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Mt. Eolus Panorama

Mt. Eolus Panorama, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado

Mt. Eolus Panorama, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado

In the summer of 2009, I shot a 180-degree panorama from the summit of Windom Peak, in the San Juan Mountains near Silverton. The image began on the left with the moon setting over Chicago Basin, swept past the most spectacular peaks of the Needle Mountains, and ended on the right with the sun rising over Vallecito Creek. Windom Peak Panorama quickly became my best-selling Sunrise from the Summit image so far. With that success to guide me, I began thinking about how I could take the idea of a sunrise/moonset panorama still farther. How about a 360-degree panorama from the summit of a Fourteener at sunrise? Were there any peaks which actually offered a spectacular view in every direction?

A little map study convinced me that two of the best Fourteeners in the state for a 360-degree panorama had to be Sunlight Peak and Mt. Eolus, both right next to Windom. I had decided against shooting sunrise from Mt. Eolus during my 2006 trip, afraid I would be unable to find my way up the intricate Class 3 scrambling near the summit in the dark. As I studied the map further, I realized that the best time of day to do Eolus would actually be sunset, not sunrise. That would put sunset light, if I was so lucky, on Windom and Sunlight, which are to the east of Eolus. Of course, the idea of shooting sunset from a Fourteener in June introduced a new problem: afternoon thunderstorms. It would take near-perfect weather to shoot sunset from the summit of Mt. Eolus safely. Shooting sunset also meant I would be descending the class 3 scrambling in near-darkness. If I got lost, it would be a long, cold wait for dawn. Shooting sunrise from the summit of a Fourteener, by contrast, is always less intimidating. If I did get lost, it would only be an hour or two until I had enough light to see where I'd gone wrong.

I caught the Durango and Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad on June 24, 2010, and hiked in to Chicago Basin on the familiar but still beautiful Needle Creek trail. I had timed the trip so that the next day would the ideal time to shoot moonrise at sunset from the summit of Eolus – if the weather permitted. After spending the morning scouting the Columbine Pass trail for possible future shots, I hiked to Twin Lakes at 12,500 feet, arriving around 2 pm. The day was clouding up rapidly, and it seemed unlikely I’d be able to shoot sunset from Eolus. Then, around 4 pm, the clouds began to lighten and break up. I decided to start toward the summit of Eolus, aware I might get 1,000 feet above Twin Lakes and be forced to retreat. The weather continued to play cat-and-mouse with me all the way to the summit. As I topped out, pellets of graupel began bouncing off the rocks around me. A dark cloud loomed overhead, and I wondered if it would simply park itself on top of Eolus, darken further, and begin spitting lightning. I was certainly standing atop the tallest lightning rod around. But the cloud soon moved off to the east, dissipating as it went, and a beautiful evening began. I picnicked on a can of ham and a couple of bagels, delighted at my good fortune but still nervous that the next cloud would coagulate overhead and send me scurrying off the summit.

The moon rose as sunset neared. The color of the light warmed to a golden hue. I shot one 360-degree panorama after another, filling eight gigabytes of memory cards in about half an hour. When the light show finally ended, I headed down into the deepening dusk, trying to move efficiently but not hastily. I had been careful to keep looking behind me as I climbed up so I knew what the way down would look like, and I was able to stay on-route all the way to the base of the Green Crack and the end of the scrambling. As I gathered up the hiking poles, crampons and ice ax I’d cached there, I had a moment of panic. Where was my water filter, which I’d also cached? It was nowhere to be seen as I pivoted on my heels, scanning with the headlamp beam. I began searching in an ever-widening spiral. To my great relief, I soon found it hidden behind a rock about 10 feet from where I’d put it down. Some curious marmot had apparently dragged it there.

Around 11 p.m, two hours and 15 minutes after leaving the summit, I reached my tent, made a cup of decaf coffee and ate my chocolate bar. An hour after falling asleep, a vicious cramp seized my right hamstring. The pain was so intense I broke out into a cold sweat. Afraid I was going to throw up, I unzipped the tent door. Finally the cramp relaxed and I fell back asleep. It seemed above and beyond the call of duty to get up for sunrise, and I slept in till the morning sun rose over Jupiter Mountain and kissed the tent.

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