| Kit Carson from South Colony Lakes (Part 2)
THE DESCENT FROM COLUMBIA POINT
Because the weather deteriorated on my last climb of Kit Carson from South Colony Lakes, I did not take enough pictures of the crux of the route–the Class 3 descent from Columbia Point. So I reclimbed most of the route in perfect weather a couple weeks later and took more photos. Here are some insights I gained from the second climb:
1. The Jagged Ridgeline is a significant obstacle, tedious and tiring to overcome. Most photographs of the Ridgeline make it appear fairly benign. However, here is a photo showing the Ridgeline more realistically as a rugged series of spires and cliffs. South Colony Lakes lie below.
2. Some climbers have expressed difficulty finding the cairns marking the easiest, most conservative route around Obstruction Peak from the Bear‘s Playground. On the North Colony Lakes side of the Ridgeline, a series of large cairns marks the descent onto the Playground. Humboldt is to the left in the photo.
Likewise, the cairns marking the ascending traverse around Obstuction begin on the North Colony Lakes side of the Playground.
Many of these cairns are so large, it is hard to miss them.
The ascending traverse aims right smack for the middle of the highest big patches of green on Obstuction's steep scree slopes, roughly right over the top of the trekking pole.
3. The last significant obstacle to be overcome traversing Obstruction is a big arete. I would like to name this obstacle "Troublesome Arete". There are only a couple of notches that mark easy passage through this rib of rock. One of the notches is high, one is low. The best cairned route passes through the highest notch. Ignore a large "decoy" cairn in the lowest notch. Crossing Troublesome Arete that low would sacrifice too much elevation unnecessarily. Here is a photo of the highest passage.
And here is another photo taken from "Kitty Kat" Carson looking back at Troublesome Arete. The highest notch is just to the left of the highest and biggest shadow on Troublesome as you look at the photograph. Part of the Jagged Ridge and the Bear's Playground are in the background.
4. The route up "Kitty Kat" and over to Columbia is not complicated, and I think well-explained and photographed in my last trip report. It is the descent OFF Columbia toward Carson that needs further explanation. From the memorial plaque on top of Columbia Point, head down a ridgeline roughly in the direction the Columbia space shuttle seems to be flying.
You will be down-climbing directly toward a rock formation that from Kit Carson looks just like a Shark's Fin.
You only have to go about fifty feet before a couple of small cairns direct you off the ridgeline down toward the slope facing Kit Carson. On the slope, a system of Class 2+ switch-back ledges will carry you down.
5. At the bottom of the switch-back ledges, you will find an unavoidable 20 or 30 foot Class 3 downscramble. The downscramble is not as difficult as it looks in the photo (though it would be dangerous if it were wet or icy). The rock is pretty solid Crestone conglomerate, and there are good hand and foot holds. Here is a photo looking down the Class 3 section, which ends near the top of an obvious, large fault. The downclimb follows the direction of the trekking pole, close along the edge of the shadow.
And here is a photo looking back up the Class 3 section.
6. At the bottom of the Class 3 section, another ledge system will take you around the top of the big fault. Here is a look down into the upper Willow Creek drainage through the fault. Interestingly the fault is the finish of the "Outward Bound Couloir" route up Carson and Columbia. At its top, the Outward Bound Couloir splits into a "Y". One branch of the Y, closest to Columbia Point, forms the fault. The other branch of the Y, closest to Kit Carson, terminates in the "notch" between the two peaks, farther west. A good photograph of the Couloir can be found in Roach's 13er book, on page 160.
7. The final obstacles barring easy passage from Columbia Point to Kit Carson are a couple of spires or gendarmes that run downslope as ribs or aretes. The route crosses over to the nearest arete, then turns skier's left to follow the arete down right up against it. Here is a photo of the tops of the spires.
And here is a photo of the route along the fault as it approaches the aretes running down from the spires. I found it is best to cross the slabby runout beyond the last trekking pole and downclimb close up against the arete itself, where the rock is more solid and handholds and footholds are more plentiful.
Here is a look back up the route along the arete. The arete is to the left as you look at the photo. The relative ease of the downclimb here is obvious.
8. As you downclimb along the arete, keep a sharp eye out for a ledge system marked by cairns. The ledge system is about the same level as the "notch", or a little lower. On the other side of the ledge system will be a patch of golden, or tawny brown, dirt that emanates from the "notch" itself. The tawny brown dirt is visible beginning near the top center of the following photo and extending diagonally left through an angle, then widening out into an apron. The cairned ledge system is hard to make out, but runs along the lefthand side of the photo as you look at it. The triangular patch of snow I mentioned in my prior trip report has melted. The ledge system is easier to find and climb than this photo makes it look. If you go back through my prior trip report, near its end you will find a photo taken from the Carson side of the ledge system looking back over a cairn towards the Shark's Fin on the Columbia side. That is end of the ledge system shown in the photo here, but looking back the opposite way.
It only takes a couple long strides to cross over the "notch" onto the slopes of Kit Carson.
9. On your return trip, you do not have to reclimb all the way to the tops of Columbia and "Kitty Kat" unless you really want to . I was plenty tired, and made use of a ledge that led from the two cairns above the Shark's Fin on Columbia Point's ridgeline and around the San Luis Valley side of "Kitty Kat". The ledge is well-marked by cairns, and is visible running around "Kitty Kat" into Crestone Needle in the following photo.
I hope this trip report fills in the gaps left by my prior trip report, and helps make the route up Kit Carson from South Colony Lakes easier for everyone who wants to do it.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):