time (much like brands pay producers to place their products in movies).

  12. Roller Window Blinds
    August 3, 2011, 5:13 am

    I haven’t had the chance to fully explore Latin America so I’ve chosen the summer after I graduate to trek around this culturally rich and fascinating region. I have no backpacking experience whatsoever so preparing for this trip will definitely be a challenge.

  13. Hai
    February 25, 2012, 8:02 am

    The post is short but very interesting Robert Earle Howells.I’ve been following your posts and i am sure you and the team must be truly adventurers.