It was something big, something I might not be capable of, and something I knew I had to do. This is what came to mind once Austin Porzak introduced me to the prospect of skiing a few of Colorado’s famous Fourteeners (14,000 foot peaks) in Chicago Basin. Austin was on a mission to ski all of Colorado’s fourteeners, but it wasn’t until he began preparing for his final four descents that I knew I had to join him.
Chicago Basin is home to three 14,000 foot peaks—Windom, Sunlight, and Eulos—and they can only be accessed through either a very long hike or a scenic 130-year-old train ride from Durango along with a six mile approach. When we heard the first Durango to Silverton train was running on May 2, we jumped on the opportunity and bought our tickets.
There were seven of us all together: Austin Porzak, a professional ski mountaineer; Mike Steinman, who had already skied all three Chicago Basin peaks and has one summit remaining to ski all of Colorado’s fourteeners; Lucy Sackbauer, semi-pro, big mountain telemark skier and nurse; Logan Jauernigg, semi-pro telemark skier and all-around athlete; and the media crew of photographers, which included Daniel Sohner, Jesse Levine, and myself.
After the train dropped us of, we had roughly 48 hours to hike nearly 18 miles, gain 10,000 vertical feet, and summit and ski all three peaks. We pushed to get all three done in one day, but only Austin and Jesse succeeded. We lost Dan after the first peak when a previous injury triggered back spasms. He remained on the shelf below, watching us attack the two remaining summits.
As we approached the final summit, Eulos, four more of us bailed based on the decision that the snow had become too saturated and unstable for a safe ascent. After 12 hours of struggle, we returned to camp in a storm that fluctuated between a downpour and a blizzard. Austin and Jesse returned to camp just as dark was settling in, and we celebrated with an excess of food and a few stashed beers.
Now Austin and Mike have their sights set on Capitol Peak to complete their goal of skiing all the fourteeners. The rest of us are left with photos, stories, and memories.
Chicago Basin and its massive summits are a breathtaking experience for anyone who ventures into them. We pushed ourselves into this paradise of a remote world awakening from winter and came away with new friendships built on a wild adventure.