First trip report here and way overdue. A quick point for this hike: On your way back down Kit Carson, pay close attention and do not miss KC Avenue. We had read that it's easy to blow by, and even with this knowledge we still almost climbed down right past it. We spoke with two groups who both missed the avenue. It gets pretty sketchy if you miss the avenue with a lot of steep, lose rock and significant exposure.
Ok, now on to our trip!
The Willow Creek trail is beautiful but took us a bit longer than we expected a 4 1/2 mile hike too. The 50lbs+ bags probably didn't help.
Start of amazing weekend!
Willow Creek Approach
We woke up around 4am and hit the trailhead at ~4:45am. Hiking from Willow Lake to the base of Challengers North Face is really relaxing with great scenery. Challenger's North Face is essentially a long, steep hike with small, loose rocks. It feels like it never ends and was really the only downside to this entire hike. We stayed to the right as much as we could which we found was a bit more stable The ridge on Challenger is much more fun & the terrain is more like Kit Carson.
Challenger's North Slope & Awesome Views!
Goofing on Challenger - Loose rock everywhere
The views from Challenger were amazing, and it was off to Kit Carson. The clouds were rolling in pretty fast so we started moving pretty quickly.
Summit of Challenger
Looking at Kit Carson from Challenger
The Avenue is everything it's made out to be. So much fun & much wider than it looks in the pictures (for the overwhelming majority at least, there were a few points on it that are a little narrow, but we never felt uneasy about it).
Kit Carson Avenue - So much fun, over to soon
Unfortunately, the clouds were rolling in so quickly that visibility became horrible while we were on the avenue. After exiting the avenue, you have two ways to go up. You can take a left up the steeper, but more stable class 3 climb or work your way around the mountain and then venture up and left, which is longer, looser, but not as steep. Some of our group went up the steeper route while the rest went around. Neither climb was very hard, and we all thoroughly enjoyed our time going up Kit Carson. Once we arrived at the summit, visibility was next to none so we started down the mountain never getting to see the fabulous Crestones. O well, we will just have to climb those next time!
Reascending Challenger isn't that bad, but coming back down the North Slopes is pretty miserable. Like I mentioned before, so much scree, everyone was constantly slipping and kicking rocks down. I'd recommend a helmet for this reason.
Re-ascending Challenger, ugh.
My brother coming back down the mountain. Good to be back on solid ground.
Looking back - We made it!
Willow Lake - so peaceful
We arrived back at Willow Lake ~4:00pm, so it took us ~11 hours from Willow-to-Willow. We decided to pack up and head out which took another 2 hours down Willow Creek Path. All-in-all, we had a blast and everyone did a really good job (This was the 1st 14er for 3 of the guys in our group, all coming from sea-level). I think they would have rather had me pick an easier first 14er, but afterwards they were happy they tackled a pretty tough mountain.
I expected Kit Carson to be a little harder climbing. I would say it's ranked Class 3 more so for the duration of the hike and not the actual hiking. It's a really really long day, a lot of miles on loose rock, but exposure is minimal compared to other class 3 14ers. For instance, there is nothing on Kit Carson that resembles the last pitch up Wetterhorn.
Hope to be back in the Sangres soon & do the Crestones. The sand dunes are right nearby as well. Would definitely recommend this hike. Cheers!