Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point
Trail: Outward Bound Couloir,
Class 3, ~ 12 miles, 5600
Jen, myself, and Ryan
attempted the North Ridge on Kit Carson a year ago only to be stymied
by fog and clouds so intense that visibility above 11,000 feet was
nill. While we didn't get Ryan along for the climb this time
and I had decided to go out and give it a go again over Memorial Day
Weekend. Our plan was to backpack in to Willow Lake Saturday, May
27th, 2006 and then to climb the North Ridge on Kit Carson the next
day, head over to Challenger, then hike out in time to make the Boulder
Creek Festival on Monday.
We left the house around
11:00 AM on
Saturday and had packed with luxury in mind: pillows, stove, multiple
freeze dried meals, inflatable mats, etc. We also figured a set
of axes, crampons, and helmets would be in order. While I
rope I d did bring four full length runners along. Dave
showed me how useful these are. Four runners, girth
together, gives you more than 12 feet of a rope ladder and I have found
them to be indispensable.
The drive to the town of
smoothly and we arrived at the trailhead around 3:30. I
point out that nothing past Salida takes check cards or
cards so bring cash. Jen and I threw our packs on and headed
Along the way we ran into Dave Hale, Joey Luther, Bob Callahan, and
Brian Frieberger. They had climbed snow up to Challenger and then
crossed over to Kit Carson and were headed out to climb Lindsey the
following day. We chatted briefly and headed up.
The trail to Willow
Lakes Breaks down
into approximately three sections and is around 3 miles long and 2500
feet in gain. The first section consists of an annoying
switch backs right from the parking lot and tops out above the valley
pictured above. The second section follows alongside the
before switchbacking up to and past a few waterfalls, crosses over a
stream, switchbacks through a rocky section, and tops out in a break in
cliffs before entering a forested area. The third and final
section runs through a forested area and ends at Willow Lake.
Taking the hike in leisurely, with full packs, the first two
sections are about an hour long each and the third is around 30
We arrived at camp
around 7:30 at
which point I set the tent and bags up and made dinner while Jen
filtered about ten liters of water. After a hot dinner we
sleep. I had originally set the alarm for 3:00 AM for a true
alpine start but as the night progressed it became apparent that this
was pointless. During the night the wind grew progressively
stronger and stronger until it was so loud that I decided that climbing
the North Ridge might not happen. I reset the alarm for 4:00
and we took a leisurely hour and a half cooking breakfast and lounging
in the tent hoping the wind would die away. It didn't.
Willow Lake In The Morning
I figured we might as
well gear up
and head up to he base of the
climb and see what to do from there. We left around 5:30 and
at the huge boulders below the North Ridge around 6:00-6:30.
wind was still really howling and gusting hard enough to push me back
and knock Jen over so we decided to hang a round for more than an hour,
sandwich, and see if it calmed down. It still didn't so we
decided to skip an exposed 4th class climb. This turned out
a good idea because the wind picked up ALLOT over the course of the
day. I'd guess the wind was averaging 60 mph with 80 mph
but this could be wrong. It was certainly the strongest wind
suffered through when hitting a peak.
Kit Carson In The Morning
Although we had
abandoned the ridge
climb for safety reasons we were
fortunate enough to be standing at the base of the Outward Bound
Couloir which was completely shielded from the wind so we decided to
climb this instead. This turned out to be a fun alternative
the day was hardly wasted. We also spent awhile scrambling
on rocks at the base of the North Ridge for no real good reason other
than to kill time.
The Outward Bound Couloir
Another Shot, Courtesy Of Jeff Valliere (Our Route Is In Yellow)
I don't remember how
long the climb
in the couloir took but I am guessing it was around an hour and a half.
It was the longest snow climb for Jen so far so I went slow
made sure she was comfortable. The snow in the couloir was in
great shape and, while the bottom two thirds was sunhit, the
part was not. This was fortunate in that the places where rockfall
would be likely to happen due to warming temperatures remained frozen.
The couloir itself was pretty easy for three quarters of the way.
I'd say the angle started around 20 degrees and ramped up to
around 40 or so. Past the constriction the angle steepened to
around 45 degrees before ramping up to (maybe) 50 degrees during a
portion where I angled up and left to a rock band. At the rock band I
traversed horizontally to the base of the final wall which exits the
couloir. There were frozen foot steps here which I can only
assume belonged to George Barnes who descended this route a couple
weeks before. Once at the base of the final 20-30 foot exit,
snow steepened to 60 degrees. Overall the snow in the couloir tended to
be very good although some sections were icing up and hard to find
decent axe belays in. For the most part, even the
sections took crampons quite well and the steep portions of the couloir
allowed absolutely bomber axe belays and kick steps. I have
highly recommend Omega Pacific's Ice Axes, I bought one when I decided
that I hated my Black Diamond Raven Pro axe. The old axe was
too light and narrow to work well in steeper snow and was very
difficult, with it's tiny spike and low weight, to get decent belays
with. The Omega
is heavy, solid, and cheap. I've now used it on 60 and 70
slopes and will never go back to a lightweight axe again.
than that the main injury of the day came from hammering the axe in to
the icier spots to provide Jen with good belays. Apparently
hand is not meant to be used as a hammer and my left hand had muscle
spasms during the ride home.
Jen Starting The Couloir
I made my way up and
over the exit
only to be hit by wind so strong it almost (literally) blew me back
into the couloir. I hunched down and yelled a warning about
wind to Jen. I was very proud to see how easily she handled
steep part with absolutely no fear. She kicked right up the
section and was happy with it until she noticed how far Kit Carson
still was. She seems to gain comfort in snow and rock much
quickly than I did. One of the funny things about
is that it is the only discipline where an you are always getting both
smarter and dumber as your experience increases. The picture
below shows Jen at the 'headwall' of the couloir. You can get
idea of the steepness by noting her aspect with respect to the slope.
Jen Finishing The Couloir
The hike over to Kit
straightforward and followed a gully up to the ridge before summiting
out. There was a modicum of 3rd class scrambling punctuated
some icy areas but nothing very difficult or exposed. The
from the summit on the other hand were magnificent and one side of Kit
Carson was a sheer cliff. I would have admired the views
but the wind was so horrendous that standing was difficult.
Crestone Peak and
Just before summiting we
ran into two
guys who were just coming off. I regret not remembering both
their names as we descended the whole way together but I do remember
one was named Brian. These two guys had apparently paired up
chance when their respective significant others bailed on them.
asked them if they would mind holding off for a minute to show us the
right way down to Kit Carson Avenue. They were both very
and said no problem. As it turned out we decided to hang out
entire way down to camp. If either of you guys read this
for the good company.
Jen Topping Out on Kit
After summiting we all descended a 2nd/3rd class gully to the first
half of the Avenue. The wind was really fierce here and was
knocking everyone around. Fortunately, the wind was blowing towards the
rock so it actually pushed us in the direction we wanted to fall.
If it had been blowing another direction the descent would
been scary. Finding the avenue is really easy. Drop
three or four hundred feet and look for the obvious ledge system to the
right. With any visibility it would be hard to miss, it is the first
place you can traverse right out of the gully. (Note, by
mean facing outward, if you are downclimbing facing inwards it would be
The 1st half of the avenue was completely straightforward with an axe
and at no time did it feel exposed or nerve wracking. There
always a little bit of rock or solid enough axe belays in snow that it
Kit Carson Avenue, Part 1
The second half of the
downward and had one section where there was some ice which couldn't be
walked across. We had two options: either cross the snow
or sit on a rock and kind of jump (scoot) over the ice. We
choose to jump over it. While the area was exposed it wasn't
bad (not like Broadway on Long's) and should be straight forward for
people with some prior exposure experience. If you haven't
in exposed areas then expect this section to be scary.
Kit Carson Avenue, Part 2
The guys we went with
knew we hadn't
been up Challenger yet so we all headed over the top. The
looking back at Kit Carson was fabulous and the avenue looked totally
hostile from a distance. It's amazing how bad things look
farther away, note the NW couloir on Crestone Peak.
After the Avenue, Heading
Up To Challenger
We all made quick time
but only stopped briefly as the wind was unrelenting in its fury.
After Challenger we scrambled down a ways before jumping into
huge snow slope at which point we plunge stepped and glissaded down
about a thousand feet. The trek out of the upper basin was
absolutely miserable as the wind only gained in strength and made each
step a battle. Jen was literally blown over three times, once
badly enough to crack her elbow severely. After descending to
lower basin we said our goodbyes, packed up and headed out.
made it back to the car around 5:00 and made it home around 10:00.
It was a long and windy day but the area is beautiful and Kit
Carson is a peak not to be missed. I still hope to hit the
Ridge one day.
These peaks were numbers
22 and 23
for Jen, next week we are going to beat ourselves on some arbitrary
Sawatch slog and then the following week I will take Jen to the Elk
range for the first time where we will hit the Bell Cord and the
traverse between the Bells.
To My 14'ers Page