| Up and Down the Avenue
Getting suitable climbing partners is very important. Since I climbed over half of them solo, I’ve never had to think much about a partnership, it was just me. Now that the tables have turned and the mountains are the more difficult, I have arranged many climbs this summer with others. I find myself continuing to tweak the logistics and matching traits/skills.
My climbing partners were twins, inadvertently wearing the same shirts.
This was the first partnered climb of the season and I was able to have two friends, Zach and Will from work go with me. We decided to leave the Springs around 10am, have lunch on the way down to the trailhead and get to Willow Lake in the late afternoon. We got to the lake around 7pm after a 4 ¾ hour backpack. The approach trail was very pleasant and not too demanding as far as rate of elevation goes, but the beginning of the trail was soft dirt/sand making it a little more difficult to tread. Must be left over from the sand dunes. That was only a short distance and we crossed over into the Willow Creek drainage to find a beautiful meadow.
The first waterfall on the approach.
This hike was one of the most breathtaking that I’ve experienced so far. There are at least two headwalls and waterfalls on this route. The first one to encounter doesn’t produce a pond or lake, the water just keeps going down and we hiked around to its highest point. It was definitely right out of the picture books as they say, but when you first set eyes on the waterfall at the lake, there is no doubt about the beauty of it.
We found a suitable campsite near the trail we would take the next day, sort of by luck, and relaxed, went over the routes we would be taking, ate dinner, got our day packs ready and hit the sack around 9:30p with the alarm set for 3:45a. We knew the next day was going to be a long one, but just how long was only a guess. We got up on time, ate and on the trail around 5a. We are not a fast group, you might say.
Everyone does navigation a little differently. Normally, I have Bill’s standard route on a topo map with waypoints that I have downloaded into my GPS. Then I connect the waypoints into a route. This time I had someone else’s track and had loaded it into my GPS, but no waypoints. I didn’t think I needed them since I had a track. I braved not knowing waypoints on the standard route and was able to enjoy the climb. The down side was not having accurate distance data.
The route up. The rock was mostly stable. Definitely a challenge to navigate.
We climbed around the backside of the waterfall and into the basin ready for the charge up Challenger. It was more of a repeat of Sneffels’ gully only not as deep. We navigated along the right wall of the gully and mover to climber’s left about half way up.
The standard gully.
We did a lot of scrambling sometimes on a faint trail, sometimes talus hopping. Getting to the ridge, it was a relief to see the remainder of a very straightforward ascent. We arrived at the summit of Challenger Peak at 8:54am, rested until 9:25a and moved on to the next 14er, Kit Carson.
The “twins” and I atop Challenger Peak
I’ve seen the photo taken of Kit Carson from the summit of Challenger numerous times, and I was awed to finally see it in person. The whole skyline of the Crestones and Humboldt, for that matter, was inspiring.
The first bit of snow on the Avenue was easily passable.
We were psyched for the Avenue having worried about it since the last photo seen on this web site showing it having a lot of snow. Receiving climber reports the day before, we were able quell our concerns. I put in a condition report as soon as I could about the Avenue’s condition. Near the end of the Avenue, just before heading up a steep gully on the standard route, there was a little choke point that made one pause for thought for a planned jump or long stride step. A fall here would have left a mark for sure.
This point is probably clear by now with the heat we’re getting.
The gully some take some don’t. Definitely solid rock. We took the next one up.
We were then concerned about turning left too soon. We were using a track created by previous hikers and we thought they used the standard route, however, upon comparing their track with the route, we discovered they had turned early. We continued on the Avenue until we were confident that we would ascend the standard route. Once on the ridge, it was short work to the summit arriving at 11:09a. We were now half way through the entire climb including the pack out. Since more mishaps occur on descent than ascent, I am usually a little apprehensive about the down climb. I got myself up here and now I have to get myself down! We were beat. It was 11:36a and we still had to get back to camp, back to the TH and back home.
The first point of concern on the downclimb was getting back on the Avenue. It looked easy to miss while heading up so we were constantly checking our location in regards to terrain. Since writing this TR, a couple, in fact, did miss the Avenue and ended up spending the night in the wilderness. We found it, but it wasn’t a smooth transition.
It was promising to be a long day. Heading back to Challenger, still on the Avenue, I started thinking about having to summit Challenger again and heading down the ridge to connect up with the first gully we went up. I think my fellow climbers were thinking about it, too. Reaching the end of the Avenue, we began talking about alternatives. The agreement was that all three of us had to agree in order to change our planned route. I dreaded returning over the other peak, but we talked about options and decided to traverse the northeast side of the ridge We dropped only 113 ft over 4/10s of a mile until we reached the gully we ascended. This could have been a risky decision had we descended too far down as there is no way to safely reach the valley below from that point. After our adventure, a friend did tell me of a fatality in this area a few years ago when someone deviated from the standard route attempting the same thing. Gulp!
The actual route is higher than the photo, but you can see the steep drop off. Not sure we saved much by taking the “shortcut.”
Traversing the talus wasn’t much of a time or strength saver, in our minds, we hoped we had made it a little easier. We negotiated our way down to the back side of the waterfall and found camp at 4:05p just the way we left it several hours earlier.
The lake looking West above the waterfall.
We packed up camp and headed to the TH at 5:10p. Reached the TH at 8:21p. We practically drew straws on who would drive first. Will volunteered. There was a fire on Hwy 50 so we couldn’t return the way we came, and I really didn’t like driving that curvy road in the dark anyway, so we took 285 and 24 back home, which is now partially closed due to another fire. We stopped to eat a quick dinner in Salida and Will was still driving. Somewhere around the 285/24 intersection, I took the reigns and began driving. I lasted until Wilkerson Pass and decided to take a short nap in the empty parking lot. I woke up an hour later and hit the road. Zach’s bride met us near I-25 and 24 and took Will with them since he lived close by and I headed home. My sweaty body hit the bed and the last thing I saw was 1:56 am on the clock before waking up for work 3 ½ hours later. It was indeed a long 22 hour, but satisfying day. The next day felt even longer.
Two thoughts prevail on this exciting, yet, demanding climb. First, my mind was distracted by the life that recently perished in the frigid waters of this serene, breathing taking deep water lake. I didn’t know him, only of the circumstances. I was wondering just how I would deal with that situation. We looked, but did not see the body. We wondered where his body was resting. Probably very deep. One climber pitched his tent above the waterfalls, so as to avoid the situation completely. We saw the canoe and I recalled the debate about it in a thread on this website. I write TRs and read the forum, but never get into the fray. I don’t believe we should held responsible for the decisions of others. People make good and bad choices. Water quality was an issue. I wondered if it would be okay to drink. It was a pondered moment, when I filtered the lake water and drank. Rest in Peace.
On a lighter, brighter, thought for planning, I’ve come to the conclusion that two days on such adventures is not enough. The drive and hike to camp is a demanding day. The actual climb is also a demanding day. The hike out, with a full pack, and drive home is another full day. Why squeeze this wonderful experience into two days when it can be celebrated in three? Maybe get home in time for a nice dinner with family.
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