| From Sand Dunes to Ice
Peak Climbed:Challenger point/ Kit Carson Attempt
Date: May 30-31, 2009
Route: Willow Creek Approach-Challenger's N/NE slopes (Standard)-Kit
Carson (Standard) attempt-with a glissade of the Kirk Couloir
The Crew: Globreal (Britt), PaulPerea (Paul), Sstrauss (Sean), sgladbach (Steve), Zeekzilch (Roger), Bigtrout (Bill) and myself.
Gear: (Mandatory) Campons/ice axe/ (optional) Rope, Helmet, pickets
Mileage and Gain: 11-14miles? 6,000ft gain
Steve organized this event quite awhile ago and did an awesome job of putting this whole thing together and leading us! The plan was set, we were all to meet at the visitor center in Poncha Springs by 1:30 on Saturday. Britt and Paul gave me a ride from the springs. We stopped and ate lunch at the BK lounge or Burger King on our way there. Once we were all there, we drove together to the Willow Creek TH.
Challenger from the valley floor
Once we were all good and packed we were off onto the long approach.
Paul feeling strong...
Looking back the approach
The first part has a stream crossing across logs then a ton of switchbacks. Then it mellows out a bit as you pass a grassy meadow down below you. Then even more switchbacks. And more... Then a few more stream crossings, route finding, and fallen tree jumping, and you are finally at a good open camping spot near a creek just below willow lake. Snowshoes are not worth bringing for now. This area has a square like log formation around a fire pit and plenty of room. The view is also great too. We decided to be on the trail the following morning by 4:00am. After it stopped raining, roger went around telling everyone that its all clear, and Steve's reply was a loud and confident "lets do it!" We were on the trail by 4:00am-4:30am and were feeling confident and good.
First glow of Kit Carson and Challenger
Once we got to the base of the slopes, we ditched the snowshoes.(Photo by Britt)
Sean, Paul and I strapped on the pons and made a direct ascent up the face while the rest jumped onto icy rock. The rest later jumped onto the snow with us.
Looking up... (Photo by Britt)
looking down about midway on our ascent. Photo by (Steve)
The angle most of the way was about 40 degrees. The steepest portion was when we exited the couloir near the top which exceeded 45 degrees. (measured with my inclinometer)
On the edge of the couloir, it was a mix of moderate snow, ice, and rock.
Once you meet the ridge, you are greeted with a picture of the rest of the ridge that leads to the top, and the awesome, far, green valley that is miles away from you.
(Photo by Britt)
The ridge is fun to go on, but be wary of whats beneath you... Looking down the ridge. (Photo by Steve)
Looking up the final part and the summit. Guess who's on top!
(Photo by Britt)
The rest of the team made it up and we had 7 out of 7 summitiers on top of Challenger!
(Photo by Britt's fancy tripod)
Yours truly on the summit of challenger.
After a 20 minute break on top, all of us but Roger and Bill proceeded to the Kit Carson Avenue. They had a 2,000 foot glissade back down challenger. Roger has some youtube videos of it which I will post the URL to at the end of this report. This is where the climbing got interesting. We descended down challenger to the Kit Carson avenue which was completely snowed in.
This picture shows the exposure a little bit better. The Avenue is along the top left corner of this picture.
Steve brought some rope so we roped up. I set up a nice dead man anchor with a picket and belayed Steve across the 50 degree+ angled avenue. Steve then placed another picket half way across.
I tied it off with a figure eight when he was safely at the other side. Paul, Sean, and Britt, used this fixed line with ascenders. Once I got the all clear, I tied in, waited to hear belay is on, and left the pickets there as I was belayed towards the other side. As long as you have crampons and an ice axe and knowledge on how to use them, you should be just fine. Steve's dog is a bad a$$. Once I was on the other side Steve said "this method won't do us for time" and I responded with a pause, "yea I know". The next part of the avenue was not nearly as exposed, had a slightly different aspect, and was really soft.
Looking back at the mellowed out part of the avenue.(Photo by Britt)
The traversing was tiring but easy in the soft snow, then I heard a yell... FALLING!!!!!! I say to my self damn it, and plant my ice axe well
in the snow as I brace for impact, wondering if others and I will be ripped down into the foggy abyss. Then after a few seconds I yell " Are we all OK" They yelled back " Were all good, Steve just slipped "and sure enough, the snow gave away from Steve's feet and he did slip. Britt took the force of the fall on his ice axe, and did his job... This all happened around a corner and I didn't see it or feel it. It was getting way late in the day, clouds were building, snow was softening even more, and it had taken us nearly an hour and a half to go from the beginning of the KC avenue to the spot that we were at. We called it a day and turned around just hundreds of feet from the summit.
Once we were back off the avenue we opted to speed the descent up and glissade the Kirk couloir which is a moderately steep couloir that goes right down from the KC/Challenger saddle. It was a fun descent. I plunge stepped the top section for like 100 feet or so, then I was off. Looking up with Sean just short of the middle (Photo by Britt)
It started raining on us and we could hear the thunder and all agreed that a good choice had been made.
We packed up camp in the rain and a wet snow avalanche that looked much like a waterfall came down near our camp. Roger has a youtube video on it. It was a long hike back to the car, but I enjoyed every step of the way. It was a long 14 hour day, and we were all tired. But there were no injuries, we got some good glissades, we all summited challenger, and most importantly, we had fun and were proud. The way I see it, I will be back to get Kit Carson with the 3'000 foot rule. I had fun and still think that the trip was every bit worth it. After all, Kit Carson will be there another time.
URL's for Rogers youtube videos
Wet snow avalanche:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):