| Kit Carson with an Obstruction Peak appetizer
Kit Carson Mountain & "Obstruction Peak"
From Spanish Creek TH
14.1mi, 7960 ft (8.5mi, 3560 ft backpacking; 5.6mi, 4400 ft climbing)
After two consecutive three day winter backpacking trips and last weekend's extraordinary weather, success, and effort and I was actually looking forward to some easier and more mellow day trips dictated by the certain return of winter's ferocity. Instead the miraculous forecast continued and yet another backpacking trip, this time for a shot at Kit Carson, developed.
The Spanish Creek Trail crosses private property and is no longer marked as a public trail. We find the inconspicuous start, take advantage of the ample parking across the road, and set off for the Hua Temple in respectful silence. A poor, infrequently used, and at times overgrown trail with a full mile of deadfall to overcome promises to keep this approach unpopular. Ken has sadistically directed us here advertising it as our best shot at Kit Carson in winter.
The trail is as advertised: rough, not entirely obvious in places, overgrown, and steep. The shallow snowpack obscures it further but we are able to stay more or less on course with just a few minor deviations. There's evidence of heavy mountain lion activity and we pass by two scenes similar to others I've observed on the west side of the Sangres.
After several hours the dreaded deadfall appears and it extends as far as the eye can see. Fortunately our first views of the Kit Carson massif help keep our minds distracted from the tedious task at hand. The snow is shallow and we're able to follow the single rock cairns sitting atop the stacks of old, downed timber. Often we seek out and walk the long balance beams instead of trying to climb over them and through the snow. Its no easy task with heavy packs and there appears to be no end in sight.
Deadfall along Spanish Creek
After a full mile of torture we emerge victorious and in return deepening snow forces us into snowshoes. The good old Sangre de Cristo sugar isn't impressively deep but its quite the energy drain. We rotate leads frequently and after several rounds break treeline at 11,800 feet. Camp is erected in an open area directly under our intended route up the south side Kit Carson.
Camp below Kit Carson
The Prow and Kit Carson's south face
Mid afternoon we continue up the Spanish Creek drainage, Dwight and Kevin obliging Dominic & I with a repeat of "Obstruction Peak". We're captivated by the beauty of this place. Kit Carson, Columbia Point, Crestone Peak, and Crestone Needle are the stars while Humboldt, Marble Mountain, Colony Baldy, and the Adams group serve as top notch supporting actors.
Columbia Point as seen during the ascent of "Obstruction Peak"
Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak from "Obstrucution Peak"
Humbolt Peak, Marble Mountain & the Bear's Playground
Adams Group from "Obsruction Peak"
On the summit we are treated to one of those rare mountain top sunsets, on this occasion pleasantly enhanced by the fact that camp and a warm meal are nearby.
Sunset from "Obstruction Peak", Columbia Point & Kit Carson on the right
We make quick work of the descent and go about the evening routine. Its an eventful night as far as winter camping goes. Kevin's brought his Pocket Rocket but the nearly empty fuel canister is good for nothing. A short time later Dwight's liquid fuel stove goes on the blitz and we're down to one stove for all of us. Luckily its on the heavy duty side. Dinners cooked and snow melted, we go to bed only for disaster to strike. Dwight's warm Gatorade bottle comes open in his sleeping bag and renders it useless. Dwight's pants are soaked too. He bundles up and tries to tough it out. Sometime in the wee hours he borrows our stove. Thankfully the night is mild and morning finds him relatively unscathed despite the suffering.
We're hiking steeply up Kit Carson's south slopes by 7:15am and ditch the snowshoes after only a few minutes. A mess of scree and talus prompts us to don helmets as we pick our way up the loose but generally easy terrain. The top of Kit Carson and The Prow are bathed in alpenglow and the sky over the the San Luis Valley glows a bright pink.
San Luis Valley from Kit Carson's south slopes
Alpenglow on the top of Kit Carson as we climb the south slopes
Soon we find ourselves engulfed by Kit Carson's sweeping south face, The Prow to our left and the south couloir to our right. Time to discuss our plan of attack. The south couloir that leads to the Kit Carson – Columbia Point saddle is one option and given current conditions the moderate snow climb seems like it may be a viable (but potentially exhausting) route. We're more interested in exploring the famous Crestone conglomerate along the west side of the couloir. We've heard that its sometimes climbable and that at least the bottom portion of the couloir might be avoidable.
The rock is secure and the scrambling delightful. There's isn't enough snow to complicate matters too much and we gain elevation quickly.
Conglomerate scrambling west of the south couloir
Snow cover eventually increases but we're thrilled to find that we're comfortable continuing up on rock and snow alongside the couloir. As we climb higher we realize we can avoid getting into the couloir altogether!
We begin angling northwest up moderate rocky snowfields and stop to put on crampons.... ahhh, that's better!
Climbing a snowfield high on the south face
Dwight leads us around a corner and up a stiff, snowy rock step that feels a little insecure but avoids some heavy wallowing. Dominic offers Kevin and I a quick handline for peace of mind. From here the route to the top is obvious and we climb a mix of easy snow and rock to the summit ridge.
Crestone Peak looks on as Dominic and Kevin climb Kit Carson's south face
The summit is ours at 10:30. Nobody has signed the register since October. Unfortunately despite the bluebird forecast its cloudy and threatening to snow.
Challenger Point looks tantalizingly close, the day is young, and so despite the horror stories we can't resist checking out Kit Carson Avenue. We carefully climb down a broad gully and intersect the Avenue.
Descending the gully toward Kit Carson Avenue
It looks encouraging and Kevin confidently leads the way toward Challenger Point. Soon we crest a snow drift and are taken aback. The Avenue is filled in and replaced by steep, extremely runout snow slopes. Dominic builds an anchor and belays Dwight out for a rope's length. He traverses to the next drift and evaluates the situation. At least one more belayed pitch is required, maybe more. The snow is good by winter standard but not supportive enough to trust our lives to by soloing across unroped. Quick math tells us that pitching it out and summitting Challenger Point may set us up for an epic descent in the dark. No thanks.
Kit Carson Avenue
We tip our hats and retrace our steps down Kit Carson's south face.
Kit Carson's sweeping south face
It begins snowing lightly and then picks up while we're packing up camp. I'm glad I'm not on the Avenue right now.
The pack out is painful and the deadfall even more obnoxious in our knackered state but we emerge back at the trailhead shortly after sunset. Add another one to the growing list of memorable winter trips with good friends in the Sangre de Cristos.