| The Prow and some cool summits
Who: Scott (scotthsu) and Amy (Nice Axe!)
Summit day itinerary: The Prow 5.8 to Kit Carson Ave; dropped our gear and ran over to Challenger Pt (14081'); climbed 5.6 pitch to Kit Carson Peak (14165'); then to Columbia Pt (13980') & "Kitty Kat Carson" (13980'); finally to "Obstruction Pk" (13799'); returned to high camp via Bear's Playground and upper Spanish Creek basin
Vertical: Spanish Creek TH (8260') to high camp (11800'): 3540'; summit day: ~3600'
Time: TH to high camp (4 hrs); summit day (~10.25 hrs tent-to-tent); high camp to TH (2.75 hrs)
Climbing gear: 60m dry rope, rock shoes, harness & belay device, cams to 2.5", small selection of nuts & tricams, 8 runners, rappel webbing, helmet
This was the top weekend trip on our list this summer and we were happy to get a good weather forecast, so the trip was a go! We drove from Los Alamos, NM to the Spanish Creek TH on Friday morning (8/17), arriving around 12:30pm. According to Roach, this TH is on private property, so we were very careful to be respectful, park well off the road, and to spend as little time milling around as possible. (There is enough parking for 3-4 cars on each side of the road.) We geared up and were on the trail by 12:45pm. The TH has a little sign that says "HUA TEMPLE FOOTPATH."
Spanish Creek Approach 8/17
This is a rugged approach, and it has all the attendant features (~3500' vertical, thorny bushwacking, route finding, stream crossings, and a plethora of downed logs to negotiate). We quickly lost the trail near the first stream crossing and opted to stay on the N side of Spanish Creek. There seemed to be a trail heading up the N side of the canyon, which we followed a bit before realizing that's not what we wanted. We descended back to the creek, crossed it when we were forced to by a rock wall, and bushwhacked through thorny bushes before luckily happening on the trail again at another stream crossing. After this the trail was fairly straightforward except near a S-to-N stream crossing at ~9000' where the tendency is to head right (east) immediately after the crossing, but you need to head north for a short bit (see Roach's topo). Here's a picture of Amy at one of many fun stream crossings:
Roach says the trail climbs through an old burn from 9600' to 10600', but we found that the steady downed logs were concentrated mostly between ~10200' and 10800'. There were lots of cairns marking the way through the downed logs section. Here's a picture of the Prow from the area with many downed logs. Our 5 belayed pitches (alternating red-yellow) not including the Kit Carson summit pitch are shown (approximately) in this picture:
There are a few campsites next to the trail starting around 11500', but we opted to head to a flat open area around 11800' to the south and just to the east of the Prow. The trail disappears here, and we headed right (south) toward the creek and found a decent campsite. Note: it'd be wise to budget a little time to hunt for a campsite because we did not really come across many obvious ones that also had good creek access. Upper Spanish Creek basin is absolutely beautiful and worth the approach. From our "dinner rock," you could see 4000' straight down to the San Luis Valley below and also the upper basin toward Bear's Playground and Crestone Peak:
Summit Day 8/18
We were moving by ~6:15am. It was a warm morning, probably in the high 40's or even low 50's. We basically hiked up a talus field to 3rd class slabs that were a pleasure to climb. Here's a picture of Amy on the approach.
The "true roped climbing" section begins at a sharp notch below an overhang (top of yellow line). However, there were two class 4/5 pitches which got increasingly more difficult/exposed leading up to that point (yellow line). We free-soloed these, but I suspect many people would want a belay. A fall on these sections would not be good. About halfway up these sections, we changed to rock shoes. Here's a picture of Amy free-soloing:
Scott practicing the opening moves on the 5.8 overhanging start:
We were roped and ready to climb around 8am. With my pack on (heavy with 2.5 liters of water, shoes, and extra layers), I tried the overhang and came back down. I decided to leave the pack behind, and the opening move went smoothly although very committing. I got a small cam in next to a ledge just above the overhang, and Amy tossed my pack up to me. Then she tossed her pack up and I wedged it into the rock there so she could enjoy the opening moves better. The climbing immediately became easier (5.5/5.6 range) although very run-out. For our 5 roped pitches (each close to a full 60m rope length), we put in 2-4 pieces per pitch. Unless you are comfortable climbing 30-50 feet above your last piece on easy 5th class, I would not recommend this route! The climbing is easy but highly exposed (hence the enjoyment!). Here's a picture of me running it out on the 2nd pitch:
With a 60m rope, you could reach comfortable ledges at the end of each pitch. The climbing was on clean solid conglomerate rock with plenty of holds, but, again, protection was scarce. The top of our 2nd pitch was at the top of a large gendarme. From there we downclimbed to the notch and set up a new belay station for our 3rd pitch. Here's a picture looking back at the gendarme:
I led the first 3 pitches, and Amy led the 4th:
I finished off the last roped pitch. From there, the Prow flattened out and we quickly reached its 13980' summit around 11:20am. We could see many parties hiking both ways on Kit Carson Ave. We also saw a lone figure on Columbia Pt earlier. From the Prow summit, it was a quick scamper to Kit Carson Ave at 13940'. We were so focused on the technical climbing that I didn't notice the clouds forming. They were now intermittently covering Challenger Pt.
Challenger Pt & Kit Carson Peak
We quickly downed some food, changed to hiking shoes, and dropped our packs there. Carrying only a camera and summit juice (Cognac), we ran up to Challenger Pt, summitting at 11:45am:
Then we returned to our gear in another 15 minutes. From Kit Carson Ave, we got the bonus of one more roped pitch (~5.6/5.7 rating). The clouds were pretty menacing at this point, but we could still see some blue, so we decided to go for it! This was a very nice pitch with plenty of protection. With a 60m rope, you could reach a point where the ridge flattens out. I slung a rock for an anchor and quickly brought Amy up and had her continue past me on belay to a flat area near the summit. We were on the true summit of Kit Carson Peak around 12:40pm. There was a break in the clouds and we briefly had glorious sunshine! Knowing we had 2 more summits with threatening clouds all around, we quickly took a few pictures, including this one of Kat and "Obstruction Pk" (with Humboldt in the background):
and we pressed on, descending the class 3 gully toward the 13620' saddle between Kit and Kat Carson.
Columbia Pt (Kat Carson) & "Kitty Kat" Carson
From the Kit/Kat saddle, we looked for cairns. Earlier from the Prow climb, I was looking ahead at Kat and thought the ascent from the saddle looked awfully steep. But this part of our day turned into a very nice surprise. The climbing was solid class 3 that reminded me very much of many sections of the Crestone traverse (which we did in June 2006 with a great group of climbers, and when we met Talus Monkey going the other way). Here's a picture of Amy on the enjoyable climb to Kat Carson:
The cairns were fairly easy to spot, and we were on the summit of Kat around 1:45pm. Here's a picture of Amy summitting Kat:
We pushed on to Kitty Kat (the east summit of Kat) and finally took a 15 minute break to down some salami/cheese/baguette that really hit the spot.
"Obstruction Pk" (UN 13799)
From "Kitty Kat," there was a good climber's trail down toward the saddle with "Obstruction Pk." We pushed onward due to really threatening clouds now. Despite this, we saw people on the summits of both Crestones. From the saddle, it was solid talus scrambling with patches of grass all the way to the summit of "Obstruction," which we reached around 2:45pm. There was a summit register with a film canister and a small scrap of paper inside with one legible entry from 2006. We quickly jotted down our names, scrambled east about 100 yards to another point that looked equally high, and then started the rocky descent toward Bear's Playground. We took a fairly direct path down and encountered only mild loose scree in places. It started hailing lightly on us at this point.
The descent from here was mostly on nice grass and rocky slabs, but we encountered a section of bushwhacking lower down around 12100' that heard at least a few curses from me. We finally reached our camp around 4:20pm utterly happy and exhausted.
The Pack Out 8/19
We slept in until 7:30am, had a leisurely morning in camp, and headed down the trail around 9:15am. Near the bottom, we stayed on an obvious trail that ended up on the south side of the creek. The trail joined with a dirt road, which we followed for a short while until it started to head south. At this point, we hiked cross-country until we hit the road just about 200 yards south of our car, which we reached around 12pm.
Endnotes: This was an amazing trip. The Prow is an absolutely beautiful technical climb, with clean solid rock. Other than the opening 5.8 moves, the climb is in the low 5th to 5.6 range, but extremely run-out in places. The class 3 climb to Kat Carson from the Kit/Kat saddle was highly enjoyable and a very nice addition to our climbing day. Upper Spanish Creek is an idyllic place to spend some time. This is a place of beauty and solitude guarded by a rugged (and sometimes hellish) approach. We are fortunate to have experienced it and returned home safely. Oh, and all those summits were great too!
Climbing endnotes: A 60m rope allows you to reach nice belay ledges. You will not need any pieces larger than about 2.5". When gearing up for this trip, remember protection is sparse anyway, so a lean rack is the way to go. As mentioned above, we placed no more than 4 pieces on any pitch.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):