| The North Ridge, a Very Fun Route
Peaks: Kit Carson (14,165 ft), Columbia Point (13,980 ft), Challenger Point (14,081 ft)
Routes: North Ridge of Kit Carson (class 4), West Face of Columbia Point (difficult class 3)
Distance Traveled: ~11.6 Miles (+1 due to forgetting my camera, and another 1 for reconnoitering on Day 1)
Elevation Gained: ~ 6,280 feet
Participants: stevevets689, Mike, mountainmicah83, Sean, Chris P.
To see Micah's version of the trip which is a little less drawn on than mine, click here: http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=6804&start=25&cpgm=tripmain
Columbia Point, Kit Carson Peak, and Challenger Point
This climb came to be because Columbia Point was all that I had left in the Crestone Group for centennials. When I sat down to think about how I wanted to climb it I remembered Kit Carson Peak's North Ridge, a route I had been wanting to climb for years. So that's it then, climb an awesome route and then bag that last summit.
Now, partners... I put an open invite on the 14ers.com forum for people with scrambling experience to go with me and got "maybe" answers from Micah (mountainmicah83) and Chris, depending on other plans of theirs. Wednesday came along and I talked to a member of Saguache County SAR, Mike, about the climb and he was interested. That night I got firm yeses from Chris and Micah and his friend Sean, so it became a team of five.
Thursday night, I received terrible news which I am still trying to cope with while writing this. The only reason I am bringing this up is that it is amazing what the mountains and nature in general can do to ease your worldly pains. I almost decided not to go at all, and am so glad I went.
Saturday, August 1st To get to the actual climbing, skip to the next day
While driving up to the trailhead in the morning I tried to take a few pictures of the mountains with the road in front of me, and then tossed my camera in the front seat. I arrived at the trailhead, changed into boots, grabbed my pack and started hiking up. It was about 8:10am. I hiked up the oh-so-familiar Willow Creek trail, feeling the tall grass under my fingers as I walked, enjoying being separated from the rest of the world... about a half mile in I realized my camera was still on the front seat of my car. I found a place to hide my pack and quickly hiked back down to my car to retrieve it at 9:00am. Back up I went, retrieved my pack and hoofed it the rest of the way through the first, switchbacking mile to arrive at a huge meadow called Willow Park. Here I met up with a group of people only a little older than me and we took a break together, chatting about this and that. Relaxed again, I continued up the trail.
About a mile further I joined a woman who was on a retreat in Crestone. We hiked and talked about the way this particular mountain has effected us both. For her the mountain had helped her realized what mattered in her life. For me, well it got me into climbing in the first place. She and I stayed together for the better part of the next mile when she started slowing down and I continued on.
I arrived at Willow Lake around 11:45am, 2:45 after leaving my car for the second time. I was surprised with my pace, since I hadn't been trying to rush. I sat down on the shore of the lake to eat a sandwich and survey my surroundings. I have lost track of how many times I have been to this lake but it never gets old. After finishing my sandwich, I followed a family back to their campsite so that I could put my tent up in the absence of theirs. It was a very busy weekend at Willow Lake and all my usual spots had already been taken. As it turned out, the folks next to me started breaking camp just when the group of people I met back at Willow Park showed up, so they were camped next to me.
Hiking around the lake to access the upper part of the basin
One of several ways to hike above the lake is up that screefield
With a whole afternoon to kill, I decided to hike above the lake to reconnoiter. Mainly I was interested in how to approach the ridge; from there the route is simple. I followed one of the several trails which brings you up the slopes north of the waterfall, joined the main trail, crossed the creek and hiked until the trail started to swing right and up Challenger Point. From there, I found remnants of a trail leading left around some willows and as I followed it, cairns started appearing. This took me around the first willow thickets and when the trail petered out, I could see a way to hike up the hill a ways, get around the next willows and head for the gigantic boulders at the base of the North Ridge. Satisfied, I returned to camp.
Some elephant heads. These flowers were abundant in the upper basin
The North Ridge, with Columbia Point behind it
After chugging a lot of water and an hour long nap I joined the guys next to me for my dinner, and before long Mike showed up and Chris followed minutes later. They set up camp near me and we talked for a while so they could get to know each other, and when it got dark we retired to our tents. I lay there for a while, thinking about this new and exciting route, and fell asleep.
Sunday, August 2nd
My alarm went off at 4:30am. I forced myself up, got my headlamp and my coat on, out of the tent, made sure Chris and Mike were getting up and then got myself ready. When we were ready, Chris and I hiked up to the lake to meet Micah and Sean, who arrived a few minutes later. Brief introductions were made in the dark when Mike caught up to us and we set off. We quickly stripped layers before we were even above the waterfall and we cruised up to where I had turned around the day before, where my headlamp turned off. Up the slope and around the last willows we went and soon we were hoping our way above the largest of the boulders and below the cliffs at the base of the ridge. We ended up doing a little "bouldering" through the boulders which eventually relented into talus and scree.
Columbia Point in alpenglow
Here, it became a question of when to turn right and attack the fall line. We were still under cliffs but they were now more broken, and Mike wanted to start heading up. I knew that if we continued around to the left we should have been able to dodge the cliffs altogether but since everyone else wanted to go up, I decided I was ok with it. And it did work, though I became a little uncomfortable as we had to find our way through a couple short low class 5 areas. But we made it work, and found ourselves on the easier, class 3 ledges leading up to the ridge.
At that point the group fanned out laterally. Mike went sort of left up the face, Micah and Sean went pretty much straight up, and Chris and I angled right on a ledge to reach the ridge crest earlier. The others had to go through a bit more low to mid class 5 in order to reach the crest, but I was starting to realize that class 5 is definitely not required on this route. When Chris and I arrived at the ridge, it looked like a lot of fun right away. It began with solid class 3 with a few sections of 4 here and there, which turned out to be the majority of the climb.
On the class 3 grassy ledges below the ridge. You can see Mike way in the distance left of center, Chris is the closest person, and Micah and Sean are just right of center
Chris accessing the ridge crest on a ledge
Looking up the start of the ridge. Micah is up there in view still
Looking down from where I accessed the ridge
Because I climb a little slower and take a lot of pictures, I was on the trailing edge of the group all the way up the ridge. I was mostly climbing alone, every now and then spotting someone who stopped to wait for me, but I was always a distance behind. I didn't mind too much... Alone, I felt like it was just me and the mountain. Everything came down to the simple moves of climbing. Sometimes I would stop and just look around, taking everything in, including the big drops to my left, right and behind me. In that world, there are no jobs. No relationships. No gossip, no deceit, no betrayal... It's just you and the mountain.
Typical ridge climbing, very fun and solid
Columbia Point from high on the ridge
Sean way up the ridge
Looking across at Challenger Point
The "crux" above the real crux. It's just exposed, not that difficult.
I climbed up the crux, tough class 4 tower and nearly lost my grip when Micah welcomed me there. This is the point where one could follow a ledge around the right side of the ridge to skip the last bit of climbing, but I stayed on the crest the rest of the way and didn't find the next pitch to be as hard as the one leading up to the ledge (though still considerably exposed) so I don't see any reason for anyone to follow the ledge. Beyond that last pitch, the ridge turns into a catwalk (which I did my best to walk like a model... major fail) and catches up with the standard route maybe 50 feet below the summit. I arrived there with the rest of the group just after 8:00am. We were the first ones on top for the day and enjoyed the summit with some whiskey that Micah brought up. It was definitely one of the most fulfilling summits I had been on, thanks to a very fun, classic route. Before long a few others arrived and we started looking toward Columbia Point, the summit that would really matter for me.
Columbia Point, Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak from near Kit Carson's summit
Looking back at the North Ridge on the way to Columbia Point
The route up Columbia Point reaches the ramp which ascends up to the right and then behind the high ridge to the left
Starting up Columbia Point. The terrain you see here is easier climbing than a lot of the North Ridge
We descended to the 13,620 foot saddle between Kit Carson and Columbia staying directly on the East Ridge of Kit Carson, which turned out to be a basic class 3 downclimb. Then, it was Columbia Point's West Face, which is a somewhat tricky class 3 climb. Basically you find your way up to an ascending ramp which takes you to the right at the base of a big Shark Fin. Finding your way to the ramp is the crux, and there are several gullies that can take you there. But once you're at the base of the fin, it's a simple scramble to the top, where we arrived around 9:30. At last, I finished my home group! Seven of Colorado's top 100 peaks are in this little area and three years after I started I finally stood on them all. Plus, Columbia Point has the distinction of being the third highest Centennial 13er in the state, behind Grizzly Peak and Stewart Peak, both of which I have climbed. So there's the three highest 13ers for me. I should climb Sunshine Peak in case they're wrong about the elevation...
Kit Carson Peak from Columbia's summit
The others hiked over to Columbia's slightly lower eastern summit while I refueled with food and water, as I had started to hit a wall on the ascent up Columbia. Mike continued on towards Point 13,799 "Obstruction Peak" and hiked around the cirque and down a gully, but the rest of the group mostly stayed together the rest of the trip. We looked for the plaque commemorating the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster but never found it. Someone has definitely moved it. Oh well, moving on...
We descended back to the saddle, and realized the majority of the people on the mountain that day were up on Kit Carson's summit. Amazingly we had managed to sneak around most everyone! We hiked up Kit Carson Avenue, around to the saddle between Kit Carson and Challenger, and up to Challenger Point's summit, arriving just after 11:00. Ah, the third trip to take me to this summit. We took in the expansive views of the San Luis Valley, recharged again, and then began our descent off the mountain.
Challenger Point from the top of Kit Carson Avenue
One more profile shot of Kit Carson Peak's North Ridge
How many times is it going to take for me to realize that Challenger Point's standard route is a semi-disgusting way to go? There is so much scree and the angle is unrelenting, though no harder than difficult class 2. Ah well, it brings you down to the basin pretty quickly. Chris had moved on ahead by the time we were around halfway down the slope and we would not see him again this trip, but Micah, Sean and I took a long break back at the creek above the waterfall to pump some water. Mike caught up to us there and together we went back to camp. Mike and I hung out for a little while as Micah and Sean went to go take a nap, and then it was descent time for me. I said good bye to Mike and set off. Micah and Sean eventually caught up to and passed me, and I arrived at my car sometime around 5:00pm with sore, well, everything from my hips down, mostly the soles of my feet. But no regrets on this awesome route, on that awesome day. None at all.
Looking back down at the San Luis Valley from the hike out
To see more photos from this climb, please visit my online album at: http://picasaweb.google.com/coloradoclimberguy/
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):