Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,167 feet
Challenger Point  -  14,086 feet
Date Posted:  07/09/2007
Date Climbed:   07/07/2007
Author:  roozers42
 Kit Carson - North Ridge   

Kit Carson Peak
Challenger Point

Route - North Ridge of Kit Carson from Willow Lake, descent along Kit Carson Avenue to Challenger Point, standard NW slope descent back to Willow Lake

With a three-day weekend ahead, Scott and I decided to backpack to Willow Lake and climb Kit Carson Peak, Challenger Point, and possibly some surrounding 13ers. We packed up Friday morning and headed out around 9am, thinking that we'd make a stop in Salida for lunch and bug spray. We found a fantastic pizza/brewery place called Amica's that we ended up returning to on our way home.

We reached the South Crestone TH at about 3pm and were hiking up the Willow Lake trail shortly after. Somehow we made it to the lake in only 2.5 hours (Scott attributes it to the positive carb impact from our 2 beers at lunch.) We saw the lower campsites but decided to keep going to the top of the lake in hopes of escaping the mosquitos. They really love me and I was not into a repeat of last weekend at Stewart Creek.

View of Willow Lake

We decided to pitch our tent on the rocks right above the lake - exposed, yes, but with the breeze the bugs were much better and view was incredible. Scott worked very hard to secure the tent without using any stakes and came up with a bomber set-up!

Our camp

We were fortunate to talk with our neighbors, Paul, Bob, and Jerry who all had plans to wake early and climb the standard routes on Challenger and Kit Carson. Scott and I had a plan to climb the north ridge of Kit Carson, but seeing it from camp, I was intimidated. We ate dinner, watched a beautiful sunset, and went to sleep shortly after it was dark.


We were hiking by about 6:30 and made our way up the basin, staying on the high side of the creek, crossing some talus and avoiding the hard snow. Another pair took the lower route which looked to work equally well. The entire way, the north ridge was staring at me and I kept questioning my sanity in choosing this route.

Kit Carson's North Ridge in the morning light

We stopped for breakfast beneath the Outward Bound couloir and watch the other party as they began to ascend the class 3 rock steps and grassy ledges that lead to the ridge. This section was really fun and you could pick your line of difficulty. I thought the exposure was minimal and I had a great time finding harder routes to climb.




We watched as the other party started their climb up the ridge

Before we gained the ridge, I stopped to change into my rock shoes. Even though it's a 4th class scramble and certainly doable in trail runners (this is what Scott wore and was completely happy with), I'm much more comfortable in them and I didn't regret my decision. Once on the ridge proper, the exposure increased dramatically. The climbing is easiest directly on the ridge, but we found ourselves to the right a few times and on 5th class rock. Sometimes we would just climb these 5th class sections for a few moves and sometimes we backtracked to the top of the ridge. Roach calls the average angle of the ridge 45 degrees, and although I agree with this assessment, there is steeper rock lurking very close-by. Every time we got a bit off-route, there were reasonable ways to regain the ridge and get back onto 4th class terrain. The left side of the ridge, however, looked like it would be a completely different story - stay away from that area if you are not comfortable free-soloing mid-5th class rock.

A sample of the angle of the 4th class ridge (I don't have any pictures of the 5th class since I was too worried about getting off it)

Looking down from about halfway up the ridge proper

The rock was solid and wonderful to climb, but there were definitely loose blocks hanging around. We spent what felt like a long time on this portion of the climb, testing all of our holds and making sure we made no mistakes (there really isn't any room for error on this ridge.) It seemed like every 200-300 feet there were nice ledges to sit and take a breather. The climbing was sustained, but you could stop and look around after every move and I didn't ever feel strained. Be aware that there is lichen on the rock and could cause a slip if you aren't paying attention.

After our 1500 feet of scrambling, we topped out on the catwalk and arrived shortly at the summit around 10am. The views of Crestone Peak were extraordinary and there were wisps of clouds moving in and out of the peaks.

Summit shot

I learned a lot about myself on this route and about my climbing goals. There were a lot of positives - the rock was solid, the holds were bomber and abundant, the scrambling was challenging but below my climbing ability, the views were incredible (didn't really like the looking down, though), and I felt really solid. All of these things aside, I learned that free-soloing something that consequential is just not worth it to me. I would have been a lot happier even just simulclimbing once on the ridge. Most will probably climb this route un-roped and I won't be one to say that it isn't safe to do so; I just want to stress the commitment of the route and the repercussions of small mistakes even though it's "just" a 4th class scramble. For myself, I think it's prudent to use a rope and luckily I learned that on a route I could safely climb in good weather with no mishaps. Now I have to learn to lead trad! I want my honest opinion out there about the route and how I really felt while climbing it, not just a story to make it sound impressive and glamorous. There were times that I had a lot of fun, and there were a lot of times that I was seriously ready to be finished.

We started our descent at 10:45 and followed the balloon markers that Paul and Bob had set to mark the avenue - thanks, guys! We took down a few but left the key markers for hikers on their way up and asked them to take them as they descended. Both Scott and I were amazed at the avenue and how it wraps around the mountain, making for a reasonable ascent.

Looking around the corner at the start of the avenue

There was one snow crossing that took some care and would be safer with either an axe or poles. Scott lent me a hand for the last step as it looked a bit icy. After I crossed, he chipped at it with a big rock to take out the ice and make the path safer. We enjoyed the views along the avenue, especially of the prow when we started our way up to Challenger. On the summit, I met some very nice people who were also musicians (bassoonists studying at Oberlin) who knew a pianists friend of mine. Small world!

I underestimated the amount of time it would take to descend the standard route from Challenger back down to the Willow Lake basin. I tried staying on solid rock as much as I could and Scott boot-skied the lower half of the snow. I, not being nearly as competent at boot-skiing and not having my axe, choose to just suck it up and stick to the loose rock and wet grass.

Once back at camp, we poured ourselves a couple margaritas and looked back at what we had accomplished for the day.

Around 5:30 or 6, a storm rolled in - our camping spot was pretty exposed but all we got was some rain. We fell asleep for a short while and got a little nervous about the people we knew were still up on the mountain. I think the last group got off around 7! We were surprised to learn that it hailed further down below the lake and that there was a huge rockslide during the night that gave some people quite a scare. We awoke the next morning at 5am and decided to sleep in a bit more before attempting Adams. Somehow I messed up the alarm and we didn't wake up until 7:30. Oh well! We leisurely packed up and hiked down to the trailhead by noon and decided we would come back and hike the South Crestone trail to climb Adams in the future

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Nice work...
07/10/2007 20:06
Great pics and report Jen, I was thinking about this route some time soon. Thanks for posting

Nice memories
07/13/2007 00:22
... and also some sweaty palms and butterflies in my stomach. KC was my 7th 14er, 3rd at at least Class 3, and first Class 4 route. So I was pretty spooked. You get used to the exposure with more experience, but this route definitely is no joke. Seeing you excellent photos reminded me of that. I certainly remember thinking I was crazy to agree to climb that arete!

Good luck on your future scambles, and with learning rope and trad techniques!

11/30/2010 17:28
The north ridge is quite a route. I took my friend who was a beginner up it thinking that it wouldn't be too intense... man was I wrong. Pretty fun, if you like sustained exposed 4th class. Nice report!

11/30/2010 17:28
This route was a really good comparison for me. I've climbed harder multi-pitch routes with similar or worse exposure and felt fine - even though this was much easier, I just wasn't as happy climbing without protection.

Good work!
11/30/2010 17:28
Excellent write-up Jen & congrats to both of you on a well-earned summit! I appreciate & take to heart your honest assessment of the route. Esp since, yesterday, I found myself agreeing to climb it with Jamie at the summer gathering. Thanks for the advice on the trail runners too. I ordered some today & will be giving them a try on the Crestones in a couple of weeks. Oh no! I said the 'C' word...

11/30/2010 17:28
jen....very nice! i appreciated your honest opinion and candid comments on the route earlier today. we'll be sure to put your advice and beta to good use in a few weeks. thanks alot


p.s. Crestones 8)

11/30/2010 17:28
Very good beta here, Jen! I enjoyed reading this and the shots you provided were spot on. I've been looking at doing this ridge for some time now. Between your's and Andy's TR, it looks like it's definately in store in the upcoming weeks.
Thanks for posting this and choosing this particular route. Extremely helpful! Which, is what a good trip report should be.
Nice work.

Go Jen Go
01/19/2011 03:38
Looks like a blast!

looks like fun
02/05/2011 00:22
roozers42, thanks for the detailed write up, especially the piece on your opinion of climbing this type of terrain. I, at one point, felt the same way, but it just gets more fun and easier as the climbs go by. This looks like a really fun route and it looks like I'm gonna get after it this weekend. Have a good one

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