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 Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Columbia Point  -  13,980 feet
 Post Date:  08/05/2008 Modified: 08/19/2008
 Date Climbed:   07/25/2008
 Posted By:  flyingmagpie

 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.

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Once I climbed the first pinnacle of the ridgeline,

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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

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and down toward North Colony Lakes

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rewarded my effort during this segment.

At the end of the Jagged Ridgeline is a broad open saddle known as the Bear's Playground.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Once at the saddle between Obstruction and "Kitty Kat",

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Here is another look at the prow taken from just below as I get ready to pass over it on the right.

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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.

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I signed the register, ate an energy bar, drank some water, and looked back over the way I had come.

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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.

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From the slopes of "Kitty Kat", I had a good view of the Northwest Couloir route up Crestone Peak.

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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.

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Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
 


  • Comments or Questions (8)
KeithK


Very well done     2011-02-04 17:22:14
Thanks for posting this! That route looks really cool, and I‘d love to see more trip reports for it.


Patinator


Much Needed     2008-08-06 10:41:28
I tried to convince my dad to go this route to get KC and Challenger and stay in Colony Lakes so we could also and go for the Crestones without driving an extra 180 miles and have a shorter route (when compared to Willow Creek). It didn‘t happen, but I did check it out while I was summitting KC. Looking at your picture of the descent off Columbia, the route is left of the ”hershey kiss” which is left of the ”shark fin” right? If that is correct, were those first few feet the most difficult (slope, exposure)? The lower part looked like the route was actually protected by the fault.


flyingmagpie


”Hershey Kiss” and ”Shark Fin”     2010-11-30 10:28:45
First of all, Patinator, I would like to thank both you and KeithK for your kind words about my route description. Thanks! I agree with you that more people would be using this fine route if they had an adequate route description. This year, especially, while the S. Colony Lakes road has been improved, and is still open from the big stream crossing to the rescue gate, this route is the quickest up Carson (and definitely the most beautiful) in my opinion. It can be done as a day hike. I have climbed the route up Challenger too. What scares most people are the pictures of the descent off Columbia. I believe the descent is easier than the photos make it look. To be honest, I did not find the correct route from Columbia to Carson on my way over. I followed a trail of cairns straight down to the notch, which may have involved a little Class 4. But even if I had fallen there, it wouldn't have been far--only to the next block or ledge. I found the correct set of cairns along the fault (BELOW the "Kiss" and left of the "Fin") on my return trip. Finding the correct cairns made the passage so much easier. Sorry I didn't take more photos. I was hurrying, threatened by rain. Following the proper set of cairns along the ramp, I would say the Columbia descent and re-ascent had sometimes a bit of exposure. Even from the dome of Columbia down to the top of the fault (which in my photo looks tremendously steep) was through blocks and ledges, not over the kind of slabby runouts that are much more exposed or dangerous, in my opinion. There is one unavoidable 20 foot section just before the top of the fault that is definitely Class 3 but ends on a ledge. The danger factor would change, of course, if the rock on Columbia was slickened by rain (or ice). An early start, good weather judgment and the willingness and ability to turn back are important qualities for climbers on this route!


dannymiller15


Columbia Descent     2010-11-30 10:28:45
flyingmagpie, Thanks for the great trip report! Cool pixs! As you know, there aren‘t very many reports using this route so it‘s a huge help. We're planning on using your route this coming weekend (Sat. Aug 16th) and we have a question on the Columbia decent – We're not sure which fault you are referring to in your picture (sorry to be so obtuse!).
Q1: Is the fault that you refer to the vertical fault line that runs down the center of the picture or is it more horizontal?
Q2: I think we're confused on the orientation of the picture. Since Kit Carson is due west of Columbia, we're assuming your picture is of the west wall of Columbia. Correct? So, is the North face that you refer to on the far left hand side of the picture?
Q3: Basically, looking at your picture, does the initial descent from the top of the dome, go down the left, right or center of your picture? (that's how confused we are!)

Thanks for all your help!


flyingmagpie


Clarification for dannymiller15     2008-08-11 14:36:02
Sorry about the confusion. I LIVE in the Wet Mountain Valley (I know, it‘s tough living in climber‘s paradise!) and out my front window I have a view of (in order) Humboldt, the Needle, the Peak, Colony Baldy, ”Kitty Kat” Carson, Columbia Point, Kit Carson, and Challenger Point. . . and more. So I think of these peaks as generally progressing northward along the spine of the Sangres. You are perfectly correct, though--Kit Carson is west of Columbia and my photo is of the west face of Columbia.

To clarify, I have ”edited” my trip report. I hope the new language makes more sense to you and everyone.

Unfortunately, I took more photos of the first part of the route than the last, and it is the last part that is of most concern to everyone. I do plan to repeat the route in order to better photograph the descent from Columbia. I don‘t think I can get the trip report posted before next week, though--too late for your ascent on the 16th. But since I had no trouble figuring out the route, I hope you have no trouble either! Watch the weather, and good luck!


dannymiller15


Thanks     2008-08-11 16:10:55
Thanks for the clarification. This is a big help. Weather/time permitting, we will try to take more pictures of the Columbia descent route and post it. Thanks again.


schrund


Thanks for the Beta     2008-09-11 20:08:18
I have been in this immediate area 4 different times now (aproaches from both sides) and still find myself scratching my head trying to grasp the configuration of these magnificent peaks. I didn‘t even know there was a Columbia Point??


flyingmagpie


Kit Carson and Columbia Point     2008-09-12 10:39:40
schrund--Gerry Roach, in his ”Colorado‘s Fourteeners” (p. 163 in the second edition) does a great job of explaining the names and nicknames of the various high points of the Carson massif. The second edition was published before the Columbia space shuttle disaster. Since then, 13,980 foot ”Kat Carson” has been renamed Columbia Point. The name may or may not appear on maps of the area, depending on when they were printed. My 2004 National Geographic map 138 of the Sangres and Sand Dunes National Monument (the monument has since become a Park) shows both Challenger and Columbia Points. To add to any confusion, the 1995 Ardeth painting of the panorama of the Sangre peaks from the Wet Mountain Valley (if you have seen it) mislabels Challenger Point. The best verbal description of the relationship of Kitty Kat, Columbia, Kit Carson and Challenger seen from the Wet Mountain Valley compares the twin-summitted Kitty Kat and Columbia to a ”molar”, and the sharp-pointed Carson to the ”canine tooth” beside it to the right or north. Challenger would then be a long sloping gumline to the right or north of the canine tooth Carson. Hope that helps.



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