As I left my Utah home at 3 in the morning on September 23rd I was filled with excitement about the spectacular weather forecast for the coming week yet worried about the snow storm which had just gone through Colorado. I was sure that there had been too much for what I wanted to do in the Elks (Pyramid and the Bells) and the San Juans (Wilson Peak) but I was hoping that the Sangre's had not received too much and that I could do the more interesting things there.
I arrived at the Willow Creel Trailhead at noon after a leisurely drive and headed right up to camp at the lake. This is a beautiful 4.5 mile hike gaining 2600 feet.
Kit Carson from Willow Creek Lake I set up camp in the exact place where I had camped the year before and after getting water I went for a recon hike to make sure I could move in the dark through the Willows the next morning.
Willow Creek Lake As it turned out the moon was so bright that the navigation was easy before the sun came up.
As I worked my way up to the rock rib the next morning it became apparent that it had snowed down to 12,000 feet. The snow that had melted had covered the rocks with moisture which had frozen in the night and covered them with "verglas" (a german word used to describe black ice in the mountains).
Verglas at 12,000 ft. As I got higher and things got steeper it became difficult to pick my way between verglas covered rocks and patches of snow over steep loose rocks and dirt. At 13,600 I was considering calling it a day when I decided to check out a circumnavigation route to the climbers right or northwest. When I got there I saw footprints from the day before (2 climbers) and the path looked good so I decided to try it. It soon became apparent that the snow on this side had been pretty much in the shade and had iced up. This made traveling very time consuming due to the need for care over exposed sections. When I got to the notch leading to the Challenger ridge I decided I definitely did not want to return that way. From here on the climbing was very much like normal to the top of Challenger.
Summit of Challenger The down climb to the Kit Carson Avenue was also straight forward
Summit of Challenger
Kit Carson from Challenger but when I started up the first part of the "avenue" I noticed again that the snow was hard and I had to take care.
1st hafl of Kit Carson Avenue As soon as I rounded the corner the descending part of the Avenue was in the sun and melting out.
2nd Half of Kit Carson Avenue The gully to the top was the same way but traveling was slow scrambling over steeper rocks.
View from Kit Carson Avenue As the sun melted the snow it came pouring over the rocks
Water from the melted snow pouring over the rocks. and I could see that Verglas would be a problem anywhere that was not in the sun. When I reached the top I gave thanks for my safe ascent and prayed for guidance on my way down.
Columbia Point I also said a prayer for Don Thurman who had come to an untimely end on this mountain just a few days before.
Summit of Kit Carson
Humboldt and Crestone Peak
The weather was spectacular as can be seen in the pictures so I did not mind spending the day out even if I was moving slowly.
Autumn Foliage As I headed down the traveling remained painfully slow and I didn't get back to my camp until 3 pm, some 3 hours slower than I had planned but safe and sound.
As I headed back to my car I was grateful for a beautiful day and a safe climb but I knew that my climbing season was finished. I had hoped to do Little Bear and the Crestones but there is no way I would tackle those bad boys in these conditions. I headed back to Utah to drop off my gear and then out to Key Largo to fish and wait for snow when I can pursue my real passion of back country skiing in Utah light!