| Kit Carson from South Colony Lakes
The route up Kit Carson from South Colony Lakes passes through some of the most awesome scenery in Colorado, and is easier than its reputation. Rather than do my write-up as a trip report, I thought I would pass along a description of the route as I found it climbing Carson on Friday, July 25, 2008. Because hiking from anywhere on the access road to the Humboldt Saddle is fairly routine, and the trail is shown on many maps, I will begin my route description from the Humboldt Saddle. The first obstacle that presents itself from the Humboldt Saddle climbing west along the route is a jagged ridgeline.
I took a photo of the ridgeline from above Lower South Colony Lake. Humboldt Saddle is to the right in the photo.
Once I climbed the first pinnacle of the ridgeline,
I found cairns marking trails on either side, sometimes passing directly over the top, back and forth over the crest. I just followed whatever trail and line of cairns seemed easiest to me. If I had to choose, I would say that the trail to climber's right of the ridge (the north side) was the steadiest and easiest to follow. Views from the ridgeline over toward the Crestones
and down toward North Colony Lakes
rewarded my effort during this segment.
At the end of the Jagged Ridgeline is a broad open saddle known as the Bear's Playground.
The route became a little discouraging for me at this point because I had expended quite a bit of effort along the ridge, and still I couldn't even SEE Kit Carson. From the Bear's Playground, both Carson and Columbia Point are hidden behind "Kitty Kat Carson". A formidable obstacle lies smack in the way of reaching even "Kitty Kat", the aptly named Obstruction Peak.
If you look closely while crossing the Bear's Playground, however, you will find passage is easier than it first looks. A remarkable set of cairns leads northwest from the Playground up the slopes of Obstruction to mark an ascending traverse that ends at just the right elevation to catch the saddle between Obstruction and "Kitty Kat" with the most conservative expenditure of climbing energy possible.
I found that the cairns started fairly large (so I don't imagine they will disappear anytime soon), then gradually diminished in size as I quartered around Obstruction. The cairns mark the easiest passage through a series of slabby cliffs, aretes, and tiresome scree fields.
Once at the saddle between Obstruction and "Kitty Kat",
I found a fairly obvious climber's (or bighorn) trail that wove its way up a ridgeline to climber's right of the concave face of "Kitty Kat" along some cliffs that provided good views. From the top of "Kitty Kat", I could finally see Columbia Point and Kit Carson.
The passage from "Kitty Kat" to Columbia Point only involved a slight loss of elevation that I had to regain. At the summit of Columbia I signed the register and looked at the memorial plaque.
I was surprised that in one year since the log was first placed in the tube by a couple of members of Custer County Search and Rescue (August 2007), only the first side of the first page had been completely filled in. My signature was maybe the 6th on the back of that first page. Columbia definitely does not get the traffic that Challenger does–another reason this is a fine route. Passage from Columbia to Kit Carson is the crux of the route, and involves Class 3 scrambling. Perhaps looking at a photo out of sequence best explains this most important portion of the route.
I found plenty of bogus cairns in this area, so take care to be on-route. On-route, the descent from Columbia toward Carson should not exceed Class 3. In the photo I took looking back at Columbia from Carson, an obvious fault can be seen splitting Columbia's face. As you look at the photo, the fault starts midway down the right side of the Columbia dome and descends leftward at a gentle angle
toward a narrow "notch" separating Columbia's west face from the slopes of Kit Carson. You can't see this notch in the photo. (It is behind a ridge of Carson in the foreground.) The easiest route from Columbia to Carson uses the fault as a descent ramp. As you look down toward Carson from the Columbia memorial plaque, cairns mark the route as it descends skier's left toward the top of the fault (directly away from the notch), loops around the top of the fault, and cuts abruptly back skier's right to head toward the notch between the two peaks. Once at the notch, you will find a patch of orangish dirt above (maybe, if it hasn't all melted) a triangle of snow. You can cross over the notch from Columbia to Carson in a couple long strides.
Once on Kit Carson, the route climbs up a scree gully, passing to climber's right of a dark rock shaped like a canoe prow.
Here is another look at the prow taken from just below as I get ready to pass over it on the right.
This gully is also the finish of the Challenger/Kit Carson Avenue route up Carson. Once at the top of Carson, I found the summit register guarded by a marmot.
I signed the register, ate an energy bar, drank some water, and looked back over the way I had come.
In this photo you can see the fault on Columbia, Columbia Point, the
tip-top of "Kitty Kat", the Bear's Playground, and the Crestones beyond.
I did not linger because I knew I had a tough climb back up Columbia ahead of me. In this photo I am climbing toward a cairn near center,
following the fault up from the "notch" before looping around the fault's top and turning to climber's left abruptly to re-summit Columbia.
From the slopes of "Kitty Kat", I had a good view of the Northwest Couloir route up Crestone Peak.
The sky was darkening. When I finally had made it back over Columbia and "Kitty Kat", and back around the slopes of Obstruction, I found bighorn sheep grazing in the Bear's Playground.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):