| Big day in the Sangres
Climb and ski descent of Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point, 5/7/2013
crew: Jordan (jcwhite), Anton, Matt (pioletski)
7500' vertical climbed and skied. No idea of the distance covered.
Although I managed to ski Kit Carson and Challenger on the first attempt, I felt like I had been knocking on the door for a long time. Several times I had thought I had a crew put together, route picked out and date chosen, only to have the weather turn unfavorable, or something come up at work, etc. Fortunately the snow just keeps coming this spring. Jordan, Anton and I were all excited about this trip, and we needed every possible ounce of enthusiasm and energy.
Our chosen route was from the South Colony Lakes, over Bear's Playground, up Cole's Couloir, across the Avenue to Challenger, down the Kirk Couloir, across the apron and up the Outward Bound Couloir to Kit Carson, then down Cole's Couloir and back more or less the way we came. This way involves a lot of climbing. So does every route on these peaks; they are just plain big. At least we were able to avoid the endless dusty trails and stay on snow all the way.
We began the day by mounting snowmobiles and sledding up to the old 4WD trailhead a few hundred feet below the South Colony Lakes. Those who think this is cheating are welcome to come along on the next trip of this magnitude. The sledding was a multimedia adventure in itself, with water crossings, dirt, rocks, deep powder and spring rot all included. It was efficient, however, and we were soon donning skis to skin up to the lakes, where dawn greeted us.
The day began chilly, windy and overcast, as clearing storms often do. We would be treated to every possible variation of weather on this trip; contrast the next 2 pictures, which were taken only a few minutes apart looking in the same direction:
Weather, in fact, was crucial to our success and safety. We needed a day when cloud cover would keep the snow cool and firm, especially as we would be on steep south-facing slopes late in the day; we more or less got what we wanted. Our first major climb brought us to Bear's Playground in near-whiteout conditions. Smiles prevailed:
The low visibility presented a bit of a navigational challenge, but Jordan was familiar with the area and led us unerringly. Soon the clouds parted and we were treated to a spectacular view down Spanish Creek into the San Luis Valley:
We were out of the wind at this point but the surrounding summits were still flying flags of cloud...
... as we rounded the corner and started up Cole's Couloir for the second 2000+ foot climb of the day.
We attained the beginning of the Avenue and traversed through deep snow toward Challenger. Our route was picked with extreme care, as the snow had been warmed by the sun in spots and deposited by wind in others.
We put skis on to cross the final, downhill portion of the Avenue. Shortly afterwards Jordan kicked off a sizeable slab of snow - not enough to bury anyone, but big enough to knock one off one's feet, which was terrifying given the exposure.
Attaining the saddle, we quickly skinned to Challenger Point, with 4000+ feet climbed - a little over halfway there:
The north side of Challenger offered nice skiing with only a few thinly concealed shark's teeth. Jordan's picture nicely captures the sense of immensity of this place.
Below the open face we entered the throat of the Kirk Couloir. Now it was my turn to kick loose a king-size mattress of snow and dump a shot of adrenalin into my blood. Here Jordan and Anton attack the lower portion of the couloir:
After a break we began our third 2000 foot climb, into the Outward Bound Couloir. Here Jordan looks back as he crosses the 13,000 foot mark for the third of 4 times on the day:
And as we attained the summit of Kit Carson...
... and were treated to the views that only the Sangres can offer...
... smiles still prevailed.
It was already 5 pm when we reached the summit of Kit Carson, so we didn't spend much time there. We skied the upper face (Jordan)...
... and into the couloir (Anton)...
... and down to Spanish Creek (Matt). Anton reminded us that the most elegant technique in breakable suncrust is the old-fashioned stem christie.
By this time, with a little over 1000' of climbing left to go, we were all a tad tired. We dragged our sorry butts back up to Bear's Playground...
... and looked back down Spanish Creek at the setting sun.
We arrived back at the sleds at about 8 pm and rode down in the gathering darkness.
Jordan and Anton, thank you so much for your company, this would simply not be possible without a burly crew.
Jordan's writeup contains some really artistic photography - well worth a visit!
Thank you for reading!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):