| North Ridge Peak Bagging
Peaks Climbed: Kit Carson Peak, Columbia Point, Kitty Kat Carson Peak, Challenger Point
Climb Members: Greg Fischer (Greg_Fischer), Tyler Prince (MountainMedic)
RT mileage: 14
Vertical Gain: 6500 ft
Weather: Clear until 1400 (dark clouds), heavy rain starting at 1530
RT Time: 13 hrs 20 mins
Start: 0430 (Willow Creek TH)
Willow Lake: 0640
North Ridge Start: 0930
KC Summit: 1100-1140
Columbia Summit: 1220
KKC Summit: 1240
Challenger Summit: 1415
Willow Lake: 1610
This is my first trip report: Hope it contains the necessary info and only an entertaining amount of "fluff."
After a long week at work, I figured I had earned a nice trip to the mountains. Greg, who is apparently a machine, had just come from the San Juans on Thurs/Fri, climbing the Handies group on Thursday and Uncompagre/Wetterhorn Friday. We met up in Salida on Friday evening for some delicious Amicas Pizza (The Alghero and the Big S Brown Ale are delicious), and took my trusty Honda up the 4WD Road to the Willow Creek TH.
Notes on the Road: It's about 1'15" from Salida to the top of the 4WD road at the Willow Creek TH. The 4WD part of the road is about 1.25 miles long with one real nasty spot. My car (Honda CR-V) handled it with aplomb, and I think less rugged vehicles could get up the road fairly easily. The one spot is steep enough that if a car were to get stuck, it would be fairly easy to roll back and park below. I would argue clearance is more important than drivetrain on this one...
We made it to the TH around 10 PM Friday night, pitched the tent, and crashed. After being awoken by an infant screaming for some nondescript attention at the ungodly hour of 3 AM, we decided to sleep in an extra half hour and hit the trail at 0430. We passed one group right after starting - some out-of-staters going for Challenger - but didn't see any other sign of life until we hit the lake around 0640, which was quite crowded. Bear bags were everywhere. First light was around 0540, but route finding on the class 1 trail was very easy in the dark.
We angled to the left around the lake, crossing a short boulder field and enjoying the view of the cliffs over the lake. We wound up aiming high toward the cliff bands, which took a very long time due to some incredibly unstable rock. We saw a lone climber aim low along the creek and then angle up, which looked to be much more efficient. Upon reaching the cliff bands, there is a couloir immediately to the right. This is not the route for the North Ridge...rather, climb up the next short scree field and follow the grassy ledges up toward the ridge on climber's right.
The ridge itself was a very fun route with around 45 minutes of straight up class 3 and a small amount of class 4. Route finding was very easy and the rock very stable. While you may see Greg sans helmet in some of the below pictures, I would recommend wearing one. Furthermore, you probably shouldn't be taking advice from someone wearing manpris.
We summited around 1100 and hung around for awhile with the aforementioned lone climber, and some other groups climbing from South Colony Lake. While an old ankle injury of mine was acting up, Greg said he was going for Columbia Point, a fun Centennial. After realizing that I didn't want to spend all day sucking on the proverbial "climbing pacifier," I decided to suck it up and follow Greg over to the Columbia Pt. summit. Columbia was perhaps more fun than the North Ridge, and definitely worth doing. After a short gully reminiscent of Crestone Needle, we hit a class 4 downclimb and a slightly larger "Leap of Faith," which was still quite jumpable. The trail was well marked and exposure 3-4/6. We hit the Columbia summit at 1220, checked off a centennial 13er, hit Kitty Kat Carson (an unranked 13er 5 mins from the Columbia summit), and climbed back down to the KC/Columbia saddle to follow the KC Avenue to Challenger. A quick note here: the downclimb from KC to the Avenue, which one must access to climb Challenger, drops you off right at the start of Columbia. With an hour's work (tops), you get a fun class 4 13er...highly recommended.
With a week of sleep deprivation catching up to me, I decided to take my sweet time on the Avenue. Greg went ahead to "climb the Prow," and I imagine became one of few to summit the unranked 13er without doing the 5.8 route below (shhhh...). With dark clouds coming in and lightening over the San Luis Valley, we picked up the pace and summited Challenger, and then descended an admittedly non-route scree field, eventually picking up the trail back to Willow Lake. We agreed that it was one of the most miserable descents we had ever done, with me now at 25 14ers and Greg at 46.
Once we made it back to the lake, it started raining pretty hard. Having just hit up the Patagucci sale and stealing a $600 shell for $240, I was anxious to see what a $600 jacket does, and managed to stay bone dry and perfectly comfortable throughout a 4.5 mile descent in a torrential downpour. After what seemed like an endless day, we made it back to the TH at 1750, where it immediately stopped raining. After cleaning up camp, we drove (very, very quickly) to Salida, where we gorged ourselves on Burger King and celebrated a big day and Greg's Sangre finisher.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):