| 2007 14ers.com Summer Gathering
Peaks: Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak
Trailhead to High Camp: 4.5 miles
Camp to Challenger Point Summit: 1.4 miles
Challenger to Kit Carson Peak: 1.1 miles
Total Round Trip Distance: 14 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 6,250 feet
Participants: shanahan96 (Jamie), jamienellis (Jamie), KeithK (Keith), Chris P (Chris), Chicago Transplant (Mike), stevevets689 (Stephen), astrobassman (Colin), Shad (Shad), KirkT (Kirk), Aubrey and Jen (Aubrey and Jen), cftbq and trishapajean (Patrick and Trisha), slynn4_13run (Stephanie), Always_Wear_Sunscreen (Randy), JeffF (Jeff)
June 4th, 2007: Planning Begins
I am browsing 14ers.com when I notice an interesting looking thread. All that could be read on the main page was "a famous trapper and the 1986 disaste…" I thought to myself "What in the world…" and opened the thread. The full title? "a famous trapper and the 1986 disaster; the summer gathering". As I read further, I discovered that the summer gathering was just what I had asked for a month or so prior; a trip to climb Kit Carson Mountain was in the making! Jamie (shanahan96) was planning the event, and proposed a Friday hike in, Saturday acclimatization/exploration/13er climbing day, and Sunday, July 29th, to climb the peak. Some would climb it by the more difficult (class 4) North Ridge, and other less experience climbers like myself would do the standard route. I was all too happy to get involved, as I have wanted to climb Kit Carson since I was four years old and lived by the mountain. Plus, after viewing Kit from the summit of Challenger a year prior, the opportunity of being able to finally return to my goal was just what I wanted.
July 27th, 2007: Travel to Trailhead and Backpack to High Camp above Willow Lake
I got off work early and hauled my pack over to shanahan96's apartment, and soon after we drove from Boulder to Morrison to meet the other Jamie (jamienellis). We moved our packs into her Pathfinder and were off. By the time we got to Salida, the weather was questionable at best. A few very bright flashes coming from the direction of the Sangre de Cristos nearly convinced us to get a hotel room in Salida, but we decided to keep driving. The weather continued to intimidate as we drove through the San Luis Valley, and we were seriously beginning to wonder if this trip was going to work at all. Eventually we decided that we would at least drive to the trailhead and see what the weather was doing then. I had fun pointing out my high school and my house as we drove through Moffat, as well as a few other landmarks on the way to Crestone (Crestone Charter School, Pro Shop, the POA (which gave shanahan96 some odd ideas for alternative meanings) and so on).
We finally arrived at the trailhead at around 9:30 PM. We hopped out of the car, and lo and behold it wasn't raining and the clouds were looking thin. "Why not?" we reasoned. We got our things out of the pathfinder and started getting ready. Meanwhile, Mike (Chicago Transplant) arrived and we were introduced. By 10, the four of us were all ready and we started the trek to the lake. For some reason, whether it was just my home training grounds calling to me or what, I felt really good and started to gain ground quickly on the others. With the nearly full moon starting to break through the clouds, I put my flashlight away and hiked by moonlight. Eventually we broke into two pairs; Mike and I in one, the Jamies in the other.
After much conversation about past mountaineering experience, skiing and night hiking, Mike and I arrived at Willow Lake at around 12:30 AM. We dropped our packs, enjoyed a lifesaver, and waited for the Jamies to arrive. Once they did, we made our way around the lake and up the trail. The willows crowding the trail were SOAKED. I quickly had drenched shorts and legs and was extremely happy to be above the lake on the rock and tundra benches. We found spots to pitch our tents and crashed for what sleep we could get.
July 28th, 2007: Rest and Exploration Day
When morning came, shanahan96 came and woke me up to begin hiking with Mike to Mt. Adams (13,931 feet) and Montaña Mujeres (13,541 feet). We met up with Randy (Always_Wear_Sunscreen) who was camped right next to us and would join us for Kit. Jamienellis headed off to get Challenger Point since she was planning on climbing Kit Carson's North Ridge the next day. Mike, shanahan96 and I started hiking the other direction, avoiding the willows as much as possible. I would have followed them on their climbs, but the weather didn't look like it wanted to be that nice, and I was wearing jeans (in other words, soaked jeans on Saturday means frigid cold jeans to hike in on Sunday). I turned around after going about a quarter mile.
By the time I returned to my tent, the rain had started. I quickly opened the tent, took my wet coat off and sat in the tent, leaving anything wet in the vestibule. I crawled in, closed the doors, and got in my sleeping bag. I was happy my newly acquired Kelty Clark tent was doing well against the rain, and entertained myself through thoughts and dreams for the next few hours.
Noon rolled around and the rain had stopped. I crawled out of the tent to enjoy some beef jerky along with the excellent view that our high camp gave us. I noticed that jamienellis had returned and was in her tent. I asked her about Challenger and she said she has successfully climbed to the summit and had returned not long ago. Just about then it started to rain again and I retreated to my tent for a few more hours of thinking and dreaming.
Sometime in the evening I awoke to voices talking about me trying to break some high altitude sleep record. I'm not really sure what they were talking about but I'm sure I would have done it if they hadn't woken me up. Anyway, I crawled out of the tent again and found the Jamies, Mike, Randy and Chris P. We chatted a bit and noticed other folks coming up the trail to meet with us and talk about plans. I made my dinner while they moved. Soon we had KiethK and Kyle (dukex2x01) up there as well, and later Patrick and Trisha (cftbq and trishapajean) joined us. We made our introductions and then discussed plans. It was still cloudy and the possibility of rain the next day put the climb into "maybe" status. If it were to be a rainy day, we would scrap our plans and hike out. With that, everyone returned to their respective tents for the night.
July 29th, 2007: Summit Day
My alarm went off at 4:30 AM. I lazily got myself together a bit and got out of the tent. It was still pretty dark, with a little moonlight sifting through the clouds. Everything was wet, as it had rained during the night. However, as everyone else started to get up and a little more light started to get through, the clouds no longer looked so threatening. It was overcast, but not stormy. We all decided that we would try for it, though any plans of climbing the North Ridge were thrown out due to the wet conditions.
Upper Willow Basin at dawn
Group by group, everyone began the ascent. The Jamies and Mike were some of the first to take off, and Randy and I followed a little while later. We followed the trail which leads through a final patch of willows and out onto the big, grassy slope which is the beginning of the route. As we hiked, clouds would brush up against the mountain much higher up, and I wondered whether I would be experiencing that up close. The going got more precarious as we went on, since the grass was wet, and in places things got very muddy.
Looking up the beginning of the route
Mt. Adams (13,931 feet)
Looking down the route
After more than a thousand vertical feet of hiking up this grass and mud, we started to encounter the first of the loose dirt and rocks. We found the best routes we could, but accidentally wound up off route. We pushed further left, closer to the long gully which Bill describes in the route. As it turned out, this didn't pose as much of a problem. The worst things got were a little class three climbing, and Randy and I were both comfortable with this.
Kit Carson Mountain from the route up Challenger
Typical terrain of the upper portion of the route
We finally arrived at the top of the gully, where you must find a way over or around a rock rib to the left. Randy followed a trail around it on the West Face, and I took a lower scramble directly over the rib. We were reunited on the summit ridge, and continued on to the summit of Challenger Point at almost exactly 8:00 AM. I did not stay here long, however. I had a quick picture taken of me and I moved on alone. I had already climbed Challenger, and it was not my destination.
Kit Carson (left) and Challenger (right) from the summit ridge of Challenger
I made the hike down to the Kit Carson/Challenger saddle in about 15 minutes, and found myself on Kit Carson Avenue. As Bill says, the Avenue is impossible to miss, and the exposure was not as great as I had thought. Sure there is a big drop, but the ledge is around ten feet wide. I hiked up the Avenue to a small saddle next to the top of "The Prow" on the right. I looked left up Kit Carson, knowing the direct route to the summit from here is class 5.4. "Maybe someday" I thought.
Looking down the second section of Kit Carson Avenue
Moving on, the Avenue descends. Around 40 minutes after leaving Challenger I was at the base of the final, loose gully. Looking up, I had a pleasant surprise when I saw the Jamies, and I began scrambling up. Once again I got slightly off route and made things interesting with a few slightly difficult class three to four moves to get across a slab. This kind of thing shouldn't be necessary on this route, only if you don't pay much attention to the best line. I met the Jamies on their way down, happy to hear that I was only about ten minutes away from the summit. Jamienellis was going to start heading back to camp, but shanahan96 planned on getting Columbia Point as well, so I was told that I would meet shanahan96 back at the Challenger/Kit Carson saddle. They continued their descent.
Looking down the final gully
A short climb later, I was on the summit ridge. After 13 years of waiting for this, I finally stepped onto the highest point to find that I had it all to myself. I happily took my pack off and surveyed my surroundings. Clouds were continuing to drift over the peaks, sometimes obscuring them. The summit itself is guarded by cliffs on all sides except the one I came up. It was around 9:15 AM. I enjoyed my solitude for about five minutes, until I was joined by a couple. Another minute brought Randy as well as KirkT. I took Kirk's headstand photo and then started descending.
Willow Lake and our High Camp above the cliffs, seen from Kit Carson's summit
Crestone Peak in the clouds from Kit Carson's summit
Challenger Point from Kit Carson's summit
Randy passed me on the way down, and after locating Kit Carson Avenue again I started back up it. I noticed shanahan96 descending Columbia Point along with someone else who I correctly assumed was Mike. When I got to the highpoint of the Avenue again, I looked back at the Prow. I got on the radio and asked shanahan96 about it. He said it was a basic class three scramble, so since I was ahead of them and had time, I figured "why not?" A few minutes later I had scrambled out to the top of the Prow and back to the Avenue. "Well, that was fun." I continued on to the Challenger/Kit Carson saddle.
Looking into the abyss from Kit Carson Avenue
Returning to the Kit Carson/Challenger saddle on Kit Carson Avenue
Maybe ten minutes later, shanahan96 and Mike caught up. We made an executive decision to re-climb Challenger so we wouldn't have to traverse across talus back to the descent route. We arrived on top again a little before 11:00 AM and continued back to the gully. From there it was a long and tiring slog back down to High Camp, and upon arrival there I was tired, muddy, dehydrated, and quite happy. I packed up as quickly as possible and followed Mike and the now reunited Jamies down the trail.
We arrived back at the trailhead just as a rainstorm was thinking of starting, at about 3:00 PM. We said farewell to Mike and departed in the Pathfinder. I mused for a while about how I had finally climbed the peak I've been meaning to climb for so long, but also about how I will likely never have anything to do with that route again. It was a good climb with good people, but the quality of the rock isn't great. However, I doubt I'm done with Kit Carson, as I know full well that this mountain has other, more exciting routes to offer. I'm glad that I got to climb this peak when I did, and with excellent company. I hope to see all your faces again soon on another outing.
To view my photos from this climb, please visit my online photo album:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):