Sorry about the largish nature of photos 31-49 below. I just had more than 30 photos to upload, so I had to host the rest of the images on my website.
Interesting factoid on the Willow Creek Trail: There are 12 switchbacks from the trail register to the top of the hill before you descend the trail adjacent to the field. There are 26 switchbacks between the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness sign and the first crossing of Willow Creek.
Photo 1 shows Kit Carson Peak and its north ridge highlighted in yellow. After crossing the creek above the falls, follow it to the upper basin. The trail is on the right of the creek close to, but not right against, it. The ascent to the ridge proper is past the obvious cliffs beneath Kit Carson in the photo and is very close to the Outward Bound Couloir (photo 2). Once you spot the larger of the Willow Creek Lakes (not in full sight), angle to your right. This seems to be a good point to begin the ascent to the ridge. You will have to scramble up some loose dirt and scree to get to it (photo 3). Cross loose soil and scree to reach this ascent point. The rock becomes Class 3 and much more solid here (photo 4). Continue to scramble up a solid gully (photo 5). Photo 6 shows a climber scrambling up the gully. Photo 7 shows the terrain near the top of the gully. At the top of the gully, looking in a southeasterly direction. You can continue to ascend to the ridge behind and to the right (photo 8 ). A look up at the north ridge. Look for grassy ledges for a switchbacking alternative to a direct-line ascent to the ridge (photo 9). Photo 10 shows a view a little further to the left of photo 9. Continue to head in a westerly direction to reach the base of the north ridge. There are a lot of grassy ledges still that can be switchbacked (photo 11). Photo 12 shows a climber making use of the switchbacking alternative.
Photo 13 shows more of the terrain leading to the north ridge. Much of this can be considered Class 2. Photo 14 shows one of the nicer grassy ledges. Switchback up and to the right (photo 15). In photo 16, the climbers are closing in on the north ridge. Photo 17 shows a good look at the initial pitch up the ridge. Walk to the base of the ridge (photo 18 ). At the time of this writing, there was a small cairn at the base (photos 19, 20).
Photo 21 is looking up the initial pitch just to the climber's right of the cairn. This seems like a good place to make an ascent. Photo 22 gives a look at the adjacent ridge. Make sure to stay close to the ridge on the left. It's also relatively simple to ascend most of the face. Photo 23 is back closer to the ridge. There are numerous grassy platforms to stand on for brief respites. Photo 24 shows a look at Columbia Point to the east along the slope of the north ridge. Photos 25 and 26 make note of the exposure beneath the climber.
Continue climbing up the conglomerate rock to the top of the initial pitch. Even though the rock is knobby and solid, make sure to test every handhold and foothold (photo 27). Don't forget to venture a look west toward Challenger Point (photo 28 )! Continue to follow the ridge. It's pretty obvious (photo 29) and you will enjoy some true class 4 climbing (photo 30)!
Continue to climb up the ridge (photo 31), but be sure not to look down too often if you're bothered by exposure. Otherwise, it's exhilarating (photo 32)! A look to the northeast may give you glances of the Wet Mountain Valley. The valley was socked-in by clouds the day of this report (photo 33). Continue to climb along the ridgeline and you will discover that ascending the ridge is arduous, but a lot of fun (photos 34, 35)! Photos 36 and 37 shows the steepness of the Class 4 ridge above you. You can see how dramatic the exposure is below you in photo 38.
Eventually, a large gendarme will appear on the ridge. Either climb it or try to skirt it, but the direct route is a lot of fun (photo 39). Photo 40 shows another look at Columbia Point. In photo 41, drop into this notch and cross over to the other side. Once across the notch, climb the gendarme (photo 42)! The notch in photo 41 can be seen behind and to the right of the climber in photo 43. Continue to climb up and over the gendarme (photo 44). Photo 45 is another look over to the west at Challenger Point.
Past the gendarme, the slope eases a bit to Class 3 as you get closer to the summit and you scramble up the final summit pitch (photo 46). Photo 47 shows a climber as he climbs up the final pitch. Finally! On top of the final pitch, the summit comes into sight (photo 48 ). There is one more notch right along the ridge that you can drop down into or skirt to the left (photo 49). Cairns will also become visible as the north ridge route intersects with the standard route.
Congrats! You have climbed the north ridge of Kit Carson!
I do have a .gpx file for this route. Please feel free to email me if you would like it.
GPS profile of the route
Photo 1: Kit Carson's north ridge (highlighted in yellow)
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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