Peak(s):  Challenger Point  -  14,086 feet
Kit Carson Peak  -  14,167 feet
Date Posted:  08/11/2012
Date Climbed:   08/09/2012
Author:  emohr
Additional Members:   BTort
 To the Summits Through Adversity   

Anyone who gets to spend time in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains is truly blessed. I grew up with the Sangres in my backyard in Canon City, CO (about an hour from the Sangres). I had spent the first 20 years of my life staring at the majestic range and wondering if I would ever be able to summit those peaks; turns out, I can!

Peak Background:

Challenger Point:
Challenger Point is named for the Challenger Space Shuttle that disintegrated shortly after it launched and lost its 7 members in 1987. A plaque has been placed up there and is a classy tribute. The plaque mentions the incident and says "Ad Astra Per Aspera", which means "To The Stars Through Adversity" in Latin. I remember reading a report Matt Payne (mattpayne11) put up about Challenger Point and Kit Carson; he mentioned that he couldn't find the plaque for the Columbia Space Shuttle Crash. I researched that plaque and found out that astronauts and family placed the plaque up there themselves and had an F-16 fly over. That must've been quite the memorial.

I constantly caught myself thinking about the Challenger tribute and the peak's name. Why did Dennis Williams (the man behind the Challenger's name and the plaque on top) want to use a mountain out in Colorado to remember the NASA Challenger and crew? And what was the peak's name before it was renamed to Challenger Point in 1987?

Challenger Space Shuttle

As for the geology of Challenger Point, the point is much more clear; it was meant to be climbed. Its one of many 14ers that is blessed enough to be part of the Crestone Conglomerate. Basically, there are a bunch of rocks inside hardened rock. Hard to explain, easy to climb. It gives great hand and footholds up along the face of the rock. It was a fun warmup class 2 climb before Kit Carson. The final ridge to the summit has some great examples of the Crestone Conglomerate

Kit Carson Peak:
Kit Carson Peak is named after the Colorado legend Kit Carson. I was always taught that Kit was a true adventurer and one of the best pioneers Colorado has ever seen. Turns out that dude just murdered a bunch of Indians, and because of the time period, was praised for it. He claimed a lot of Colorado, but did it in a dirty way. I still like him though. If he's cool enough to have a mountain named after him, he's cool enough for me.
The heroic, and slightly creepy, Kit Carson

The geology of Kit Carson is basically the same as Challenger; awesome. The Kit Carson Avenue is one of the coolest rock formations I've ever seen. The climbing that The Avenue leads to was amazing. No loose rock to hit down, and conglomerate everywhere. Great holds, and nothing breaks off. A great rock type for a first class 3 climb


The end of summer is definitely approaching here at the Colorado School of Mines. Nerds are flocking around the commons, pens and pencils are going on sale, and the Dungeons and Dragons club is back out recruiting on campus. Now that summer is definitely ending, the 14er trips have been becoming more frequent out of necessity

After coming off a successful circuit of Missouri Mountain, Mt. Oxford, and Mt. Belford, Brandon Tortorelli (BTort) and I were ready for our next adventure. We had planned on doing trip a down to Lake Como to attempt Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point for quite a while, but that road up to Como is just terrible.

Luckily our friend Leanne suggested the Challenger and Kit Carson area instead. I was a little hesitant because I knew class 3 climbing was involved, and none of us had ever done any class 3. We decided the shorter drive, smoother road, and good reviews of the climbing were enough to lure us down there.

Leanne, Brandon, and I finally agreed to do our first class 3 climbing out of the tiny town of Crestone in the lovely Willow Lake Basin. We managed to coax our Golden buddy Quade Lusk into coming too. 3:1 ratio of guys to girls on the trip... Welcome to Mines

About a week before the trip, I "inherited" my sisters pet rabbit. I more than willingly accepted the little guy.

The rabbit, named Moose, has been known to Houdini himself out of some pretty crazy cages and containers. I was a little worried about leaving Moose, alone in my room for 3 days while I was out adventuring. I was hoping the 14er Gods would look kindly upon me and let me have a good trip and be able to come back to a nice, still in piece, apartment.

Moose; the new roommate

The Willow Lake Trail

After getting all of our work schedules and physical therapy appointments (Brandon) in order, we decided to leave Golden at 2:00PM on Wednesday. The drive down was pretty uneventful and finding the town of Crestone was pretty easy. The 4WD road up to the Willow Lake Trailhead was pretty rough. I had to throw the Xterra in 4WD and have Quade navigate me through some eroded sections of the road. However, when we came back to the trailhead on our way home, we saw a silver Toyota Corolla go up all the way to the trailhead. Maybe I just overestimate 4WD

We got out of the car at 5:30 and were ready to hike. We weighed all of our packs and they were all over 35lbs. I wonder how usual that is for a 3 day trip. I think that's quite a bit of weight. AKA inefficient packing.

Leanne, Brandon, and Quade at the Trailhead

The first section of the Willow Trail was gentle switchbacks up winding hills through the forest. A nice class 1 hike with a sandy path similar to that of trails near The Great Sand Dunes. It was hot and the hiking was getting tough, but then we saw the famous meadow along the trail and our morale was instantly lifted. It was just a gorgeous scene and really motivated us to see what other great views were in store for us

The gorgeous meadow along the Willow Trail

Hiking up the trail was fast and enjoyable. We didn't see anyone and were able to eat raspberries along the trail the whole time. I loooooove this time of year because of the Colorado raspberries. We could see the sunset's rays pouring over the San Juans into the San Luis Valley to the West. The horizon was pretty hazy all day and we found out later from a nice gentleman that there was actually a fire nearby that was causing all the haze. With all that haze, the sunset was phenomenal

The sunset out towards the San Luis Valley

After some more hiking and raspberry munchin, we arrived at Willow Lake at 8:00PM. A 2.5 hour hike

Waterfall pouring out of Willow Lake

We setup camp and exchanged stories around the campfire. The deer and the bighorn sheep in this area were veeeeeery friendly. It was pretty eerie to look out across the fire and see 4 sets of glowing eyes staring back at you. We were pretty happy to find out they were only deer.

Unfortunately, Brandon was just learning how to use a knife, and cut up his finger cutting cheese. Not the best accident to have the day before a class 2 and 3 scramble. He was just kinda bein a baby about it though. Waaah Brandon.

Brandon's "boo-boo"

With my first class 3 climb coming the next day, I had some trouble sleeping. The worst part was that "Colorado 14er Disasters" stories were going in and out of my head all night. I had no idea what to expect. Was class 3 the stuff I see on Everest TV shows? Was it the stuff the kids use on playgrounds? I just knew I was pretty timid of it. Like Batman says, "We only fear what we don't understand."

The Climb

We woke up at 6 and were on the trail at 7:30AM. The weather was cool, the views were amazing, and summit fever had taken us over

Kit Carson (center) and Challenger (right center)

After crossing the stream that pours into Willow Lake, we essentially got off trail. Or got off a trail. Or got off the trail? I dunno. We were following cairns up the center of the gully and suddenly realized that there wasn't any real trail around. I knew we had to be along the Western Ridge to be following the standard class 2 route Gerry Roach recommends. Unfortunately, we were too far East and were in the center of Challenger's main gully. It was loose scrambling with small boulders falling left and right with a bunch of difficult route navigating.

Crazy flower

Brandon along the final ridge to Challenger

After about 2 hours of this, we made our way to the Western Ridge of Challenger and were able to follow it to the summit. The trail to the summit was awesome. It had some of that awesome conglomerate as footing over 2 or 300 foot drop offs. I hate heights, and that conglomerate made me feel safe

And after 3 hours of tough scrambling, we made it to the summit. We hung out there for a few minutes, but knew we still had quite a bit to go before

The Kit Carson Avenue

That Kit Carson Avenue was so freakin cool!

After getting down the highway we made it to the class 3 chute that everybody talks about in their reports. "Go right of the prow, left of the nipple" were the directions that I remembered and were running through my head. Brandon and I used climbing shoes because we didn't know what to expect and figured it wouldn't hurt. Or because we're dumb and think we are way better than we really are.. You decide

The climbing up was amazing. Perfect handholds and footholds on a slab that had a pretty gentle angle to it. The exposure was minimal and there weren't enough loose rocks on the face to have to worry about knocking down. People always said that their first class 3 and 4 climbs are always much easier then they had been imagining. I, fitting the norm, agree completely. I psyched myself out the night before, but by the time I was at the top, I was already wanting more. Brandon and Quade went "Left of the prow, and who the hell knows from there."

One hour after our summit of Challenger, I made it to the top of Kit Carson! My 21st 14er

View to the East with Humboldt and the Crestones

At the summit we met these two really cool dudes who had been doing the same hike as well as some bouldering along the way. We talked for a bit and shared lunch and stories. Here's a picture of one of the two guys we met on the summit

Definitely the coolest guy to summit that mountain that day

It was still before noon and we could tell the weather was going to hold. We had our lunch and were ready to take some cool summit pictures.

Unfortunately, the best idea that came to mind was all of the guys getting naked and covering them with our Mines flag and hard hats. I'm not too sure what the "butt picture" rule on is, so I'll just include the one from a distance

Naked Mines students. We'll be doing a charity calendar too

21st 14er locked down for me

The 3:1 ratio on Kit Carson. We just can't get away from it!!

The class 3 chute that leads up to Kit Carson's Summit

After coming down Carson, we made our way back up to Challenger in 45 minutes.

Brandon on Challenger Point with Kit Carson (left center) and Crestone Peak (right center)

Willow Lake on our way back down

The rest of the hike down from Challenger was uneventful, and surprisingly slow. After 2 hours of down climbing from Challenger, we were greeted at our camp by a herd of 15 or 20 big horn sheep

Some of the better looking inhabitants of our campsite

After a long day of hiking and climbing, I just wanted to use the ol' fly rod and maybe catch us some dinner. Unfortunately, the cutthroat trout that are in Willow Lake are extremely picky, dumb, or smart. We had 3 rods going for about 4 hours and didn't have any luck. We eventually walked to a cove that had 3 or 4 fish in it, and thought maybe we could toss our flies/lines right above the fish and catch it. No such luck. So even though there are fish in that lake, we didn't catch any of them

The damn fish

We wrapped up our long day by playing around the fire and taking cool lighting pictures with my camera


More silly camera tricks

21 & 20 down. Just 37 left

The Departure

We left the campsite the next day at about 11 in the morning. It was a beautiful morning, and we were all ready to come on home. The hike down took us just over 2 hours

Willow Lake on our final morning

We left the Sangres feeling accomplished, proud, and sore. A grand time in the wonderful Sangres once again

Sangres in distance

Stay Thirsty My Friends

Questions still remaining from the Trip
1) What was the original name of Challenger Peak?
2) How was Kit Carson Avenue formed?
3) How is the class 3 section of Kit Carson compared to other peaks such as Longs, Maroon Bells, etc

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
interesting questions
08/11/2012 15:23
Nice trip report, very entertaining. Good to know about those cutthroat trout.

According to all that I have read about the Crestone area, Challenger Peak was once called Crestone Mountain. Challenger is by far the most prominent peak viewed from Crestone, and back around 1900 when it was a mining town, apparently the locals all called it Crestone Mountain. I have read that there was some confusion on the part of a CMC party climbing the peaks in the early 1900s at some point who thought they were climbing what was then called Kit Carson Mtn (which was further north?) when they were actually on ”Crestone Mtn.” They referred to it as Kit Carson Mtn erroneously on a map or trip write-up or something, and from that point on it was known officially as Kit Carson Mtn. A few years ago some Crestone locals tried to have the name of the mountain changed back to Crestone Mtn. but with Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle already there, that may have been a bit confusing. Anyway, that is just a possibly innaccurate summary of something I read at one time, so maybe someone knows more...

In terms of question 3 - The 3rd class on Kit Carson is similar in length and difficulty to the home stretch on Longs. The Maroon Bells are in a whole different league, mostly because they are loose, but they also entail much much more scrambling in the 3rd class realm than Kit Carson or Longs. Hope this helps...

The Name of Challenger
08/11/2012 16:54
Here's a link to a long and contentious thread regarding the name of Challenger/Kit Carson and a proposal(s) for some name changes. It's informative regarding questions you are asking.

El GUapo
Dismissing history is a mistake.
08/11/2012 17:05
Kit fell prey to his humanity, not unlike the rest of us. Its easy to judge the dead by today's standards. Kit did some terrible things; but sometimes we can measure the greatness of the man by the size of his mistakes. Kit also did some truly great things.

Great trip report, great pictures....congrats!

You have questions, we have answers
08/11/2012 19:14
1. Kit Carson, Challenger and Columbia are all peaks on Kit Carson Mountain. Before they were renamed, Columbia was often referred to as Kat Carson. I believe Columbia's slightly lower second summit was called Kitty Kat Carson. And Challenger was known to at least some as Johnny Carson.
2. Kit Carson Avenue was obviously formed by a very large and powerful bulldozer. I'm guessing a John Deere.
3. Kit Carson's class 3 is about the easiest class 3 there is. I've been on routes rated class 2 that I'd consider harder than KC's class 3. (Lindsey is one example of that.) I'd say Longs homestretch is considerably harder than anything on KC. It's steeper, drops over an intimidating cliff at the bottom, and the rock is worn slick from a bazillion climbers over the years. Haven't been on the Bells, but the general consensus seems to be that it's another notch harder yet. Wetterhorn might be one class 3 closest to KC in difficulty, but it's still quite a bit steeper.

Nice report, great pics, congrats!

08/12/2012 00:06
great report. It sure was a tiring steep climb, but the memories last a lifetime.
Hammer on!

Image 20
08/13/2012 00:30
You look like you should be hunted by Blade! Nice pics, great report!

always an interesting report dude
08/13/2012 03:01
haha - never know what to expect, but I always enjoy them! nice job man.

3:1 ratio
08/13/2012 03:18
You kids are spoiled nowadays. It was considerably worse than present even a few years ago.

The avenue - differential weathering (weaker stuff erodes faster than stronger) along a bedding plane. I don't believe it is a fault, but I'd have to re-look at it in person.

Naked dudes are never encouraged on this site.

08/13/2012 03:31
Thanks for the info and kind words fellas! I like the John Deere idea for KC Avenue

And I guess the naked dude pictures have already seen their last days. Whatta shame

fun report
08/13/2012 23:16
really enjoyed reading it ... wasn't pretentious or snotty ... just fun, the way it should be ... thanks for not taking yourselves too seriously

Craig Cook
Naked butt picture...
08/16/2012 04:55
Out of the 4 people in your group, you take pictures of the 3 nobody wants to see!

Great job getting your first class 3 climb! Loved the trip report.

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