Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
Mt. Lindsey  -  14,042 feet
Date Posted:  08/01/2020
Date Climbed:   07/07/2020
Author:  jvirene
 Scambling in the Sangres   

Scrambling around in the Sangres


Preface: I personally feel that the Sangre Mountains are really awesome. There are some gorgeous peaks and really fun routes. There are a lot of class three and four routes with for the most part, excellent rock. Furthermore, despite their distance, these mountains are pretty accessible; for both of these trips the drive was under four hours which isn’t that bad! They give us the opportunity to enjoy fun scrambling without having too much logistic hassle. Another reason is that these mountains are straight up gorgeous, I have a massive collection of photos that I took while hiking because I was just awestruck with the beauty for both of these trips.

Kit Carson and Challenger:

After Phil and I had done Wetterhorn, which although fun, only offered a short class three scramble, we wanted to do something a bit more exposed, difficult and sustained. For the reasons mentioned in the preface, Kit Carson seemed like a very attractive mountain for us to hike. We picked the north ridge over the standard route because we had not done any legit class four route since Capitol the previous summer. We are still both trying to build our skill on high exposure and difficult class four routes, so this was perfect. We planned on hiking up to Willow Lake the day prior, then camping out overnight and hiking the next day.

Preparation: Everything was pretty standard while preparing for this hike. We both knew that Willow Lake has plenty of campsites, so we were not concerned about this. The weather looked great both days, albeit a little hot! I complied my standard backpacking setup, with a tent, sleeping gear and lots of food and was all set for the trip. Philip on the other hand, failed to bring a sleeping pad or sleeping bag, so he planned on just sleeping in his hoodie. Luckily for him however, I brought along an extra blanket and sleeping bag so that he wouldn’t freeze. I have heard people mentioning that the mosquitos can be extremely bad around mid-July-August to where it ruins trips. We decided to go anyways, but I did bring a bug net in case. Phil decided that his skateboard would have to stay behind on this peak since it is a pretty legit class four scramble. We also brought standard gear for a long day of scrambling, and after looking at other peoples’ reviews of the route, I decided to bring my climbing shoes in case we ran into any fifth class moves.

Logistics: Though the plan was to leave at around 10:30, Philip slept in until around 1:30, and we ended up leaving at around 2:00. We drove the 3.5-hour drive and got there at around 5:30, ready for our hike. We were a bit concerned that we started our approach a bit late, but we ended up arriving well before dark.

Hike to Willow Lake: Despite the fact that we began our hike later in the afternoon, temperatures were still very hot. The first section of trail is pretty steep, and we were moving at a solid pace. By the time we finished this portion, we were both drenched in sweat. We continued hiking along a lot easier trail through the forest, giving us an opportunity for some shade and to cool down a bit. Once we reached the river crossing, Philip for some reason found out that his keys were missing. He ended up having to backtrack about ½ mile until he found a spot where we took a quick break. While I impatiently waited, I had a sandwich, took some pictures and checked out the river. He got back, luckily after finding the keys that he had just left along the trail and we continued to hike. After this river crossing, there was not much hiking left. There was just one portion of steeper, rocky switchbacks that lead most of the way to the campsites. We had also underestimated how long the hike would take, we thought it was two miles, but it is actually around four. We did the whole approach in about two hours and by this point, the sun was beginning to set.

Views at the lake.
Looking back towards the valley


Camp: Once we reached the campsite, I was shocked at how many other people were there. There had to have been at least twenty other hikers, in addition to a whole team of trail builders. Campsites in the entire area were occupied, and everyone was sort of just squeezing their tent in where they could. When we got to the trailhead, the lot was filled with cars, but I figured that most of them were just day hikers. This was on a Monday night as well, so I can only imagine how crowded it gets on the weekend. I’m not a huge fan of running into crowds in the mountains, but we did not have much of a choice but to camp with all of these other sites right next to us. We set out gear down and went to check out the lake, then, decided to hike up one of the nearby mountains to get a better view of the sunset. We went back to camp for some dinner and stayed up to watch the stars. We then went to bed for a few hours of sleep before tomorrow’s hike.

The mountains looming directly over the campsites.

The hike: We got up for a quick breakfast and were ready to leave at around 4:00 AM. We worked our way up to the lake, and then followed the trail around. Once around the lake, we came to a trail junction for the standard route and the north ridge. We proceeded towards the north ridge, and we ended up making a somewhat costly error. When you’re taking this route, follow the trail that stays low and goes towards the upper Willow Lake. We followed this guy who opted to take a different trail that gains elevation before the boulder field. It wasn’t a huge deal, but Phil and I agreed that we lost time and wasted energy following this route. We continued hiking and the sunrise and early morning clouds gave us some absolutely amazing pictures and colors to start off our day.


A couple shots of the sunrise creating shades of peach and pink in the clouds.

We reached the boulder field and hopped across the rocks towards our next objective, the outward-bound couloir. By this point, we were gaining some elevation on a somewhat steep, and loose, rocky slope. Finally, we got onto the scrambling.

First rays of sunlight hitting the mountains next to the OB couloir
Another cool picture of the early morning light hitting the mountains.
Looking down towards the upper lake.

The climb:
When we were on the lower portion of the route, the hiking was still fairly easy class two/three. We ended up just following a couple other solo climbers who were going more up the face as opposed to the ridge. Our route was really fun and cool, but we did not follow the north ridge for much of the climb. I’ll show our route in the photos; where the North ridge continues to hiker’s right and takes ridge proper, we simply stayed straight for the entire climb up the face. Our route was mostly class four, but it had one low fifth class pitch at the very end. Something else that I found very unique on this route was the amount of grass and lichen that was in the rock. It did not complicate anything much further, but our route also had less solid rock than the standard route.

This is a picture showing our line up the mountain. If you'd like something more detailed, message me.
Phil on some of the initial class three/four rock.

We climbed up the exposed face and didn’t really stop for breaks as both Philip and I were dialed in, carefully making every move and focusing on safely ascending. Only about five minutes after we had put our helmets on, we heard a menacing buzzing sound, which turned out to be a rock that whizzed only about a foot past my head. I was very happy about when we decided to put our helmets on because I think that that would have seriously injured me. I’m not sure how the rock fell like that because we were still pretty far from the summit, but this gave me a good reminder as to why it is important to bring helmets on these mountains. On our route there were a couple of very cool features. The first was a nice narrow class four chimney. I led this portion, followed closely by Phil.

The second awesome feature was the class five section at the very top of the false summit. We watched one guy make his way up, saying that although it felt a bit sketchy due to the exposure, it is doable. Philip and I decided on whether we wanted to just get onto the standard route of the ridge or continue up the face. I wanted to check out this final pitch and so that’s what we did. We hiked over to the base and assessed the route. Philip went first, and I got some cool pictures while watching him climb up. Since he was wearing trail runners, he made his way up carefully, so as not to slip. When I was up, I finally made use of the climbing shoes that I’d been hiking with this whole way. This section made the extra weight worth it, I had a lot of fun climbing, the shoes offered a great amount of extra confidence in my feet and I found this section was very easy. We were very stoked when we topped out because the summit was only a short walk away. I didn’t bother changing back into my trail runners until we reached the summit.

Philip carefully working his way up the crux: a low fifth class on a pretty solid slab.

This was easily the most technical and high consequence that we'd ever climbed, but it was maybe 40' and we both got up without incident. If you enjoy some low fifth class rock, I'd say go for this route, its a bit more direct and really fun.

For some reason, more so on this hike than any of the other class three or four hikes that I’ve done, I felt incredibly confident and sure of my capability, which really helped me get up with ease. A couple things that I did differently that made a huge difference:

  1. Testing your holds- I always test my holds, but on this mountain, I really tested them, pulling in all directions and having 100% confidence that none of them were going anywhere.
  2. Focusing in front- Sometimes I’ll look up or down the mountain, which gives me more visual of the exposure that I’m dealing with. I did not do that this time and was unfazed in even the most exposed pitches.
  3. Not selling out on holds, always maintaining 3-4-point contact. Again, I do this on all mountains, but I really focused on doing these two things this time and it boosted my confidence.

Summit: We chilled on the summit for a short while and saw a really sick view of the Crestones. I was amazed at how gnarly they look from this perspective, and it reaffirmed my desire to do the Crestones traverse. We also got a great view of the Sand Dunes below. The two solo climbers were also on the summit and we talked with them about the route for a bit. After refueling, we were ready to traverse over to Challenger. *This is the standard route for descending, and we had no intention of descending the north ridge.

Summit of Kit Carson
Looking over to Challenger.
Awesome picture showing the Crestones to the left, and the sand dunes, very distant below to the right.
Another close-up shot of the crestones.

Challenger: Phil had a much better understanding of the route over to Challenger, so I followed as he led the way towards the easy class three downclimb. As we were descending, we saw people who were heading up Kit Carson from Challenger. We saw the avenue and proceeded up the solid trail.

Going up the avenue

There’s an unranked 13er that the prow ascends, so we figured that since it’s right there, we would take an extra five minutes to tag it. We also got to check out the final pitch of the prow and saw someone free climbing it.

Final pitch of the prow, you can faintly see a climber near the top.

We then continued onwards towards Challenger, and it was a pretty solid twenty-minute hike with good elevation to the summit. By this point, we saw a lot of other hikers, many on both Kit Carson and Challenger. We made the summit of Challenger and got to enjoy a beautiful view of Kit Carson and the Crestones standing behind.

On the summit of Challenger.
Looking at the vast land below.
Kit Carson from Challenger.

The descent:

We continued on the ridgeline briefly before we dropped down a bit early and had to regain elevation to stay on the route. I recommend staying on the summit ridge for as long as you can, as it makes for easier hiking on more stable rock. When the trail drops, the route gets a lot less fun. The trail is very worn out and is very rocky and loose. Philip started sending it down, while I slid and got beaten up by the rock quite a bit trying to keep up. I was absolutely thrilled when the thirty minutes of descending this trail was over and we got onto stable ground. This part almost made me question if descending the north ridge would have been more enjoyable.

Finally back to dirt trail.
Looking down the trail.

When we got back onto the trail, we still had another mile or so back to camp. We continued descending and when the trail flattened out, I knew that the hardest part of the day was over. We vastly over-estimated how long the hike would take and took the opportunity to enjoy our time in the mountains with a nice break in the shade past the lake.

Willow Lake.
Looking back towards the route to KC and Challenger.
Another shot, the lake and surrounding peaks are very photogenic.

We then walked around the lake, looking to see if there was cliff jumping on the massive ledge by the lake. I think that there is, but it was a bit cold, so we weren’t in the mood to test it out. We then made our way around the lake towards camp.

Camp and Return: Once back at camp, we took a couple of hours to just rest and enjoy the day. We saw what I think is either a Ram or a mountain goat poking around the campsites and checking us out. If anyone has insight onto what this animal is, I’d love the input. Those are my guesses, but I can’t be positive.

The mountain goat just checking us out.

I sat in my hammock, soaking up the sun rays and taking pictures of this guy. Philip and I vibed at camp for a while then, when we decided it was time to go, we packed up and began the hike out. Again, the hike was pretty hot, as we started hiking back at around 2:00. Although we were descending, four miles is four miles and some of it seemed to drag on. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery in the forest and San Luis valley below.

Taken while heading back towards the trailhead, about 1/2 a mile from the lake.
One last look at the mountains before we headed back.

Review: Kit Carson and Challenger was a very excellent hike. I particularly enjoyed the north ridge of Kit Carson because it was everything that I hoped for. Highly exposed class four scrambling on mostly solid rock. This ridge was pretty sustained and the class five pitch at the very end was the icing on the cake. Traversing over to Challenger was pretty simple, but still very enjoyable and the route was fun and easy to follow. The only part of the hike that I did not enjoy was descending down Challenger, as it was loose and just not fun. The approach up to Willow Lake is very beautiful and aside from how crowded it gets, everything else was perfect. It is not a very long approach, the mosquitos were never too bad, and it is very beautiful. If you’re looking to get into some harder class four routes with exposure, this is great because it is very exposed but the rock is solid so you will feel confident. Feel free to go through my advice on what got me up the north ridge a lot easier because I feel that if it helped me, a pretty seasoned hiker, it may help you too!

Mount Lindsey:


Unfortunately, Phil could not join on this peak, so it ended up being myself, Logan, and Thomas, who is another member on the forum (123qb). Thomas reached out to me a while ago and said that he’d love to do some hikes with us. I love meeting people in the outdoor community and invite anyone who reads this and wants to link for some peaks to also reach out! Anyways, Thomas wanted to link up for a peak, and we went over a couple of choices, and decided that Lindsey would be an awesome one to try. Lindsey is a pretty short class three, with a nice crux wall.

Logistics: Thomas decided that he would drive out to the trailhead the night before and camp, while Logan and I would just get up super early and day trip the mountain. Thomas was unsure if his Honda Civic would make it up the 3/6 rated trail, so we agreed that we’d pick him up if he couldn’t make it.

The drive: I picked Logan up at around 3:00 AM and we started the long drive out to the trailhead. The route goes mostly down 1-25, which was not the most enjoyable, but we did it. Some info that I feel is pretty important for this drive is that Walsenburg is the last stop for gas. I thought that the town of Gardener would have a gas station, so I didn’t bother to stop in Walsenburg, but I got a bit worried when we continued driving past the small town and didn’t see a gas station. On the drive back, we ended up making it to Walsenburg without issue to refuel, but the last thing you’d want is to be stranded way past Walsenburg out of gas! Once out to the dirt trail, we kept our eye out for Thomas. Little did we know, he is a pretty excellent driver, and got his Civic all the way to the upper trailhead. We kept finding obstacles which, were not a huge deal in my Pathfinder, but we wondered if/how Thomas made it up. At the trailhead, we saw him eating breakfast and pulled up and introduced ourselves.

Our first view of the surrounding mountains came about 1/2 a mile past the trailhead.

The hike: Soon after our arrival, we began the hike through the forest towards Mount Lindsey. We enjoyed getting to know each other and our respective backgrounds and experience in the mountains. We also passed by the mine and made a mental note to check it out on our way back. I was unsure how long Lindsey would actually take and suggested doing the Iron Nipple and Huerfano if we had the time. We punched out of the trees and got a gorgeous view of the sun hitting the surrounding mountains in early morning conditions. It was a perfect day for weather, hardly any clouds and blue skies. This is likely one of my favorite basins, it felt very unique from a lot of the other mountains that I’ve done. On the approach to the ridge, there are a couple of very steep sections of trail. One is in the forest below treeline and the other is the trail leading up to the ridge. We made light work of these sections, though I felt my calves and thighs burning from the bike ride that I had done the day prior.

Breaking past treeline, not far from the ridge.
A view of the iron nipple
First good view of the ridge + Mount Lindsey.
Another view closer up, you can see the upper route and the crux wall.

The ridge: We planned on taking the ridge up Lindsey as opposed to the gully due to better rock and a more fun scramble. In order to ensure we followed the correct route, we got on the ridge proper pretty early, and were cliffed out in a spot. We dropped down to avoid the cliff, then continued following the class three route up to the crux wall. We were on mostly solid rock on the ridge, though in our party of three, we still had to be careful because there were a couple of loose sections.

PC to Thomas for this awesome shot of Logan and I hiking up the early portion of the ridge.

We reached the crux wall, which looks a lot less daunting from up close. Logan went up first, opting to take the class four line to the left of the chimney. Thomas attempted a class five route but backed off. I saw the crack system that goes straight up the wall, and squeezed my way through the tight chimney, barely able to despite my small camelback.

Logan going up the Crux, he chose the line to the left.
My route worked its way right up the chimney in the middle.
Thomas, chillin right below the crux.

Once at the top of the crux wall, we continued along the ridge, thinking that we were near the summit. We gained the false summit and saw the true summit only a quarter mile away. We hopped along easy class two terrain to reach the summit of Lindsey.

Walking along the much easier class two terrain past the crux wall.

The summit: Once at the summit, we were pretty stoked, and shared the gorgeous views with a couple other parties, all of whom had opted to climb up the gully. We looked west to see the amazing views of Blanca, Ellingwood and Little Bear. The larger party announced that they were descending the gully, so we chilled on the summit for a while, giving them time to get down so that we wouldn’t send any rocks on their head. There were some clouds that looked slightly menacing while on the summit- our cue to begin downclimbing. We also decided that with how late we started, that we’d had our fill of hiking so we abandoned the prospect of doing Huerfano and the nipple.

Awesome view of the Ellingwood, Blanca and Little Bear peak group.

Descent: We were ready to descend and made our way along the ridge back to the crux wall. For a good portion of our descent, we were still climbing right above the gully. This meant that any rocks that we sent down would endanger the party downclimbing, so we were extra careful on our descent. It felt very terrifying to know that their safety relied on our ability to assess the terrain and tread lightly, so as not to send these rocks flying right onto their heads. We all took this very seriously, and I’m proud to report that we did not send a single rock off the ridge. Downclimbing the crux was only a little spicy, but we all made our way down carefully, and soon enough, were past it. We continued along the ride to the saddle between the Iron Nipple and Lindsey. Again, we expressed our agreement that we’d save the thirteeners for another day and began descending into the basin. This portion of trail was fairly steep and hard on the knees, but we got down pretty quickly and enjoyed hiking on flatter trail.

Another look at the route up the ridge, taken on our return.

The hike out: Once below treeline, we continued hiking back to the trailhead. We stopped at the mine, and just briefly stuck our heads in because it’s so close to the trail.


Hiking through the forest went by pretty easily, though there are a couple sections where the trail is steep and a bit technical, as there lots of branches and roots to hop over or duck under. When we got back to flat, solid and well-built trail, I silently rejoiced. We hiked the remaining 1.5 miles back to the car pretty content with the hike.

The drive back: As I mentioned earlier, the town of Gardener did not have gas, and I had about fifty miles in the tank from the top of the trailhead, which had to get us all the way to the closest gas station in Walsenburg. We told Thomas before we left that we would wait for him at the bottom and follow him to the gas station in case we did not make it. Thomas, being smart and proactive had filled up in Walsenburg the night prior. We made it down the dirt road to pavement and waited only about five minutes before he showed up behind us. We made it to Walsenburg with gas to spare, and then we parted ways. As we drove to the gas station, there was a pretty large thunderstorm that passed through, we got alerts of a flash flood on our phones, but never encountered anything other than some pretty heavy rain. The rest of the drive went off without a hitch.

Review: Mount Lindsey actually took me by surprise in terms of difficulty. Though not a very long hike, it felt longer than I thought it was. The scrambling is pretty easy for the most part however, our choice of class four routes up the crux wall made it a lot more interesting and fun. I think the only sketch part about this hike was the rockfall potential, it is rated as moderate on the ridge, but I think it is considerable in some spots. That’s just my take but you decide for yourself. I was really only concerned about sending rocks down to the climbers below in the gully but, if there aren’t any climbers in there, you won’t have to worry about that. This was a beautiful hike and the basin below the fourteeners in this area is really awesome. Lindsey is a fun route and great for a day trip if you don’t mind all the driving.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Looks like fun
08/03/2020 07:55
Great report and well written, i feel like I was there with you. I am headed up there next week!

08/04/2020 07:50
Your buddy is a bighorn sheep.

yvng phil
08/13/2020 04:48
I guess I am a bighorn sheep

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