| Challenger & Kit Carson, Willow Creek th, Sept 17 2005
15.3 miles and 12h rt... What seems to be the current main trail up to the lake goes north of the posted maps for the middle third part. There was a skinny little side trail that veered off the wide main trail down toward the creek just after passing the open field/marsh that may or may not have been a more direct route. It looked more like a campsite offshoot though even though it in retrospect when comparing the recorded tracks on my GPS with the topo map appears to have follow the mapped route.
Oh well, the trail up to the lake was very good and easy to hike, just long, ~4.5 miles. Willow Lake is one of the most stunning ones Ive seen so far featuring tall steep cliffwalls and a waterfall, very serene. Plenty of campers at the sites just below the lake.
Approaching Challenger after getting through the willows above the lake while contemplating exactly why I did not come out here last night and camp by the lake starting on the mountains refreshed with a light basic pack instead of with almost 5 miles in the legs and full gear on my back (weather report advised of moderate to high winds) I was hit (think Looney Tunes and pianos) by the sudden realization that there is ~2200 of ascent in loose rock, sand and gravel waiting during the next mile. Oh yeah...
Breakfasted at the base while watching various groups of climbers slipping and sliding all over the place trying to find a good route up the side of Challenger until a group of well rested (bastards), light pack (I really resented that) lake campers caught up with me, we hooked up and I tagged along with them for the rest of the climb.
We followed the standard route up with no incidents except for ongoing cursing and time/reality warps (every time we looked up we were no closer to the top then the last time we did...). When slipping on the steep grassy parts it would be a good thing to remember not to grab hold to anything that looks like a flat prickly ground hogging plant. Its very prickly... Finally made it to the saddle and were almost blown clear straight back down the gully, the wind had picked up somewhat...
Summited Challenger by noon and made a group decision to go on to KC despite the wind. KC was a breeze in comparison, the ledge and the short gully up to the top was done in less then an hour, wind not much of an issue.
Heading back down to the lake was even more interesting then coming up. Apart from the not conducive to glissading (more conducive to rollading...) surface in the gully the wind picked up a tad, 35 mph gusts and 25-30mph sustained according to Weather Underground, time for ski goggles to keep them eyeballs in their sockets.
Finally made it down to the willows, scared up some deer in the process and eventually left my hiking partners by the lake where they would relax and enjoy the evening (dirtbags) while I continued 4.5 miles down to my car while mentally kicking myself for not camping out (ignorant fool).
A long but very nice day, no clouds, stunning views of the Crestones from the summits, the most beautiful lake view so far. Ill come back to just camp by the lake even though it might be a few years (10-15 or so) before I go up Challenger and Kit Carson again.