(G & M: #325)
Chicago Peak sits north along a ridge from Imogene Pass and can be climbed from there, easily. You could also combine it easily enough with Tomboy Peak as well. A direct ridge traverse from Chicago to T.5 is very difficult. Our route description for Chicago Peak includes it as part of a sequence that begins with T.5, proceeds to Tomboy, then to Chicago with a trailhead located near the old Tomboy Mine on the Telluride side of Imogene Pass. This route goes at Class 2+ and requires 4WD with good clearance and a shorter wheel-base. The trailhead may be accessed either from Telluride or Ouray with the Ouray access requiring more time.
Chicago Peak North Ridge Route
The trailhead may be reached from either Telluride or Ouray. It will be a longer drive on 4WD road from Ouray. Either access requires 4WD with good clearance. The Imogene Pass road is generally far better than the Black Bear Pass road, but should not be underestimated. Local jeeping groups rate it a class 4 or 4.5 out of 5 classes. There's still plenty of rocky sections, tight curves and narrow sections with drop-offs. We would not recommend longer bed pickups or similar vehicles. We have driven this road several times in the past with a Jeep Cherokee Sport and once up from Telluride with a Toyota T-100 pickup.
From Ouray, drive south out of town on US550 to the first switchback (about .4 mile) and watch for the turnoff for the "Camp Bird Road," (Ouray County Road 361). Drive on graded dirt to the well-marked turnoff for Imogene Pass near five miles in from the highway. On the Uncompahgre NF map, the Imogene Pass road is labeled as 26B. On Trails Illustrated #141, it is listed as FR869. Proceed up the pass, stop and admire the view at the summit, then drive on down the Telluride side to the Tomboy Mine ruins. About a half mile past Tomboy is a road that angles off to the right. Park here at the coordinates provided above.
From Telluride, the turnoff for Imogene Pass is near the center of town. Drive into town on HWY145 which becomes W. Colorado Ave. Turn left onto N. Aspen St. and drive 2 blocks. Turn right on W. Galena St. and drive 1 block. Turn left onto N. Oak St. and drive one more block. The graded dirt "Tomboy" road takes off to the right. Follow this spectacular road as it rises high above Telluride, and winds through different drainages and varying forest. It will be a slow 3 - 4 miles to the coordinates provided above for the vehicle park, where a road angles off to the left. Just past the turnoff, the main Tomboy Road crosses a creek and just beyond there are the ruins of the Tomboy Mine. From the Telluride side, this road is labeled "K68." On Trails Illustrated map #141, it shows as FR869.
For this access, there are a limited number of camp spots as you drive up the first few miles of Ouray County Road 361. One spot is called "The Angel Creek Campground," followed by the "Thistledown" campground. (See links below) Be careful regarding private property. In past years, we had been able to car camp in the vicinity of where the Governor Basin road turns off from the Yankee Boy Basin road. This may no longer be allowed. Then, there's a good campsite if you're able to drive up the Governor Basin road at one of the switchbacks at about 11,360 ft. at these coordinates: N 37° 58' 37.52" W 107° 45' 42.57"
Link to Angel Creek CG http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/gmug/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=32524
Link to Thistledown CG http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/gmug/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=32818
From the Telluride side, there's really little good camping close by. There is a designated campground at the "Town Park" located on the east end of town, but good luck finding an open site. Your best bet may be sleeping in your vehicle near the trailhead and/or around the old townsite of Tomboy.
Class 2+ / 2.0 mi / 2,075’ One-Way
T.5 Middle Basin Access
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From the car park coordinates, walk NW along an old road that may have a locked gate and marked as Private Property. We saw no human activity beyond here, so you decide how you want to proceed. If concerned about being a violator, hike up the mountain side slope no more than about 200 feet in elevation and a game trail should appear that you may continue following NW, then north to Thorne Lake. If you stay on the road, after about 1/3rd mile, a faint trail turns off the road anyhow and leads up to Thorne Lake. Beyond the lake, continue on an old roadbed/trail into Middle basin, below the Montana Mine. From here, you could try gaining the sharp and narrow south ridge of T.5, but the appearance of numerous rocky difficulties along that ridge prompted us to try another route. So we aimed for a large couloir that drops to the Montana Mine from just east of the T.5 summit. As you head north above the mine, you'll immediately encounter some steep scrambling up a rocky slope to another bench level at just below 12,600 ft.
From this upper bench, head into the couloir. The bottom few hundred feet will be mostly medium-sized, loose rocks that are reasonably stable. The higher you ascend however, the more the rocks give way to steeper gravel and sand. Footing becomes tenuous. About 400 feet up, it becomes so steep, that to keep forward progress going, we found it useful to plunge our ice axes into the sand/gravel in order to pull ourselves up. Only the last 100 vertical feet offer any relief in steepness. Then it becomes a quick and easy stroll over small scree to the summit. The only good news regarding this route is if you descend the same way, you can scree/ski your way down quickly. If taking this route, you may want to consider dropping back down into Middle Basin and crossing east over to climb both Chicago Peak and UN13,095. be warned though, most all of that route will be on cruddy, loose rock.
Class 2+ / 1.8 mi / 935’ One-Way
Tomboy Peak via Middle Basin
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Tomboy Peak is sequenced with T.5 and followed by Chicago Peak for a longer, rocky day typical of this area. One-way mileage and elevation gain are measured from the summit of T.5. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain assume completion of the sequence.
From the summit of T.5, turn around and head back to the same saddle you came up from when ascending out of Middle Basin, then descend back down the talus and scree to about the 12,200 foot level where there is a patch area of tundra to the SE. The one consolation for all the effort to go up T.5 is that you'll be able to make a very rapid descent on all that scree. It took us about 10 minutes to descend to that level. Hike right by the remains of some old mining structures and at about 12,200 feet, began contouring southeast over to the eastern section of Middle Basin through the one tundra patch. Except for this one patch, almost all of this Middle Basin section is over boulders and rocks of many sizes and required constant rock hopping. Once across the tundra, where you will lose about 150 feet in elevation, begin your ascent to the saddle east of UN 13,095. This 600-foot climb will take you over a variety of rocks, including some large boulders that require some scrambling. At the saddle, turn west and follow the ridge to the summit. It is an interesting ascent over almost all rock that is fractured in many interesting ways and containing some deep crevices. At the summit, enjoy a nice view of rocky basins on either side and of the Telluride valley much farther down. If you've had enough rock adventure for the day, return to the saddle at the east end of the summit ridge, then drop south into an unnamed basin, filled with more rock, that will eventually give way to some tundra. The drainage will curve back to the west and deposit you back at the trailhead. For the able-bodied, continue on to Chicago Peak from Tomboy Peak.
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Year Climbed: 2003
Chicago Peak is sequenced with Tomboy Peak (UN13,095) and T.5. One-way mileage and elevation gain are measured from the summit of Tomboy Peak. Round-trip mileeage and elevation gain assume completion of the sequence.
From the summit of Tomboy Peak return back to the saddle and prepare for the climb over to Chicago. This part of the hike involves a climb over many large rocks and boulders from the saddle, up to the north ridge of Chicago. Once on the ridge, it is an easy walk to the fairly level summit that's covered with mostly smaller rubble and some dinner plate talus. We finally arrived at the Chicago summit some time well after noon, just to provide a time estimate for this sequence, but we also had a late start - well after 8:00 AM. We found a small summit cairn and the remains of a Geologic survey/marker.
For the return, we debated about descending one of several steep couloirs that dropped off the ridge to the southwest, but we could never tell if any did not drop through a cliff band, so we ended up returning all the way back to the saddle between Chicago and UN 13,095. From this saddle, we continued our descent directly south and were able to go down on a little scree before getting back into more rock. As the basin leveled out, it became a little easier to hike, but there were still plenty of boulders to negotiate. Finally, about 15 minutes from the trailhead and our vehicle, we found some nice tundra to hike on for most of the remainder of the hike back. In earlier season, you may find some snow on this descent to glissade on.
Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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