The calendar said it was the first weekend of Fall, but the weather was all Summer on October 2, 2011. Shorts and tee shirt all day from the hike up from the Willow Lake trailhead starting at 8:00 a.m. until the return to the car just as it got dark at 7:30 p.m. There were reports of “thundersnow” and other harsh weather a little further to the north on this day, but the Sangre de Cristos were under fair skies all day. There was a hint of a turbulent atmosphere early in the day, but these clouds were isolated and did not develop into anything.
Our plan was to climb the North Ridge of Kit Carson and return over Challenger and time permitting, get on top of Kat Carson along the way. Planning note to anyone wanting to repeat this day, get to the summit of Kit Carson first, then bag Kat Carson on the way down. I had forgotten how near the saddle between the two you have to hike on the standard route and did a little more up and down than necessary.
Getting above Willow Lake we had our first view of the North Ridge. Viewing the ridge and the NW face was a little discouraging. There was a fair amount more snow visible than I wanted to see and for a moment the idea of going up Challenger seemed to make sense.
But the day was so stunningly beautiful it made more sense to use the time to explore as far as possible and see what condition the climb was in up close. We pressed on up the valley past the well worn trail up Challenger and were greeted with a nice view of a snow free NE face and the ridge that would be our route apparently marking the boundary between snowy and snow free portions of the mountain. The North Ridge climb is demarked clearly by the sun shadow line of this next photo.
To the left in the previous photo is Kat Carson, a/k/a Columbia and the Outward Bound couloir. The imposing monolith that is Kat Carson is shown in more detail here.
Moving up the grass covered ledges on the approach to the ridge it appeared that we had made the right decision. The NE side of the ridge was warm and sunny!
Scrambling over the grassy ledges, it was pretty straightforward about where to go. The North Ridge is almost always in view and the path of least resistance is usually pretty obvious.
Scouting ahead, there are not too many decisions to make. Once on the ridge there is only one way to go, UP!
The next couple photos show the last bit of the ledges below the ridge
There was some snow along the ridge, but it was easily avoided. It was interesting climbing because much of the time one hand would be in ice cold rock and the other on the sunny warm side.
One Hand Cold, One Hand Hot
More than once we ducked for a few minutes off route to catch some sun. The next couple picture show typical climbing along the ridge.
About 1/3 of the way up there was a snowy ledge with animal tracks. I am not sure what would be scampering around up here in the snow. But it did reveal a possible interesting variation to check out next summer.
It seemed like the end of the ridge came too soon. Before we knew it we were topping out.
As I said earlier, once off the steeper part of the North Ridge it is an easy stroll to the summit. Unfortunately for us, I forgot how far down toward the saddle one must hike on the return trip over Challenger so from being only moments away from our summit I took us down to the saddle between Kit Carson and Kat Carson. The view looking down the Outward Bound Couloir does not reveal the thick slabs of ice already formed just below and out of sight. This would not be a good choice for a shortcut down.
The hike up Kat Carson was fun and this is definitely a worthwhile side trip. If done in proper order it wouldn’t have added more than 30 – 45 minutes to the hike. The view of Crestone Peak from Kat Carson is pretty amazing.
And the view of Kit Carson wasn't too bad either. Here is Elly with the ridge we just climbed in the background.
So back we went to from Kit to Kat and back again to tag the summit and then down again to being the hike out over Challenger. The “Avenue” is totally free of snow.
We left the summit of Kit Carson at around 3:30 p.m. and dogged it up and over Challenger. The day started to seem a little long on the descent which isn’t too bad, but does seem to go on and on before we finally reached the easy walking on the trail above Willow Lake. Here is a look back up at Challenger after most of the descent was behind us.
Once we hit the flat ground we set a pretty good pace and enjoyed the lingering twilight on the hike out, getting back to the trailhead just as it got dark at about 7:30 p.m.