Peak(s):  Challenger Point  -  14,086 feet
Date Posted:  02/10/2016
Date Climbed:   01/27/2016
Author:  SnowAlien
 Green Light in the Sangres - Challenger Point   

Green Light in the Sangres - Challenger Point

Peak: Challenger Point
Dates: January 26-27, 2016
Trailhead: Willow Creek TH winter access (8,800 ft)
Distance: ~12.5 miles
Elevation Gain: ~5,400 ft.
Party: Solo
Time: 4 hours for the approach, 11 hour on summit day

After the successful trip with Dillon up Spanish Creek for Kit Carson, I was staring at the unbelievable, consecutive 4-5 day weather window, while CAIC rating for the Sangres remained green. My mind turned to Challenger Point, which we were unable to attain on our Kit Carson trip due to unconsolidated snow on the Avenue. I frantically searched for partners, but nobody I knew could take a day off midweek. I couldn't get the peak out of my mind though, and 2 days later found myself parking at the winter access point for the Willow Creek TH. Still a chicken to daytrip the peak, I decided to haul my overnight pack up one more time.

Back in the Sangres

Peaks are looking frosty

The day after we did Kit Carson, it snowed. According to CAIC, just a couple inches, however, the higher in the basin I went, the more snow I noticed. Approaching Willow lake at sunset, I was starting to worry - it was at least 6" of fresh snow on the ground and I had to re-break the trail. Making very good time up to this point on the good trail, I lost about an hour picking a route that would avoid some wind-loaded gullies to my right, arriving at 11,400 ft at sunset, for about 4 hour approach time.

It was a cold and fairly miserable night, much colder and higher than the 2 nights I spent in the Spanish Creek. My fleece got soaked from fresh snow on the approach and I had trouble warming up. I had serious doubts about continuing with that much new snow, but decided to at least go to the Willow lake in the morning and take a look.

Leaving camp the next morning at 7 am

After dozing in and out, I "woke up" around 5.30 am in the morning, and left the camp just before 7 am. After I got to the Willow lake, my spirits rose. There was considerably less snow above the treeline and snow conditions looked good. Crossing the slopes below Adams turned out to be benign and I even encountered some frozen crust on the southern aspect.

First look at Kit Carson and Challenger

Thanks to those who came before me and their exploratory efforts, I knew exactly which rib to take - and it looked fairly dry.

I ditched the skis around 12.4k and started booting up shallow snow and tundra up the wide rib. I could see old avalanche debris in the wind loaded gullies to my right and left, so the rib was an excellent choice.

Mt. Adams and friends

Looking back down at the route

Standard summer route is well hidden in the snow gully to my right

95% of the rib is a straightforward hike, but I knew there was a tricky section somewhere. Eventually, around 13,500 ft or so I reached a steeper Class 3-4 section, that required care on the upclimb and downclimb.

Approaching the crux

On the summit, looking at Kit Carson and Crestone peak

The summit is currently adorned by a giant cornice, which one can observe all the way from Route 17 in San Luis valley, so I made sure to stay a bit to the rocky side of it. I made pretty decent time from camp and was on the summit a quarter past noon, for just over 5 hour ascent time from camp.

In my hypoxic state, I didn't even realize I was just 1 day shy of the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. I did, however realize, that if I hustled down, I might be able to ski back to the trailhead in daylight. So after staying for about 10 minutes and snapping a few photos, I hurried down.

Colony Baldy, Humboldt and Obstruction Point make an appearance

Downclimb went without a hitch and by 2 pm I got back to my skis.

On the ski out


Sunset in the Sangres

I managed to get a few corn turns above the lake and then a couple powder turns in the trees before finding my campsite at 3pm. After quickly packing up the camp and downing a cup of chicken noodle soup, I started the ski out by 3.45 pm. Ups and downs in the trees presented an immediate challenge though, so I had to throw skins back on for a bit. Finally, at 4.15 pm it was all downhill and I reached the car at 6 pm.

Approach - start at 1.30 pm
Reach camp @11,400 ft - 5.30 pm
Summit day:
Depart camp - 7am
Get reception/check email - 8am to 8.30am
Start up the rib - 9am
Summit: 12.20pm
Start descent: 12.30pm
Reach skis @12,400k - 2pm
Campsite: 3pm
Leave camp: 3.45pm
Start skiing downhill: 4.15pm
Car: 6pm

Comments or Questions
02/10/2016 08:28
Despite the bad sleep, it was well worth the trip with amazing photos and another winter summit. Awesome work.

02/10/2016 08:47
Love the pictures.

02/10/2016 09:32
Did you cross the lake or take the normal route up and around? I'm planning on attempting on tues and wondering if I can cruise across the lake.

Nice pics!

Congrats, Natalie!
02/10/2016 09:36
What a cool, well-executed solo trip, Natalie. Love the pics.

02/10/2016 10:31
I just finished re-reading your August 2015 Weminuche blitz last night, and then today you posted this. Nice write-up and great photos of a beautiful area. I plan to spend at least a week in the Sangres this year.

Super effort, Nat!
02/10/2016 10:33
Nice to see another report by you again! You always have a really artistic eye and take such beautiful shots! Thanks for sharing this one, and keep'm coming!

I Man
Nice work!
02/10/2016 16:59
Good job, Natalie. Glad to see you get this one. I'm enjoying watching you have a great season, while I have not even made an attempt. I have no doubt that you will complete the list, and no doubt that you'll do it before me.

Climb on!

Well done!
02/10/2016 17:19
It takes a unique individual to climb solo...and even more so to go after it solo in winter! Congratulations on a successful outing.

I recognize that tent
02/11/2016 09:41
Great report, Natalie. AND pictures. Glad you got some skiing in on this one too. Also pretty cool you were in there the day before the 30th anniversary of the shuttle. Isn't it amazing what a cup of noodle soup will do for the slog out of the Sangres. I may be a little biased, but this looks like a cakewalk compared to KC. haha. You forgot to mention you did LB the day after this. Nice job out there!!

Appreciate all the comments
02/11/2016 11:20
druid2112 - ha, an interesting question. Bear in mind, conditions on the day you go might be quite different (warmer?) from the day I was there. I skinned around the lake on the way up, but skied down to the lake and crossed it on the edge on the way back. It's really your call.

Brandon - thanks! Yes, this one went down pretty well.

Eddie - Sangres is an amazing area. It sure is nice to be back there.

MtnHub - thank you. Photos are entirely taken by phone camera.

Matt - I am not so sure about the winter list completion, and I have a longer way to go than yourself. As you know, as peaks get harder, it takes longer to wait for that perfect conditions window. And as I told you before, if I get to 40 or just over peaks this season, I'll be very satisfied. Well, the ridge is here, time to get cracking 8)

Britt - thanks again for the helpful report of yours from last year. With that, and Sarah's photos, it really wasn't all that bad. I feel like I make more conservative decisions when I am solo, as the room for error is non-existent. I just made sure not to fall into any creeks!

Dillon - I don't think you are biased at all. I believe this one took half the time of KC and gave me much needed confidence to tackle the Bear afterwards. I neglected to mention I saw mountain lion tracks early on the approach, which would be another reason not to do this approach in the dark

Good Information
02/12/2016 18:26
SnowAlien, thanks for the good information. I'm looking at doing this same route sometime soon. I'm curious to hear more of your thoughts on the section of route between the benches above the lake and when you got on the rock rib. The summer trail goes through a group of "micro cliffs". Any tricky spots between the benches and rib?
Congrats on the solo winter summit.

The route
02/15/2016 15:46
Youngk2844, yes there are some "micro cliffs" and tricky spots perhaps, but it's less challenging than the crux up higher on the ridge. I would also be concerned about runout of avy gullies above.

Thanks SnowAlien.
02/19/2016 22:24
Thanks. Now that druid77 completed the trench and there's good weather for the weekend. I'll try another attempt this Sunday. I'll keep an eye on the avy runout zones. I'm also not so sure about that lake crossing...

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