Windom Peak Route Guide | An Isolated, Spectacular 14er
Windom Peak is one of the Chicago Basin fourteeners in the San Juan range, and one of the only class 2 peaks to climb in this area. Don’t let that rating trick you though. Getting to this mountain involves a multi-day expedition that includes a train trip, backpacking and difficult scrambling. I recommend trying to climb as many of the Chicago Basin peaks as you can once you go through all the effort to reach the area. Plan your ascent of Windom Peak with my Windom Peak route guide below. Safe travels on the trail!
Windom Peak Route Guide Fast Facts
Windom Peak Route Guide - Southwest Ridge
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 Windom 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.
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. Windom 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 Sunlight Peak. Around 11,200 feet, take a left to reach the lower Twin Lake.
Continue along the trail, being mindful of a few rock slab sections where the route can be hard to follow. Finally get above tree line around 11,400 feet where you’re treated to a grand view of the route ahead. Follow the trail up the slope, working your way over two stream crossings before you arrive at Twin Lakes.
Work your way around the shoreline and head into the rocky ledges on the far side of the lake. At 12,600 feet, reach a large headwall that separates you from the upper basin near Sunlight and Windom Peak. Follow cairns or trail segments up the right side of this headwall. Around 13,000 feet reach the upper basin and views of the remaining route to Windom Peak. Continue a bit further east and turn right, using cairns and/or trail segments aiming toward the saddle on Windom’s west ridge. Ascend this slope to reach the saddle at 13,325 feet.
The remaining Windom Peak route guide is the crux of the route up the west ridge. It’s scrambling from here on out, with not much of a trail to follow. Work your way up the left side of the ridge, aiming for a notch just below 14,000 feet. You can’t see the summit from here, but it’s there! Just below the summit, there is another small notch that allows access to the ridge’s south side. Drop through, turn and ascend the final pitch to the summit.
Once you make it up to the top, enjoy your accomplishment and the views of the San Juan range. Be sure you head down with plenty of time to reach tree line before afternoon thunderstorms become a risk. I hope you found my Windom Peak route guide helpful and informative.
My Windom Peak route guide includes this topographical map of the trail and region. You can download this map on your phone or print out a copy to bring with you on your climb. Always bring some hardcopy map in case your digital version fails or breaks.
Use these two sources to check the weather conditions before your trip. Consider the temperature high and low, wind speed, precipitation, and whether there are any storm systems on the horizon to be aware of. No Windom Peak Route Guide is complete without weather forecasts.
Hiking & climbing 14ers is an inherently high-risk activity – use my Windom Peak route guide at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
Hiking, scrambling and climbing up Colorado’s high peaks are inherently high-risk, dangerous activities. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my Windom Peak route guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.