The Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness is one of the best places in Colorado to climb 14ers. Rising to 14,082 feet, Windom Peak is one of the most approachable of the 14ers in the Needle Mountains. It requires no gear to climb, just a strong sense of adventure and ankles strong enough for the inevitable rock hops that accompany peak bagging in Colorado’s rugged and beautiful San Juan Mountains.
The peak promises wide and long views of the San Juan Mountains, and they do not disappoint. Views from the top extend as far as the Wilson complex to the west and Uncompaghre and Wetterhorn to the northeast. Ambitious mountaineers will find plenty of options to accompany Windom as well, as Windom is one of several 14ers in the Needle Mountain massif. A long day might include summits of Mount Eolus (14,083 feet) and Sunlight Peak (14,059 feet).
Given its location in the Weminuche Wilderness, there is no way to access Windom Peak without a multi-day backpacking trip, but the scenery of the surrounding Chicago Basin and Vallecito Reservoir, the nearest points of access for Windom Peak, should make such a trip a high priority. Backcountry camping in the Chicago Basin is well-marked, since around 100,000 visitors camp in the basin annually, and campsites along the Vallecito Creek Trail are available as well. Note that vehicle access is only available at the Vallecito Creek Trailhead.
The route to Windom Peak is well-marked to Twin Lakes. The Columbine Pass Trail and Needle Creek Trails converge at the Twin Lakes Trail, which ascends aggressively to a bare shelf in which the lakes are nestled. From here the trail thins, and though the path is marked with cairns, the terrain requires thoughtful backcountry navigation. From Twin Lakes, there are two main options to reach the summit of Windom. One follows the course of water upward along a basin between a creek and the northern flank of a tall and conspicuous peak. This peak is part of an east-west ridge that includes the summit of Windom Peak. The more straightforward route is to ascend gradually to the top of the east-west ridge and find the Windom summit when the ridge bisects a north-south ridge.
The other route is more direct, conspicuous, ruddy talus slope that follows an aggressive incline to the top of the ridge, then turns eastward along the ridge to the Windom summit. The reddened talus slope gobbles up most of the elevation gain in short order, but it may include unstable footing. Its ascent depends on the comfort level of the mountaineer.
Rock climbers will find the summit moves comfortable. There is one section of rock that requires a short descent before the final 50 feet or so to the summit. This is the most exposed section of the climb and requires three points of contact.
Note: Depending on where you camp and the route you choose, the total distance and elevation gain will vary. All figures are measured from the beginning of the Twin Lakes Trail. Access to the Chicago Basin requires additional days to hike from Silverton or a backpacker's ticket on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.