Missing Climber Kit Carson/Challenger

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14erFred
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Joined: 7/15/2009
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Re: Missing Climber Kit Carson/Challenger

Post by 14erFred »

Prayers for comfort and strength for Luis’s family and friends. May he rest In peace forever, and may his memory always be a blessing.
"Live as on a mountain." -- Marcus Aurelius
mcorkern
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Re: Missing Climber Kit Carson/Challenger

Post by mcorkern »

Hello, this is Luis's wife. Thank you to everyone for your condolences. It's been almost 2 months now. And I'm still confused.

Can any of you help me better understand the logistics of what happened? I see that he may have ignored the sign, but that is incredibly out of character for him. He was a boy scout, always over prepared, wanted to come home to his family, and unless there was another risk (lightning or something perhaps) I can't imagine he would have willfully ignored a danger warning. That said, I don't know for sure. I am not a climber, so there is a lot I don't know. but I really want to know where he was, how far he fell, what are the odds he survived the fall. I know nothing can change the outcome, but it's helpful for me to understand. I've looked at maps and pictures, but I still can't get a clear picture. Feel free to send me a private message if you prefer.

Thanks again, everyone.
Skimo95
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Re: Missing Climber Kit Carson/Challenger

Post by Skimo95 »

mcorkern wrote: Sun Sep 11, 2022 1:09 pm Hello, this is Luis's wife. Thank you to everyone for your condolences. It's been almost 2 months now. And I'm still confused.

Can any of you help me better understand the logistics of what happened? I see that he may have ignored the sign, but that is incredibly out of character for him. He was a boy scout, always over prepared, wanted to come home to his family, and unless there was another risk (lightning or something perhaps) I can't imagine he would have willfully ignored a danger warning. That said, I don't know for sure. I am not a climber, so there is a lot I don't know. but I really want to know where he was, how far he fell, what are the odds he survived the fall. I know nothing can change the outcome, but it's helpful for me to understand. I've looked at maps and pictures, but I still can't get a clear picture. Feel free to send me a private message if you prefer.

Thanks again, everyone.
I'm so very sorry for your loss once again. There will be varying experience levels on thoughts of what happened, and there are so many variables. Without direct contact to a S&R team who had boots on the ground, it is truly hard to tell. I will add that I had a close call after doing nothing but hiking/climbing mountains since relocating in 2019. It was totally out of my control, and nothing "textbook" about it. I believe that area has a few seemingly early bailout options, which a majority would choose in the event of threatening weather. With bad weather, and visibility less than 5-10' it would be very easy to read contours via GPS and not see the sign involved. I don't want to speculate but this really can happen to anyone who is avid in the mountains, which makes it so heartbreaking.
mountainlover153
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Re: Missing Climber Kit Carson/Challenger

Post by mountainlover153 »

Well, I definitely cannot answer questions about others personally, BUT, I can add my own recent story from KC.

I recently soloed KC and Challenger. I'm a relatively experienced climber. But, I made a few poor choices and it was nearly a bad experience for me, too.

First, I arrived late at the TH. I'd planned to pack in to Willow Lake but it was getting dark and I decided I'd get more sleep if I car camped (I didn't), and I'd save energy not packing in all of my stuff and trying to set up and eat dinner in the dark (I also didn't want to annoy other potential campers who might've been trying to sleep at the time). I'd just driven over from Glenwood Springs after spending the night, having the night before packed out from Snowmass, which I'd done 1 2/3rds times because of an early AM storm that arrived at 1030AM when I was nearly at the saddle where you travel to the back side of the peak for the remaining ascent. So, I was already working off of tired legs and a tired body.

I ended up getting around 3 hours of mid quality sleep, before waking up at 230 and starting up the trail around 345. So, fresh and chipper I was not! And I had 15 miles and 6200 of gain to tackle with a threat of weather after 2pm.

I'd initially planned to do the N Ridge. A friend strongly recommended it over the standard route due to it having "bomber rock!" and such. I made good time getting to the junction above the lake where that route splits from the standard, arriving shortly after sunrise. I thought about it for a good 15 minutes before choosing the standard route. My general personal rule (due to my own fear tolerances) is that I won't solo a class 4 route. I am fine on 4th class terrain, and I have soloed them before, but I don't *enjoy* soloing C4. For me it becomes so stressful that the fun goes away. Thus, as agonizing as it was based on the beta I got from my friend, that thought won out. I have an inReach, but of course that only helps if I can actually press the button if I needed to. My main thought process was "hey, maybe you shouldn't choose a hard less-popular route on a day you aren't feeling 100%". So I chose the loose, steep, unpleasant, but standard, more popular, and fundamentally safer (in the lethal fall sense) route up Challenger until I got to a place where I found what I found was personally within my comfort levels, some solid class 3 and very very low 4 rock to the left of the main route, which took a direct route to the saddle. I started up that and flew up in no time, the excellent rock reminding me of the crestones (made sense, same basic rock type). Until... I started to feel a bit dizzy at 13,400 and stopped and sat down. I realized I had cell service, so I texted an ER doc I knew...because you know, people love to be asked about their jobs in their personal lives. I live at sea level. I'd been out west for a few weeks and this was not my first 14er of the trip, I'd just done Snowmass with no issues. So I was surprised. Could I get AMS on one 14er, after NOT having had it on another? Well, my doctor friend said YES. Well, that was a surprise!

That day, even though it was mid August with good weather for the season, was not busy on the mountain. I was surprised, and also a bit nervous. I debated going down. I decided to wait at that point for awhile, have some food and water, rest, and monitor myself. If I felt the same or worse, down I would go. Better, and I'd continue. Well, long story short, I did start to feel better. But that break cost me about an hour, and my targeted summit time of Challenger at 930A came and went. Still the weather seemed to be holding, and buoyed by the couple of people who I did pass coming back from KC and knowing my own speed, I felt I could make it.

Further speeding through the story, I did make it. But here is where the main "uh oh" moments began, and this is where I can shed at least my own perspective on how someone experienced can get into a potentially risky situation, in multiple ways.

On the summit of KC I looked back at Challenger, and saw a billowing cloud beginning to build, right to the west of it. I couldn't tell how low the cloud went, but it was substantial. The cloud was rising quickly toward Challenger, the air around the peak turbulent and choppy. On the horizon I could see anvils beginning to flop over along the southern sawatch. Having studied meteorology in school, I often make my own personal forecasts before climbs (I don't work as a met though). Anyway, I look at short range high resolution weather models and data the night before, and come up with as hyper accurate (for me) of a forecast as I can. So in this case I'd forecasted a risk starting around 2pm, But I generally defer to the NWS in most cases and blend their forecast with mine. They're generally the most expert at these things, but they also forecast for larger areas, like southern Sangres above 11.5k feet versus, you know, Xyz specific mountain. Because they can't spend 2 hours forecasting a single summit, they wouldn't be able to do their jobs if they did.

Anyway, it was 1130AM. I should've had plenty of time to get to a safe altitude. But, I saw the cloud over Challenger and panic set in. Probably exacerbated by the lack of sleep (is this sounding like a recipe for disaster yet?).

How would I be able to tell if the atmosphere was capped or not? A system was moving in from the northwest, so I'd correctly forecasted that the Sawatch would see weather before I would, hence the early-in-the-day anvils to my west. But mountains are hard to predict. Besides, even if a thunderstorm didn't form, I worried, more accurately I would say, about challenger getting socked in and trying to navigate with 0 visibility. Another climbing friend of mine had had that exact situation happen to her on Challenger last year, forcing her and her climbing partner to turn around.

So, after spending 5 minutes on the summit to take a few pictures, enjoy the spectacular view, and without even taking off my pack...to eat or rest, after basically racing up the whole thing from the TH, I turned back and began rapidly descending.

As one often does when panicked, my aim was to get down as quickly, and safely, as possible. From the summit I followed a cairn and began down what I believed was the same path I'd gone up. It was not. After descending 30-50 feet or so, I looked down at the rapidly steepening terrain and thought "this is harder than it was coming up!". I hadn't thought much of the ascent, easy 3, maybe difficult 2. Not hard, more hiking than climbing actually. This though, was loose, steep, dangerous. I'd passed a band of rock on my left and gone down a chimney, which should've been the main clue.

I pulled out my phone...I track all of my climbs using an app called Gaia, and pack a high capacity battery pack to ensure I have power for it, and I also track at the same time with my inReach, but Gaia records instantly whereas the inReach records only every couple of minutes. I realized, again with a bit of anxiety, that I was now decidedly off route and had descended below where I should have. After a few choice words, I determined that my best option was to return to the correct route and not continue down this similar-looking gully, even though my gps suggested in theory it would "meet up" with the correct route. I couldn't tell if that meeting was, you know, a cliff, without a way to actually access the route from above. So, I turned to look back and figure out how to regain where I'd been. And realized, "oh, I don't know if I can". The route I'd come down was littered with tiny rocks and steep loose dirt. I tried to climb back up, only to slide back down. At this point, adrenaline kicked in (more than it already had), and I summoned up the same super human "emergency" strength that 10 years prior had gotten me out of another dicey situation. I spread my legs into a V, jammed them into far apart but semi solid rocks and then pressed up and grabbed several rocks at the same time to distribute my weight without overly using any single one. Once I started moving I applied as much force as possible with my legs to provide momentum to propel myself up through the chimney while staying close to the ground, and basically hugging/crabbing/floating over it, and shimmied my way back to the standard route, heart racing and grateful that I'd realized my error when I had. It was the type of move that, without adrenaline, probably was not possible to do.

So, that was the first big mistake, and I corrected it because I had technology with me to assist my route finding to clue me in to that mistake, before it was too late. In that moment, being tired and seeing weather, I went down a route that looked the same, and began in what seemed to be the same direction as I'd come from, but it wasn't. Had I not realized that mistake when I did, this might have been a different story. But, I was happy with myself for at least recognizing the error, and making the right call to return to the standard route, even though I thought weather could be building and that doing so was going to cost me 15+ minutes of time.

From there, I made quick work of the standard descent of KC back to Broadway, and having been very careful to take pictures and study that turn due to its history, I did not miss it, in fact it was quite obvious to me, with a giant cairn. But: I did *not* see a sign on the way up, or down. Even though I was expecting to see one. Of course, I was quite tired and given everything else I explained thus far, I probably just missed it. But my point is, not everyone sees the sign. And it doesn't necessarily mean you did something wrong (it can, but it's not a rule). At that time, I was on route.

Despite being *thoroughly* exhausted now, I got onto Broadway and speed-hiked my way back up (excruciating) and down over to the saddle with Challenger. Cresting the top of Broadway I was able to see Challenger, and that cloud was still there, and it was indeed growing taller. Not good. I figured I had about an hour before it would become a threat though. I continued my rapid, uncomfortable, pace to the saddle and back up and over Challenger. At this point I was self-coaching myself ("this is the last big section of up! The rest is down!"). You see, somewhere back on that frenetic descent of KC, I'd pulled something in my right calf...the same side I'd torn a ligament in my ankle back on memorial day weekend while hiking in the east, and took me out of hiking for 3 months to rehab in physical therapy (I had to pack out 6 miles on that injury, not great). This was, thankfully, not a reinjury of that, but it was notable for being the same side and same area of my body. Probably not a coincidence. With the adrenaline wearing off a bit, I could feel it, although it wasn't awful.

Over the top of Challenger I went; I actually skirted to the right and avoided the summit, because it was socked in already, but there were several use trails off the side of Challenger and that terrain was fine to navigate for me, the pros outweighed the cons. I finally got back to the notch/saddle on Challenger's standard route, and then, again, realized I had gotten myself off route. I now had a 10 foot low 5th class downclimb to reach the saddle. I considered again going back and gaining the ridge but decided this time to just descend the rocks and do the moves. I was tired, I didn't like the weather, I wanted to be OFF the ridge. I got about halfway down, then got to a spot without any decent options, so, I basically slid down the next 4 feet (deliberately) with my body turned to face the face, having mapped out where to put my foot when it reached a specific protrusion in the rock. That went fine, but, had it not been for the weather, and how I was feeling, I wouldn't have done it, and it was itself a sketchy thing to do. However, the exposure at that location was relatively tame, if I'd messed up and not caught the rock, I would not have gone flying off the mountain, I'd have landed on the saddle harder than I wanted to. Not fun, not lethal. Still, another pump of adrenaline into my already very very very worn out body.

From there, I largely descended the standard route of Challenger, eventually running into a couple of people who'd just done Challenger. I talked with one of them for a couple of hours. My pace slowed drastically in doing this, as they were going much slower than me. But I felt safer, at that point, being near other people, even though I was no longer on truly dangerous terrain. I was concerned about exhaustion and the like. I don't think they were the most thrilled at my presence, which is why I often climb alone in the first place (I know myself, I'm not always the most liked person in the mountains, but I do feel most content and happy in the mountains, so soloing works for me a lot of the time). I like having partners for really hard peaks, for safety; I also find it easier to get along with people on hikes like that, as the focus is on *the climb* and I don't have to make small talk or fit into some type of mold and otherwise feel awkward trying to fit in, and I am good at routefinding (normally) so my personality matters, less. Anyway, talking with them took my focus off myself and my exhaustion, and the slow pace was obviously easy on my body. As we were descending we observed what was probably the largest rockfall I've ever seen, heading straight down the North Ridge route. I recorded it, because at first I thought it was a fighter jet (one had buzzed me on the summit of Crestone Peak last year and it sounded the same...it was that loud, despite being 1/2 mile away).

Glad I didn't go that way!!!!

Once I got back to Willow Lake, I took a break, had some food, regrouped; the other hikers I'd chatted with heading down Challenger had departed to go back to their above-the-lake campsite. I was feeling decent. The clouds were still building over challenger, and to my west, the sawatch storms were now heading my way. But, with it now being 230, I had very clearly overestimated the severity of the clouds I saw on Challenger. In hindsight, I did have enough time, I didn't need to do that whole fire drill style descent from Challenger, and others on the peak (going the other way), had said they thought the weather would hold. Of course, me being a fairly conservative decision maker up high (I don't want to have a story about being in the mountains in a tstorm...I meet many who have, I don't want to do it), I generally only consider the opinions of people moving the same way I am when it comes to weather! And even then, I'll usually be one of the first to turn around.

So, hindsight: oops, I had more time than I thought, could've avoided that potentially lethal gully mistake, and subsequent overexertion to get back to a safe spot. But, on the other hand, you only get to be wrong about the weather once.

Once I stood back up, I realized the trouble I was in. Pain shot up my calf- significant pain. This was no minor calf pull, I thought. Again, time for a few choice words. I took both Advil and Tylenol and slowly resumed heading down. I sent an inReach message to my mom to let her know I'd be going quite slow due to a calf issue. I had packed knee and ankle braces, so I put one of those on. About 20 minutes below the lake I had to stop. I messaged my mom about the calf issue again....I didn't know if I'd be able to make it off the mountain.

I felt extremely silly, and guilty, at this point. I'd gotten off route, made several not so great decisions, and now, I was on a trail, the hard work behind me, only to suddenly be dealing with what felt, at the time, like a grade 3 calf tear (the highest level tear you can have-usually you need to go straight to the doctor at that point). I told my mom that I might need to contact SAR. But I was also quite determined to get off that peak under my own power. Maybe my 14er season would be over, but I did not want to contact them over a calf pull. I've talked to sar and rangers before, they've been inundated by the flood of climbers that have started up in the past few years, many of whom call for minor or preventable issues...didn't bring water; didn't bring a headlamp; wore sandals in snow conditions; got lost; burned their clothing for warmth and light because they didn't know they needed a headlamp after summiting a peak at 730pm and subsequently got hypothermia while their phones all died because they didn't bring a battery pack (that one was the craziest to me)--they didn't bring water or food either.

I would've felt straight up embarrassed to need to be rescued from an approach trail for a calf strain. Plus, the peak doesn't count if you don't get out under your own power and I did NOT want to do that again.

So, I set myself goals, and took breaks every 15 minutes, moving around 1 mph in between, placing most weight on my trekking poles almost as though they were crutches. And slowly I did make my way down. Somewhat thankfully, I didn't run into anyone else going down, and the people heading up were focused on their own affairs (and I probably looked scary with not entirely rubbed in sunblock caking my face and upper shirt), so I didn't have to explain why I was walking so slow or go through the whole "do you need any help" talk.

About a half mile from the TH, the storm finally arrived, and the thunder began, far at first, then closer and closer until the strikes were clearly hitting the peaks and the lake behind me, shaking the ground beneath my feet lightly in a couple of cases. But I was well in the trees at this point. But boy was my timing wrong, it was now 430PM!

I finally hobbled back to my car, arriving 13 hours after I left, with 9.67 hours moving, a decidedly non-stellar time for me. About 5 minutes after I was in my car, the sky opened up and the rain began. So, in almost every way, I got lucky on this hike. Could've gone quite differently.

I thought after that, I was going to be done for the year...I was sure I had a major injury and would need another round of PT or even surgery. But, I didn't. I won't get into the details there because this story is long enough, but in short, braces, a few days of rest, targeted exercises, and I was back on the trail and did 5 more 14ers before my trip ended. It's a real injury though. Now that I'm home, I'm taking 2 weeks off from cardio training and doing things to help it heal. It's a strain, it was not a 3, it felt worse because I was hiking 15 miles on it while exhausted!


The thing about experience is, it does help you, a lot. But it isn't foolproof. Climb enough mountains, take enough steps...all it takes is one wrong step, on one single mountain. That's it. Maybe you sprain your ankle (done that), maybe you fall a few feet (haven't yet, a partner did), maybe you fall off the peak. Add in unexpected weather, a bad night of sleep, soloing, etc...you can make a mistake. KC in particular, felt like an easy place to do that. Plenty of areas that look similar and are located near each other, areas of loose rock in terrain that subconsciously seems "safe". It's also one of the longer 14ers, in terms of elevation gained and distance, and it's not a walk up. All of those things play into it being dangerous. A standard route can be "safe", but if it's easy to get off route, and on KC, it can be, and that other route is not safe, that's how you get a lot of rescues and fatalities. It's the peaks that are hard, but not extreme where your guard might be higher, and the ones where getting off route puts you in trouble, that are most risky. I didn't get off route at the place you're warned about, but I did go off route nonetheless. And that was due to, primarily, a panic over weather, in my case. And the entire day was a mixture of a textbook case of what not to do when hiking, combined with, how to properly fix a situation you get into when hiking. I was happy with the decisions I made once I got myself into hot water that day; I was *not* happy with the reasons I got into it in the first place, starting with, really the most basic and simple...deciding to even attempt the peak, from the TH, alone, after getting such a bad night of sleep beforehand. I should not have climbed that day; therefore everything else that happened, good and bad, should not have happened. So I walked away from that peak, partly through unearned luck. Plenty of things could've gone differently, and I would not be telling this story, as early as the part of Challenger where I felt dizzy. Me getting out of that chimney could've ended in a fall, my choice to reclimb was good but risky, I misread the weather, I overexerted myself and could've had a heart attack from pushing too hard without sleep or even breaks, I chose a bad route to get back to the saddle on Challenger. On the plus side I didn't climb the route that had the rockfall. It happened later in the day. But, that's one thing that's sometimes out of your control. And it is a risk. One we try to minimize, but it is not zero and notably not always predictable or under our control.

As for falls- I doubt many or any here know where he fell, and thus, any of the other details. Generally though, there are two types. One type in which you will not be conscious immediately. The other adrenaline will rush through you and you will not feel pain right away. Read any accident story, it typically goes, I thought I was fine, I went to do X, I couldn't, I realized (this had happened). You highlighted weather. That's a BIG ONE, even if you're experienced, for why you might make a mistake. You can have all the world's knowledge, if you are at altitude when a storm comes in, it is scary (if you have a normal sense of fear). Slippery rocks, hail, lightning nearby, hair standing up...you're exposed, and you want to get down fast. It is when we are placed into high pressure situations or otherwise have compromised our situational awareness that accidents and mistakes become more likely. That said, he quite well could've done everything right by the book. As I said earlier...it only takes one wrong step, on one peak. How many steps does one hike on a single mountain? It depends. Often 20k, 30k, 40k+ depending on the peak. It takes one. On one peak. Or going off route by 20 feet sometimes. That's the inherent risk of the sport. I've partly commented here to add my own experience of things going awry on KC. It isn't possible for me, at least, to speculate on what others have done. I can say KC can throw more at you than you might expect though, even if you read that route description and know about that turn.
Last edited by mountainlover153 on Mon Sep 12, 2022 1:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Codyhill1991
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Re: Missing Climber Kit Carson/Challenger

Post by Codyhill1991 »

mcorkern wrote: Sun Sep 11, 2022 1:09 pm Hello, this is Luis's wife. Thank you to everyone for your condolences. It's been almost 2 months now. And I'm still confused.

Can any of you help me better understand the logistics of what happened? I see that he may have ignored the sign, but that is incredibly out of character for him. He was a boy scout, always over prepared, wanted to come home to his family, and unless there was another risk (lightning or something perhaps) I can't imagine he would have willfully ignored a danger warning. That said, I don't know for sure. I am not a climber, so there is a lot I don't know. but I really want to know where he was, how far he fell, what are the odds he survived the fall. I know nothing can change the outcome, but it's helpful for me to understand. I've looked at maps and pictures, but I still can't get a clear picture. Feel free to send me a private message if you prefer.

Thanks again, everyone.
I can't even begin to explain how sorry I am for your loss. I can only provide a little of my own experience on these peaks, which was thankfully uneventful.

For what it's worth, I don't remember seeing the sign that has been mentioned warning of dangerous terrain. I have seen them on the Needle and Redcloud, but I don't remember one up here. Maybe I did, but it didn't register enough for me to remember it 2 or 3 years later. The thing to remember about this terrain is that it can be a lot more complex in real life than in pictures or on the map, and it's super easy to take a wrong turn, and then when you realize your mistake, find that you're in sketchy terrain and let anxiety cloud your judgment. Or, you could do every single thing right and just get unlucky. Incredible climbers have died because they stepped on a barely visible piece of moss that made them slip. Cautious climbers have died because a rock that none of us would think twice about decided to dislodge at a very unlucky moment.

Something I'd want to hear in your position though - if you "can't imagine he would have willfully ignored a danger warning"...you knew him, and you are almost certainly right. This does not seem like a case of a reckless climber. If he wasn't the type to take risks, believe that. He was up there later in the day than most of us prefer, but probably most of the people on this forum have a story about mismanaged time or afternoon summits. What I'm saying is, you describe someone who was cautious and knew he had much to live for. I don't see anything in this story to doubt that.

He could have very easily missed the sign entirely like I did. He could have seen it, tried very hard to heed it, and gotten turned around at some other point due to confusion or exhaustion or anxiety or weather or altitude
He could have seen it, and made a decision to veer into less than ideal terrain for some reason we don't know.

I had one of my most terrifying experiences on an easy peak because I ventured off trail to avoid an aggressive mountain goat and found myself in terrain that I believe could have killed me, and I got lucky.

It's incredibly tragic and incredibly frustrating I'm sure to not know any of the details, and I'm not sure if anyone can really help, but I do not think your husband was being foolish or cavalier or a daredevil here. I think mountain climbing is inherently risky and this is a tragedy that could really happen to most of us.
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daway8
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Trip Reports (59)

Re: Missing Climber Kit Carson/Challenger

Post by daway8 »

mcorkern wrote: Sun Sep 11, 2022 1:09 pm Hello, this is Luis's wife. Thank you to everyone for your condolences. It's been almost 2 months now. And I'm still confused.

Can any of you help me better understand the logistics of what happened? I see that he may have ignored the sign, but that is incredibly out of character for him. He was a boy scout, always over prepared, wanted to come home to his family, and unless there was another risk (lightning or something perhaps) I can't imagine he would have willfully ignored a danger warning. That said, I don't know for sure. I am not a climber, so there is a lot I don't know. but I really want to know where he was, how far he fell, what are the odds he survived the fall. I know nothing can change the outcome, but it's helpful for me to understand. I've looked at maps and pictures, but I still can't get a clear picture. Feel free to send me a private message if you prefer.

Thanks again, everyone.
I'm so very sorry for your loss. I can't answer all your questions but I'll try to shed what light I can in the hopes it might help to bring you some manner of closure.

From the SAR report on Facebook it sounds like he fell down Kirk Couloir. That route is described here: https://www.14ers.com/route.php?route=chal5

The snowflake icon indicates that it is designated as a snow climb, meaning that in late winter/early spring when it's filled in with consolidated snow, people with the proper gear can safely climb up this route. In summer it's a route that looks like a good option from above but soon becomes more and more dangerous because of all the loose rocks (which get compacted under snow in the winter).

Sadly this mountain has claimed several lives and in several different spots on the mountain, including some others who perished in this general location as well as some other known danger areas that are discussed frequently on this site.

Doing Challenger and Kit Carson in a day is a long and tiring climb. The standard route is 15 miles long with 6,250 feet of gain, which is a very big day for most people. It sounds like your husband went up the North Ridge route which is a more difficult class 4 route and then was apparently descending the standard route when he must have decided to shortcut down via Kirk Couloir.

While I don't know the specific circumstances your husband faced, the most likely scenario is that either incoming bad weather or just general fatigue from the long day compelled him to take the Kirk Couloir down as a shortcut. As I mentioned before, from above this looks like a very natural way to get back down quickly to Willow Lake without having to climb up over Challenger Point and without having to deal with the notoriously loose and unpleasant descent down Challenger (at least one person once perished on that part of the descent when slightly off route).

There is a sign near the top of the Kirk Couloir but it is only one sign and it's a big mountain. If he was already feeling the need to shortcut down he might have veered slightly from the standard trail and missed the sign and/or just have been in a hurry and not have spotted it - it doesn't really stand out dramatically and he is not the first one to have tried to go down that way. The terrain gets quite steep there in places and it would only take the slightest misstep for even a very experienced climber to fall.

Of course there's no way to be sure of the details but I would speculate based on the terrain that there's a high probability that once he fell he would likely have perished very quickly with minimal suffering. I'm sorry that I can't offer any greater amount of insight than this but this is something that anyone could have done. That fact that he was reported to have gone up the North Ridge route implies he had decent climbing skills (that's not a route a beginner would tend to go up) and so maybe he thought that he could handle going down Kirk Couloir or perhaps had in mind to try a variation of that which he thought he could safely do.

Below is a snapshot of the Kirk Couloir route - I'm guessing from the SAR report that your husband was likely found somewhere along the pink line in the shadowed region to the left of Kit Carson Mountain.

I'm afraid that's about all I can offer. Hopefully that helps to bring you some small degree of closure.
Kirk_Couloir.jpg
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Tornadoman
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Re: Missing Climber Kit Carson/Challenger

Post by Tornadoman »

Mcorken,

I am very sorry for your loss. I would recommend reaching out directly to either Saguache County Search and Rescue (the accident happened in their county) or Custer County SAR (the mission debrief states that their high-altitude technical team was active in the recovery mission). http://custersar.org/contact/ They may be able to provide you with some of the details you are looking for.

I wish you peace and am so sorry this happened.

-Andrew
Climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.
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