Climbing Sunlight Peak Colorado | A 14er for the Bold
Climbing Sunlight Peak Colorado is a difficult fourteener ascent, with a challenging class 4 summit block that has a lot of exposure. As a Chicago Basin 14er, Sunlight Peak requires either a multi-day backpacking trip or a train trip to reach this remote wilderness area. Many people setup a base camp in the Basin and try to climb several high peaks while they are in the area. Plan a climb of Sunlight Peak with my free route guide and info below.
Climbing Sunlight Peak - Fast Facts
Climbing Sunlight Peak - South Face Route
It’s harder to get to the Needleton trailhead than any other 14er trailhead… the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad provides train service to the location, which is how most people get there. Click here for information and buy tickets – make sure you call them and tell them you’re stopping at the Needleton stop. While you can do this trip without taking the train, it’s an extremely long backpacking trip only recommended for experienced hikers and backpackers.
My Sunlight Peak Route Guide begins in earnest from the Needleton train stop. You’ll see a few cabins and a bridge across the Animas River; grab your pack from the baggage car and hit the trail. Cross the bridge and take a right to get started climbing Sunlight Peak Colorado.
A little less than a mile along this well-built and maintained trail, stay left at a junction, and shortly after officially enter the Weminuche Wilderness area. 5 more miles of hiking will bring you to the Chicago Basin area. I recommend following Needle Creek to find a good campsite, somewhere between 10,500 feet and 10,800 feet. This is a good place to stop for the night before your summit attempt. Sunlight Peak will be visible above you at the end of the basin.
From your camp in Chicago Basin, continue along the trail towards the upper end of the basin. This is the same trail used to climb Mt Eolus Peak. Around 11,200 feet, take a left to reach the lower Twin Lake. Hike through the forest, over rock slabs, and then cross two streams that flow down from Twin Lakes. The crossings are at 11,700 feet and 12,300 feet. Then reach the lake at 12,500 feet, your last dependable water source while climbing Sunlight Peak Colorado.
Continue around the lake up through some rocks to reach a headwall blocking the upper basin. Follow cairns and bits of trail to reach this upper area around 13,000 feet. Continue east, then turn left to go northeast towards talus below a gully separating Sunlight Peak and Sunlight Spire. Keep moving northeast amid this talus, looking for cairns that lead you to the dirt-filled gully. Climb around 400 feet along its left side to reach a saddle at the top. From there, turn left to enter a notch.
The rest of the route is class 3 and 4, with some difficult navigation. From the notch, traverse below a series of cliffs. Scramble up to the ridge at a point where there is a hole you can pass through. An easier alternative is to continue left and climb an easier section of steep rock with cracks. Swing left near the top to enter a small chimney.
Climb up the chimney to reach a hole at the top, and reach a ledge on the other side of the ridge. Turn left to walk up to the final summit pitch. It is an exposed block, but the rock is easy to grip if it is dry. Some people think this is the crux of climbing Sunlight Peak Colorado. Pick your line to gain the summit. Some find it easier to descend by jumping from rock to rock if you are comfortable with the exposure.
From the summit, enjoy the amazing views of the surrounding San Juans. Be sure to descend quickly enough to reach the tree line before afternoon thunderstorm risk becomes significant. I hope you found my Sunlight Peak route guide helpful and informative. Safe travels on the trail, and good luck climbing Sunlight Peak Colorado.