Today's adventurers: Dave (me), Shawn (Rainier_Wolfcastle), and Kathy
Trailhead: 5:00am Columbia Point summit: 10:00am Kit Carson summit: 12:00pm Trailhead: 7:00pm
Distance: ~8.6 miles (that's round-trip!)
Estimated elevation gain: ~4,500 (for me, ~1,200 more for Shawn and Kathy to get Challenger Pt)
After being rained off of an attempt of KC/Challenger a few weeks ago, Rainier_Wolfcastle (Shawn), his wife Kathy and I wanted a rematch. Shawn had seen KeithK's recent trip report for these peaks from the S Colony Lakes side and was intrigued. He liked the idea of doing these as a day hike instead of a backpack in to Willow Lake. Plus, it would be a direct way to get the centennial Columbia Point – instead of including it as an afterthought to Kit Carson. It didn't take much arm-twisting to get me to agree, so we planned for a Thursday drive down and Friday summits.
For some strange reason, during the week, I felt that having just gained 11,500 feet of elevation in the Elks the previous weekend wouldn't make Kitty Kat Carson, Columbia Point, Kit Carson, and Challenger Point enough of a challenge. So I decided to donate blood at the company's quarterly blood drive. Nice going, idiot! This would have repercussions.
Anyway, we were up and on the trail at 5am with headlamps blazing. We were excited and ready to take on the world – or at least the big chunk of it called Kit Carson Mountain. We made quick work of the shortcut trail up to the lake and then headed up the Humboldt trail to the saddle.
We each had printed off some trip reports on which we relied – including KeithK's and the two from flyingmagpie. We quickly noticed one of the main differences between their routes: Flyingmagpie chose to go up the Humboldt trail and across what he refers to as the "jagged ridgeline" which includes Point 13,290, while KeithK went straight up the gully to the edge of the saddle area between the Bears Playground and Crestone Peak – bypassing the ridge traverse. (BTW, Roach's descriptions in both the 14ers and 13ers books include the ridge traverse as well.) We had decided not to head straight up the gully that KeithK took. Our thinking was that we would make better time going up the easy Humboldt trail and across the ridge than by being off-trail in a scree gully. Having done it now, I don't know if that's true. That ridgeline is longer and has more little ups and downs and scrambling sections than it first appeared. The traverse along this ridge to the Bears Playground took us about 1.5 hours. However, it was very well cairned and easy to follow.
A head-on view of the Ellingwood Arete in alpenglow
A blurry view of our junction with the Humboldt/"jagged ridgeline" saddle
A perspective of Crestone Peak that I had not seen before
Kathy along the "jagged ridgeline." This was mostly class 2 with some easy class 3 moves thrown in here and there
Shawn finally close to the Bears Playground
Once in the Bears Playground, we got a reasonable look at the first peak of the day - "Kitty Kat Carson" - beyond the aptly named Obstruction Peak. It's still quite a ways away. But it was easy to find cairns all the way across the Bears Playground and on the traverse across the talus slopes of Obstruction Peak.
One of the cairns across the Bears Playground
A couple more cairns leading onto the talus slopes of Obstruction Peak. If you don't see cairns in this area, you are blind or off-route
Looking back at the Bears Playground - with Humboldt Peak and the jagged ridgeline silouhetted by the morning sun
Crestone Peak with a dusting of new snow
Kathy negotiates a short wall on the traverse around Obstruction Peak
Once across the saddle between Obstruction Peak and Kitty Kat Carson, the route up Kitty Kat Carson follows some switchbacks up an obvious streak of lightly-colored rock along the right side. This is when it really hit me: I'm not going to make it to Challenger Point; I'll be lucky to get up this one. I had been at this 4 hours already! And I had above 13,000 for most of that. I wanted that pint of blood back.
Four hours into the hike and we finally get our first unobstructed view of Kitty Kat Carson. Shawn is just a speck along the saddle.
Shawn on the skyline near the top of Kitty Kat Carson. He's so fast he created his own contrails!
But I kept plodding along, and we all finally made it up Kitty Kat. Seeing that Columbia Point was so close and the loss of elevation was not a big deal, we didn't stop long. And so 5 hours into our day, we finally topped out to see this:
The damaged plaque on Columbia Point (formerly Kat Carson)
Kit Carson Peak from Columbia Point
We watched as three hikers descended Kit and went up the Avenue. They are specks at the top of the vertical green line - near the center of the photo.
A zoomed view
By now, it was 10:15, and by the plan we had set for ourselves, we still had to get down the crux class 3 off of Columbia Point, make it over Kit Carson Avenue to Challenger Point (~600 ft gain), come back across the Avenue to tag Kit Carson Peak (~600 ft more), and then backtrack across all the elevation gain and loss we had already done to this point. Five hours into it, and we're not halfway there yet! It was shaping up to be a really long day!
Although we should have been, we weren't really worried about weather moving in. It was a cool, mid-September day – past the height of summer thunderstorm weather – the skies looked pretty clear, and the forecast had been pretty good. So we weren't too concerned about the amount of time we were taking. But I was just not feeling too energetic on this day and was struggling up each bit of elevation gain. Without telling Shawn and Kathy, I was already virtually certain that I would just go up to Kit Carson and wait while they did Challenger Point. Otherwise, I would just be too much of a drag on them the rest of the way.
So we followed flyingmagpie's instructions to head off Columbia Point in the direction that the space shuttle pointed and then shortly turned back to climber's right to begin the downclimb. This started out to be an easy task and became a little more difficult as we descended.
Here are some views of the easier downclimbing:
Shawn on the Columbia Pt downclimb
Kathy reviewing her options on the Columbia Pt downclimb
Not quite to the crux - toward the end, I pan the camera toward Kit Carson Avenue
And here are a couple of videos of the crux, and a video looking back at what we would be returning over.
Crux downclimb - Part 1
Crux downclimb - Part 2
Crux downclimb - Review
Getting across the KC/Columbia saddle
Our original plan had been to climb Challenger first, but once we arrived at the KC/Columbia saddle, we just kept following the cairns that led up to KC. That would be okay by me. From the saddle the rest of the route up KC was easy – I don't know how KC can be called class 3. At the top, I broke the news to Shawn and Kathy that I had gone far enough on this day. We agreed that I would wait for them at the Columbia/KC saddle for as much as 2 hours while they tagged Challenger. It turned out that I had to wait only an hour – apparently, Kit Carson Avenue was quite easy to navigate – both to and from Challenger.
I'm happy that Kit Carson will be my turn-around point
As I saw Shawn and Kathy coming toward me, I called out to them that a few clouds were starting to form. It didn't seem like a big deal, but I'd be happier if we didn't have so much more ground to cover that was along ridges, summits, and open areas – all above 13,000 ft. They got over to my position quickly, and we started the climb back up Columbia Point.
We had not gotten very far – not even to the crux - before we heard the loud rumbling of thunder just over the Spanish Creek approach. I let out a couple of Oh, Shoots (except with different vowel sounds), and the adrenaline kicked in. We climbed as fast as we could – still not that fast – trying to get up and over Columbia Point. We would try to keep up a fast pace, get winded, start cursing the situation we had gotten ourselves into, then another rumble of thunder would kick us into gear again. We just had to keep going at this point. There really was nothing else we could do. After a while, maybe by the time we had made it past Kitty Kat Carson, the rumbling seemed to stop, and we relaxed just a little bit. In retrospect, it seemed like the weather was being a bully - feigning a punch to the face out of nowhere to keep you on your toes and let you know who's boss. But it didn't feel that way at the time.
We tried to see the route around Obstruction Peak. Where were all those cairns that I had seen on the way here? Shawn and Kathy headed up toward a cairn; I thought it was higher than we had come, and I wanted to stay low - off any exposed areas. I guess I was still a little concerned by our situation, and it affected my judgment. Shawn and Kathy chose the better return path, and I ended up traversing around and down several steep gullies to get to a point just on the low end of the Bears Playground. If I hadn't been exhausted and worried about weather, it would have been some fun scrambling.
By the time we had gotten over the Bears Playground, we were in sun again. But since the adrenaline had run its course, I felt more worn out than before it had kicked in. None of us relished the thought of taking another 1.5 hours to get across that exposed ridge before we could get down to relative safety below. So we tried to find the gully that KeithK had come up, but we just couldn't tell which one it was. For each possible path we considered, we could see part of the way down, then there was some obstruction or fold in the terrain with a steeper descent before we saw the upper lake just beyond it. We couldn't see how steep some portions would be – we could cliff out for all we knew. Having had a bad experience with that sort of ad hoc, escape downclimb before, I was not going to descend an unknown route unless I could see the whole way down – not when we had a known route and (temporarily) sunny skies. So we gritted our teeth and just got across that final ridge again.
More than 12 hours after we had started out, we finally hit the Humboldt trail again with a few flakes of snow floating down on us. We had been above 13,000 ft all day!
I think I'll watch tv next weekend.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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