Team: Eatinhardtack (Zach), Trianything (Rachel), msc118 (Mindy), Springshiker (Scott), and me dcbates80911 Distance ~ 15 miles (over two days) Route: Willow Lake
It is hard to write this one without expressing my personal experience. A month earlier, Zach and I were in the San Juans on a couple climbs, including a 16-mile trek that lead to a couple blisters on the back of each heal. Earlier in the summer, I purchased new boots, which created hot spots during my hikes. A recent sensation I have not dealt with in over 20 years. I took some time off for the feet to heal, but really wanted to get Challenger and Kit Carson done after a 2008 plan failed to materialize.
What can I say about this team? They are great. Most, I have climbed with before, but my first experience with Scott.
Saturday, August 29th, all of us (except Scott) met up in Colorado Springs. We planned to leave CS around 9:00 and meet Scott (who had just finished the Crestone traverse) for lunch in Salida. From there, we would drive to the TH and start the climb to our camping spot at Willow Lake. We reached the TH at ~ 1:30 PM.
L – R: Mindy, Zach, Rachel and Scott
From the TH, we could see roughly our target for the night. Our research indicated a 3000+ foot climb over five miles to reach Willow Lake. Earlier weather forecasts indicated thunderstorms and possible snow, but as normal with my climbs, the weather service was wrong. We started off with our full camping packs for the trip to Willow Lake. Unfortunately, I began to feel hot spots immediately. During our drive, Rachel had wrapped her Nalgen in duct tape so I stopped about a mile in and asked for some. It was the first attempt to stop the blisters. At that point, I felt good (other than the feet) and all of us were moving at a decent pace.
Duct tape helped for a short period, but after another 0.5 mile, my left heal was really starting to hurt. Scott, who had a very heavy pack, kept going along with Rachel, but Zach and Mindy waited as I worked to protect both heals with a better dressing. We started again, but the damage was done and pain would resonate through the rest of my trip. Everyone slowed for me and both Zach and Mindy offered to stay behind, but I insisted they continue as we had a finite goal for the night and I knew I would make it. Through my slow travels, I marveled at the views.
I am getting behind
The shelf area center left is tonight's goal
I reached our campsite around 5:00 to find my team had gotten pretty much everything ready. Each of us had brought something important along for our night's adventure. Zach brought the tent I would sleep in, and I brought the water filter. Little did I know when I started, Scott brought my savior for success, moleskin. We set-up camp and decided to walk the 100 yards to see our first views of Willow Lake.
Waterfall out of Willow Lake
Mindy out on Willow Lake
Zach – Who thinks he looks like a goof in each picture, but this is a good one Photo by Mindy
We had a good time camping, but the freeze-dried dinners did not sit well with the majority of our group.
We shared a good night of talking over the fire and preparing for the morning. Our plan was to wake up around 4:20 and prepare for a 5:00 start. I was on the fence on whether I should go. My heals were hurting with every step. Scott offered me some moleskin for the morning. In addition, he made a comment that kept me going. "If you can deal with the pain, it was only skin." We went to bed and I had a decent night's sleep.
First thing Sunday morning, I began to doctor my feet with Scott's moleskin. Hindsight is 20/20. My left heal was the worst, so it was prepared first. While working on the right, I felt it would be good to wrap the whole thing in medical tape. Did not do this with the left foot and I would pay.
We began our trek around Willow Lake and through the willows. There are a lot of possible trails and we got a little lost in the dark. Rachel (our veteran), however, found our way to the shelf above the lake and we began to head up to where we entered a talus and scree field. With only headlamps, we looked hard for cairns, but couldn't locate any. As we spread out and the sun rose, we found our target. It was a path straight up about 2000 feet. For those in Colorado Springs, a good comparison would be to take the Manitou incline and start it at 12,000 feet. Also take away the ties and place a lot of loose rock and you have the approach to Challenger. We headed up, and up, and up.
OK…it was August 30th and not Oct like I said
These 2000 feet were by far the worst part of this climb. It was very steep and loose. At one point, we decided to stop and put on our helmets because too many rocks were falling. After donning the helmets, we continued up until reaching the ridge where we first saw the Great Sand Dunes.
A look down our approach
Zach moving up on the steeeeeeep slope
Great Sand Dunes National Park
At this point, our group took a break to take in the views. I, however, was hurting. I don't know if any of my team really know how much, but I was hurting and just focused on the summit and continued to follow the path to the rocky ridge where both goals came into view.
L – R: Kit Carson and Challenger Point
A shot down to where we started this expedition with Scott and Mindy
Scott, the first in our party reached Challenger's summit around 9:00. We all finished and for the first time, I beat Zach to a summit. For the record, he wasn't feeling good from the previous night's freeze-dried meals. We sat, talked, ate, and took pictures.
L-R: Scott, Rachel, Zach, Mindy, Dave
We spent a fair amount of time on this summit. Actually, it took some coxing to get Zach to just move for the summit shot. Zach wasn't feeling good and Rachel didn't want to continue. She had admitted during the drive she wasn't sure why she joined us since she had done these peaks and didn't like them. Scott and Mindy were ready to hit Kit Carson. I reluctantly joined Scott and Mindy, because my heals were hurting with every step. However, I did not want to climb Challenger again to just get Kit Carson. Down climbing to the saddle felt great because it took the pressure off my heals.
Challenger Point with Mindy descending
The approach to Kit Carson is a small path on the side of the rock called the Avenue. In pictures, it looks narrow, but in reality, it is wide.
In the Avenue
A look back at Challenger from the Avenue – Rachel and Zach can still be seen on the summit
On the South side of Kit Carson, I caught up with Mindy and Scott at the first approach towards the summit. This gully displayed very solid rock and wasn't a bad climb. Around the corner was the standard route with loose rock and about the same angle. We decided to head up the first.
Scott and Mindy heading up
At this point, the worst part for me was any uphill climbing on my blisters. The left heal felt like fire with each step, but I remembered it was just skin. Scott and Mindy summitted well before me, but they kept encouraging me as I approached. Great partners!!! Not sure when I summitted, but I had an awesome view and felt totally fulfilled.
I am almost there - Humboldt in the background
Scott stands in front of the Crestones – his other accomplishment this weekentd Photo by Scott
View of Willow Lake – our morning starting point
Track of day 2‘s route including the steep 2000 rocky feet
My time on the summit lasted about 10 minutes before we started to descend. Unfortunately, on descent, I started to develop hot spots on my toes and inner foot. We reached the Avenue with some ease and began to ascend (and then descend).
Mindy in the South side of the avenue Image by Scott
Here I come….the slow poke Image by Scott
We reached the saddle and decided to go across the front of Challenger instead of resummitting. This was a mistake because the rocks were very loose and probably 60% of them shifted. Resummitting Challenger would have been the better option. Regardless, we reached the top of our 2000 ft descent path Willow Lake. This part of the trip was treacherous and we took it very slow. On the down-climb I developed multiple hotspots on my feet. Both Scott and Mindy were moving pretty good, but I kept getting slower and slower as the pain increased. I am not sure the pain was the worse part or just keeping traction on the loose stuff. However, the paid felt like my skin was tearing almost on each step. Yuck!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is were good partners show there commitment. Both Mindy and Scott stayed with me. At one point, Mindy was told to continue on while Scott stayed with me to make sure I got down this part in good shape. I was very grateful for his action. Very few pictures were taken during this down climb. Once we got back to Willow Lake, Scott took some great pictures.
Zach and Rachel had broken down most of our camp so we packed up and headed out. The last 5 miles seemed to take forever, as every step equaled significant pain. We reached our cars ~ 5:00pm and headed out. At the time, I took a preliminary look at my feet and noticed the moleskin on my left heal had migrated to my arch and the blister was now an opened bloody wound. Basically, I had no protection on that heal, which explained the pain. After getting home, I noticed, I had 8 serious blisters from both heals, to my balls and several toes. A few were bleeding. This was the worst blister outbreak I have dealt with.
The next weekend, the shoes went back to RIE for a full refund. Over the last month, I have let the skin heal with my first hike this morning. Finally, I feel like I can get out without more damage.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this climb. For me, it is tied to consistent pain with almost every step. However, my partners were great. All of them made this trip a success for me regardless of my condition. I am thankful to their support and look forward to more adventures. Oh ya, Willow Lake is beautiful!!!
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