Our group really wanted to bust out as many peaks as we could this weekend and from my research, hiking from South Colony lakes seemed like the best choice to be able to get the most bang for the buck/time. I was skeptical about the traverse from Colombia to Kit Carson seeing there is not much information on the route. However, I did find a very helpful trip report posted 2 years ago that we printed to follow the route described.
This is the TR from 2010: Here you go!
Summits of the day:
Obstruction Peak – 13,799 ft
“Kitty Kat” Carson – 13,980 ft
Columbia Point – 13,980 ft
Kit Carson Peak – 14,197 ft
Roach says its 5.6 miles RT from Lower South Colony Lake, 3,700 ft gain, sounds about right
Here is a rough idea of the times that I remember from our summit march to Kit Carson and back. It took us 4 hours and 52 minutes to finally reach the top of Kit Carson (took many breaks due to fatigue). Only took about 3 hours and 20 min to make it back to camp.
Left camp: 6:00 am ish
Made top of ridge: 7:35
Bear’s Playground: 8:00
Obstruction Peak: 8:20
“Kitty Kat” Carson: 9:30 ish
Columbia Point: 9:50 (10 minute break)
Kit Carson: 10:52 (another 10 minute break)
Return up Columbia: 11:45
Back to camp: 2:25 pm
Early morning wake up alarm… 4:00 am… ok maybe another hour
Second alarm 5:00 am…Woke up this time seeing the early morning glow before the sunrise. It was very calm this morning and chilly but still above freezing at the lower South Colony lake. I was still feeling very sore from our adventures the day before on the Needle and Humboldt but was able to get a decent amount of “camping” sleep (reminder to get a sleeping pad).
Colby, Philip, and I had some snacks for breakfast this morning and were slow at getting energized enough to start our hike. Finally, needing to get our blood circulating to warm up, we began hiking around 6:00 am. As we made it to the Upper South Colony lake to fill up on water, we already began to warm up in the chilly early morning air.
From here, we began our accent up the trail heading to the ridge between Bear’s Playground and Humboldt Peak. I was really feeling pretty terrible this morning and was moving very slow. My body just did not have much energy to move so it was a slow trot up the ridge compared to the day before. As we moved up the ridge, the sun poked over the horizon high enough to create a magnificent red glow on Crestone Needle. It was really an amazing sight.
Red glow of Crestone Needle
Crossing over the rocky ridge to Bear’s Playground was quite fun. Between its two highest points is a small gully that must be descended to the east maybe 15 ft and to avoid a vertical obstacle, then re-ascended over some boulders back to the west side to follow the easiest route. Otherwise, the best line is whatever line you want really. Philip and Colby came around the last point of the ridge first before the short descent into Bear’s Playground when I heard their reactions of “Whoa!” I hurried to see what they were aweing about and saw the big surprise. There were 3 coyotes or so we thought “wolves” sprinting across Bear’s Playground down towards Spanish Creek Basin. I snapped a photo as they were pretty far away already but they looked quite large and had white shades of fur on them. Not the look of coyotes I am used to seeing.
Hard to see but, if you can zoom in you can make out 2 of them, there were 3 running away towards Spanish Creek Basin
A few notes: Bear’s Playground is an awesome place because you have a truly amazing view of the Crestones, San Luis Valley, the East valley, and back south towards South Colony Lakes.
One of the best pictures my trusty camera has ever taken
Looking north towards Columbia/Kit Carson and into San Luis Valley from Bear's Playground
Obstruction Peak was our first real obstacle which was about a 20 minute shuffle to its highest point from Bear’s Playground. At points along the way up, it seems there is an obvious trail but at times one can make their way up whichever way they may choose. Stay right and ascend the grassy, less steep slopes to the ridge or the shortest distance diagonally up the gradually steepening, loose scree south/south west slope of Obstruction.
Next, was a gradual descent down Obstruction to the first class 3 sections of the day, the ascent up “Kitty Kat” Carson.
From Obstruction towards Kitty Kat
Staying more to the right side of this ascent is less steep and there is a descent trail most of the way with the occasional cairn that barely exceeds class 2 in a few places. Otherwise, it is class 3 up generally the middle which was solid conglomerate all the way.
Heading up Kitty Kat
Looking South at Obstruction peak
We enjoyed this ascent. Then it was a short hop, skip, and a jump over to Columbia Point where we would then decide if we wanted to cross over to Kit Carson.
Looking back at Kitty Kat/Crestones
Commemorative plaque (shuttle points in the direction to start the down climb)
Taking the advice from the 2010 TR above, the plaque with the shuttle in memory of the Columbia disaster definitely points in the direction in which to begin descending Columbia. A couple things on this route is to look for obvious cairns to lead you in the right direction. Also, there are two areas where you choose “crack” or “slab”. The crack provides the safest route down climbing and the slab would be an upper class 4 down climb to maybe a low class 5 ascent I believe. We choose to down climb the cracks of course.
Looking up from initial down climb on Colmbia's west side
Crossed over at this cairn approx. 30 meters down the west slope I believe, not to far down gulley
Philip and Colby on the initial down climb after crossing over main west ridge
Nice of you to guide us cairn (bottom right corner)
Head south down the gulley from the cairn in the last picture
We followed the big crack in the middle
Colby heading down crack feature in last picture
Again, there are many cairns on this route that lead the way. Follow them for the easiest route. You can descend all the way into the scree gulley on steeper class 3 rock if you would like but it is unnecessary. There is a nice route from the saddle between Columbia/Kit Carson once you are there that skirts around a bend to the gulley connecting with the standard route up Kit Carson. This allows you to avoid most of the up-climb of the crappy scree gulley. Again, I counted 5 cairns after the saddle that led the way around to begin the ascent up to Kit Carson’s summit.
Philip next to cairn
Crux of the route, large crack is the easiest way down, good holds for hands a feet placement, slab to the right
Looking up towards the "crux" crack
looking down gulley we did not decend all the way, cairn leads you around the right to the saddle
Cairn that leads around to Columbia/KitCarson saddle
Once we got to Kit Carson’s summit (10:52 am), there were a few people up there already. We chatted with some of them for a few minutes to decide on whether or not to try for Challenger Point. Overall, this was a slow hike to Kit Carson’s summit because we were all pretty exhausted from the previous days hike up the Needle and Humboldt. Challenger was doable but we were running low on food and time seeing there were already clouds a brewin’ over the Crestones and us. This prompted us to forgo the march to Challenger Point. It’s hard to pass up a mountain that is so close but we knew we needed to hustle back hoping the weather would hold and that we had a long drive back to Golden once we finally made it back to the car. I personally wasn’t sure I would make it to Kit Carson because of my fatigue on this day so I wasn’t disappointed by our decision. Just means I’ll have to come do it again!
Also we gained a hiker (Adam I believe? sorry if I'm wrong) who saw us descend Columbia and wanted to hike it pretty bad, so he came along on our re-ascent which was fun.
Don't forget your Whichwich!
Humboldt back left, crestones right
I took a few more pictures of our descent down Kit Carson to show the route over to Columbia and then I ran out of memory because of the many pictures I took this weekend. I have no pictures for the rest of the day sadly. We ascended Columbia Point the same way we descended following the route we remembered and the cairns. This scramble up Columbia is very fun indeed. About half way up Columbia I turned around and gave a loud yell and heard the best reverberating echo I’ve ever experienced. It was awesome. I yelled like 5 more times because it was really cool. I got some fellow shouts from people descending Kit Carson.
The cairn that leads you to the saddle shown in picture 22 from Kit Carson side
Our approx. route up and down Columbia, there are two choice at the top, we used the passage over to the right which is less exposed
from saddle looking at NE rockface of Columbia Point
I highly recommend this route to someone who wants to get the Crestones and the Challenger/Kit Carson group in one camping trip from a single trailhead. We made quick time back across “Kitty Kat” Carson and down its north slope. The trail is very obvious going down Kitty Kat and is an easy class 3 down climb. We choose to ascend Obstruction Peak only a little bit before following a line across the west side of the peak and then finally descending the loose scree field making a direct line towards Bear’s Playground. This worked for us in descending because we saved a lot of time not having to re-ascend Obstruction and taking the fastest route down the north slope of Obstruction. Lots of loose rocks were not so fun but worth saving the time.
We relaxed a bit now in Bear’s Playground before heading back across the rocky ridge over to the saddle below Humboldt Peak to meet up with the trail. Again, I enjoyed the distant echoes of my yells back towards South Colony lakes and the Crestones. Good stuff.
The descent down to camp went fast, we were exhausted and tired and ready to peace out. Some people choose not to cross this ridge over to Humboldt and descend the steep scree gulley straight down from Bear’s Playground towards Upper South Colony Lake, but it really isn’t too long to cross the ridge to be able to descend the nice trail going up to Humboldt. At the end of a day I’d much rather descend a nice trail than more loose rock.
RT was about 8 hours 10 minutes and with 30 minutes to pack up camp, and another 1:25 to make it back to the car. Total day from Camp to Car was about 10 hours 15 minutes. I have not added up the mileage or elevation gain but if you start at South Colony lakes it really isn’t too long of a day (assuming you are not already exhausted from the day before ). I posted Roach's route distance/elev. gain at the top from the South Colony lakes.