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Kit Carson Adventure!

Have an interesting or epic climbing story? Post it here.
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Kit Carson Adventure!

Postby JoeyJ » Thu Feb 03, 2005 11:43 am

In September of 2004 I hade quite an experience doing Challenger and Kit Carson via the Willow Lake trail. Kit was 14er #27 for me. Didn’t see a single soul the entire day. I left early knowing it would be a long day, probably 12 hours or so as I was not in that great of shape and wanting to take my time. I was still recovering from doing Crestone Needle and was feeling tired and a bit sore from that- not to mention the pounding one takes in driving S. Colony road. I left the trailhead in the dark around 4:30, with an LED headlamp that was sufficient for lighting the trail, a gallon of water and plenty of food for frequent breaks.

My first mistake was minor, as I lost the trail and somehow missed a switchback in the dark, and lost time there when the false trail I was on finally petered out. So I had to backtrack and lose altitude to find the trail again. Once back on the trail I headed out for Willow lake and was feeling it that day, having to drink a lot of water, take several breaks and catch my wind. I arrived at the lake somewhere around 9:00 or 10:00, thinking I would still be OK as long as the weather held. Took another lengthy break at the lake to enjoy the fantastic scenery, and have a snack for Challenger. Setting off I pushed it pretty good and was feeling fairly strong but wearing down and tiring somewhat when I reached Challenger around 12:30. I was hoping for a 10 to 11 o’clock summit so Kit Carson could be summited before noon. So I took another rest on Challenger’s summit, had some more food and chugged some water, which was starting to run lower than I had expected. I kept an eye on the weather and was debating the whole time whether or not it would be wise to attempt Kit? At 1:00 the weather was holding well, and I was using Bill M.’s route description- he advised to allow 2 hours for the round trip, which would put me back on Challenger at 3:00 if the weather held. After a brief prayer I decided to “Go for eet!” :wink: as Georges would say in the Boardman Tasker Omnibus!

I headed out just after 1:00, tired and still feeling some soreness from the Needle class 3 route. I started out with a good steady pace to the avenue, keeping an eye on the drinking water I had left. I found the gully at the end no problem, and really enjoyed the climb to Kit’s summit, but it was wearing me down and I was tiring and now down to a little over a 20 oz. bottle of water. Bill’s directions were right on and I was on the summit at 2:00, and figured another hour back. The weather was OK but some rain was building up to the west. So I decide to motor back quickly and save some time. MISTAKE number two!! Since I was pushing it I did not take enough time to pay good attention to my entry point off the avenue, but remembered the gully was far to the east. So, I took the farthest east gully and just kept truckin’ down. This gully somehow blocked my vision for the correct exit to Kit Carson avenue, and I ended up descending far too low, and arrived in a rock field. Looking around I thought I may have descended too much, but… hoping against hope I noticed another “avenue” type goat trail leading up Kit and it appeared so much like Kit Carson avenue I thought I should check it out? Mistake number 3! My brain was telling me I was too low and needed to get back up but it looked promising so I trekked over the rocks to the other “avenue.” When I climbed the avenue it seemed different, but I kept going up to the end where there was a class 4 move in front of me. Well, I’m this far, this isn’t right but I might as well check it out. So I made the move, got up and laid on a ledge and took a look and thought “OH boy- I’m in trouble!” It dropped off into nothing, and I knew I had to climb back up and find Kit Carson avenue to get out of there. So, I descend the other goat trail, and am now breathing very hard and tiring rapidly, and the water is almost gone. Now, when you are low you cannot see ledges, so I have another decision to make. My common sense judgment told me to hike back over to the rock field and backtrack exactly where I came down, so I could find KC avenue, but… I thought maybe I could also climb up a straighter line and save the backtracking trip. So, I’m starting to feel a bit desperate now, and decide to try climbing up and surely I would run into Kit Carson avenue, as I was sure it was above me. Mistake number 4. I climbed quite a ways up, the knobs and holds were great, but it started getting to be more than I wanted to tackle, especially being tired and feeling dehydrated. Also I felt that if I slipped here it might be curtains, so I decided to go back to the original idea of going back to the same point at the rock field. Duh- I should have done that in the first place. I spent a lot of time and energy climbing up there for nothing, and I literally knew better and thought it was a mistake, I just wanted outta there! On my descent my water bottle slipped out and dropped far below, so I’m now officially out of water, breathing very hard and feeling badly dehydrated and cotton-mouthed as I was conserving that last bottle. Here’s where it got scary for me, as I felt like I was in a world of hurt, and I was. My strength was now waning, and I started to feel some serious anxiety about making it out and tried to keep my cool. I’m a long ways from safety and now I have to climb back up- twice- just to get back to Challenger. The clouds were still building up to the west, but still a ways off. I steamed back over to the rock field and began ascending with everything I had. Here is where I ran out of mental and physical steam. I was depleted. For the first time in my life I experienced dry heaves, or gagging from over exertion and dehydration. Not fun. I felt some tears coming to my eyes as I thought I might have to stay overnite in the rocks above 13,000 ft. with no cover. This rattled me pretty good so I started to cry out to God. Being a follower of Jesus I can say that He is faithful. I was amazed as a scripture verse (Psalm 50:15) came to mind right there on the rocks. Feeling completely spent I called on God and He delivered. My physical and emotional strength returned right there and I know I was strengthened beyond what I had left. I got up and started climbing the gully I had over-descended, and was now confident I could make it out. I had to re-climb Kit up a ways to get above the avenue, but eventually found it and started motoring back. At the end of the avenue the rain was starting to move in and it was getting late. I am now exhausted and dehydrated and motoring as fast as I can to make it back to Challenger summit, which I made after 6:00 pm. I was thankful for some residual snow and ice behind rocks and cooled my parched throat occasionally on the way down. My main goal was to push as hard as I possibly could to make it back to Willow lake before dark. This way I could hopefully find my way out of the maze of trails around the lake to the trail leading back to the trailhead. I’m dehydrated, my heart is pounding and I had to stop frequently to catch my breath, but my legs were still strong. It started raining on me on the way down, so I put on my rain jacket and kept going. The loose jumble on challenger is hard to descend on quickly. I made the lake but it was a hair too late, the darkness had set in. Thankfully the rain stopped at the lake. Now- I have a small 2 LED headlamp, and in the dark have to find the trail out of here! First things first- I need water- so took a drink out of the lake! Wow that was good- but worried about bacteria. Not a soul was camping at lake so I spent HOURS following trails that never seemed to lead to the trail heading back out to the north! Talk about frustrating. It was so maddening to know where you are at, but NOT be able to find the way out! I was glad I had my compass as many of the trails would zig and zag and end up going the wrong way or back to the lake or who knows where? I finally had had enough as I couldn’t remember where the trail came in and decided to try to catch some shut-eye around 11. Thought I‘d find the way out in the morning light as it seemed futile with all the huge boulders, drop-offs and maze like terrain in the dark. I thought of perhaps following the creek a half-mile in the dark to where the trail crossed the creek coming in, but the territory was new to me, and I wasn’t too keen on that bushwhacking idea with a small headlamp and no guarantee of taking the right creek channel out. So, I used my backpack as a pillow, and had a hard time dozing off as I kept thinking I’d awake with this big bear in my face sniffing the food! I had left a warm sweatshirt on the trail coming in- and also think the willows around the lake brushed off my warm poncho that I had taken off in a hurry and tied around my waste while putting on the raincoat. The raincoat was thin and I awoke cold and shivering after a short while. I now thought I’d have to keep hiking and moving around to stay warm, so I started looking for the trail again. This worked but it was late now, around 1:00 am, and I had several hours before daylight. I got another drink and thought, well, I’ll go down to the end of the lake and check out the water falls, just for the fun of it. So I bushwhacked over towards the waterfalls- getting ever closer to where I could just start to see them, and following the light as I looked down there it was… the TRAIL OUT! solid and sure. And then… it dawned on me, and I remembered seeing the waterfalls on the way in. Why didn’t I think of that 5 hours ago!? It was now around 2:00 a.m., and I made it back to the SUV around 4:30, right about 24 hrs. after I started. Talk about a “day” hike! I got my 24 hrs. worth and this hike I’ll never forget! Probably had 7 to 8 k of elevation gain that day with unknown mileage?! I’ve heard it said that if you spend enough time hiking in the wild, sooner or later you’ll spend your nite in the wilderness. This was mine!!

Post Note: After drinking the water I was afraid I’d get Giardia, and checked into the symptoms and incubation period, which is about 1-2 weeks before you get sick. Sure enough, in about 2 weeks I started getting horribly ill, with diarrhea and vomiting! It was hideous! So I had the doc give me that Flagyl medication for Giardia. For those who know what it is- I‘ll leave it at that! Wrong med for me! Well, I had been with a friend and his family the nite before, and then found out later that ALL 4 of his family got sick too!! Turns out all of us suffered from food poisoning (probably salmonella) as we all had eaten at the same place. So I’m not an official member of the Giardia club yet!!

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Postby SarahT » Thu Feb 17, 2005 5:47 pm

I can sympathize. I did this same hike last August. Like you, we didn't take note of where we entered the gully on Kit Carson on the way up and ended up downclimbing way too far on the way back. We ended up on some fairly uncomfortable terrain but after a scary hour or two we found our way back to the avenue. You have us beat on the time. We finished the hike after 19 hours.

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Postby JoeyJ » Fri Feb 18, 2005 12:19 pm

Hi Sarah,
Thanks for the reply. I was curious if you made it back to willow lake before dark? That’s what frustrated me a lot- all those crazy trails. As the last hint of light disappeared I was coming thru the willows next to the lake, and figured since I didn’t make it I would eventually find the right trail and the way out thru trial and error, or asking someone that may be camping. No such luck! Finding stuff in complete darkness, with no points of reference or feel for where one is going made me want to scream! I ended up on the same trails several times I’m sure. I also learned that I have a deeper respect for bears than what I thought! I’ve heard many CO locals speak of how brazen bears have become in approaching camp sites, dumpsters and even going into houses in search of snacks. I did NOT want to become a snack or bear sandwich by any means! I really couldn’t sleep well and every little sound had my head popping up and searching around and somehow the shadows seemed to look like things that really weren’t there! Hiking all nite, even if it was in circles, seemed much better than awaking to Yogi!

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Postby NZ Darren » Fri Feb 25, 2005 4:01 am

Thats a scarey story.
I am fairly new to hiking and was wondering what you could do next time to avoid this.
Wouldn't a GPS help out on the way back down?

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Postby JoeyJ » Fri Feb 25, 2005 8:33 am

Yeah I could take GPS, but that would take all the fun out of it!! A certain amount of risk makes things more enjoyable :wink: Seriously, I go on hikes to get away from computers, enjoy God and the fantastic beauty of Colorado - meeting other hikers, and the adventure.

That's a very good question though. I never want to put myself in that position again. If I'm going solo I always let someone know where I'm going, trailhead, route, etc., and try to stick to it or it would be harder for folks to find you. I'll tell them if I haven't called by a certain time to report that in case of injury, getting lost, or whatever may happen. You never know... each trip is unique. On this trip I said it may get really late and give a little grace if I haven't called. I was glad I did that as I didn't call til 6 am! I like Roach's advice- "expect to go the wrong way some of the time." It happens. Especially in mountainous terrain. Enjoy your hikes!

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Postby sandyb » Thu Jun 02, 2005 9:01 pm

I had a similar experience on Kit Carson last summer as well...I was climbing alone and I too missed the correct route that would have enabled re-ascent/descent of Challenger (from Kit Carson) and the connection to the Willow Lake trail. I had missed the gully, descended to far, and after several false tries I was unwilling/just too pooped to continue to try and figure out my mistake - additionally a big (huge) storm was coming in and I was desperate to get below tree line. I had a heart to heart with myself, looked carefully at the map, ate some chocolate, and promised God that I WOULD take a rest day if I got out of this mess (had been climbing for a week, was tired, and was clearly lacking good judgement). I ended up descending into the Bear's Playground/Spanish Creek? area, then bushwhacked quite a ways thru an old burn, finally found a faint trail (the trail was closed many years ago due to the forest fire, apparently) that eventually became more established, and ended up at an Ashram a few miles south of town; I was obviously disheveled (bushwhacking forever), thirsty, wet (the storm was ferocious) lost (well, not quite, just off trail), and in need of directions back to town. Bless their hearts, the Ashram folks lined me up with a ride to my car, which was parked at the trailhead access for Willow Creek at the spot where a Honda Civic can go no further. And...I kept my promise and took a rest day the following day! Scary, but a good lesson: 1) there is more than one trail to the destination 2) don't be afraid to follow your instincts 3) know how to read a map, and 4) seek shelter when a storm approaches, even if it means changing your plans! I would have been toast on that back side of Challenger had the storm hit me at that point, which it would have. I've climbed 50 of the 14ers, over 40 times on Longs, and Kit Carson was my most frightening experience. Mostly because I was exhausted and had no one to bounce my fears off of. But, I trusted my instincts and got out of there alive. Another scary time was with my Dad on the North Maroon Bell; his final 14er (it was official in those days) and he became ill - we had an epic descent but that is another story!! SandyB

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Postby JoeyJ » Mon Jun 06, 2005 11:55 am

Sounds like more than a few folks have missed the exit on Kit Sandy. I like how you ate some chocolate when facing your situation though. Is there any problem that chocolate cannot solve? I think not- ha :roll:

I prob would have found my way out of the nite-time lake maze much sooner if I would have had chocolate to purify my thoughts! Which makes me wonder if you made it to thru your journey before darkness set in? That was my first all-niter... and hopefully last!

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Postby sandyb » Tue Jun 07, 2005 8:47 pm

I did make it back before dark - the funny thing was that I had set up my tent the night before in a little pulloff just before the sign that advises you to go no further if you don't have 4-wheel drive. So, I had returned, fairly exhausted but elated, and was breaking camp when a vehicle drives by headed towards town - I wave and continue my chores. The vehicle backs up to come back to talk to me - turned out it was two men who I had passed on the ascent of Challenger. They were pretty astounded to see me and couldn't figure out how I had managed to summit Kit Carson (they had seen me continue to Kit Carson, but themselves had turned around on Challenger) and somehow pass them on the return, as well as somehow manage in record time to get to my camp, which was several miles below where they had parked at the true trailhead. I was pretty tempted to tease them a little with a story about my New Age connections and mystic abilities acquired from spending too much time in the Crestone area; but instead I told them the real story!

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Postby JoeyJ » Wed Sep 14, 2005 12:20 pm

Round 2!
I returned to Kit Carson 1 year later. Mainly to thank the Lord for getting me out of there, and to investigate how I got off track up high, and also not being able to find the way out of Willow Lake.

I will give myself the Do-Do award for not finding the exit at Willow Lake! Real easy to find in daylite! I still was bone-headed though in the dark that nite and distinctly remember being by the exit several times, by the "Wilderness Restoration Area" sign at the west end. At first I entered the slot between the 2 big rocks, didn't see a trail so gave up following after searching all the other trails leading to west end. Each trail that I encountered a boulder lead to nothing, drop-offs, bushes, etc., so I assumed this one would also. Later I tried again and turned left after entering the slot as the rock leads down, and proceeded down the right way farther, but my small LED did not illuminate very far down and ahead where the trail appeared, and I gave up and turned back again! I was within just a few feet of the exit trail!!

Was unable to go to summits to try and see where I got off track on Kit as clouds had both Challenger and Kit Carson socked in completely. Noticed white clouds coming in BELOW me when ascending above 12,000 ft., which was a new experience. They were white, and no noise/thunder so I thought they were pretty harmless drift clouds. Gray fog like clouds loomed ahead above me though. When I made the ridge I found visibility on the other side was near zero everywhere, and both summits were still surrounded by this soup, so I turned around here after heading towards Challenger a short ways- thinking it wasn't a good idea. So I'm glad to announce there was no "Kit Carson II: Journey Through the Fog!" adventure to share... or I would prob still be lost right now! If I got off route on a nice day... well, I can't imagine trying to navigate on mountains in zero visibility- at least without GPS or something.

And those harmless looking white clouds... they were full of hail, turning the basin white and wet, from around 13k all the way to the lake, on my descent. After descending a few hundred feet- KA-BOOOM!! The upper clouds were producing electrical storms now!! So I got out of there fast- but with the now wet/slick rock rubble and icy patches on the grass I slipped and fell on my can several times- but was OK! Kit Carson has been quite a humbling place for me! God is good :)

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Postby JoeyJ » Mon Jul 31, 2006 12:37 pm

Walking the Lily Lake trail this Saturday early it was still dark. I had crossed the creek a couple times, and checked my compass each time after crossing to make sure I was still heading the right way- South. Seems like you have to cross that crazy creek 5 or 6 times before getting out of there! So I came to another water crossing and took a brief pit stop. The one time I should have checked the compass was here- but I didn’t this time. As I turned around, crossed and took off again I thought the going seemed kinda easy after the crossing, but kept moving on the trail thinking it was another flat portion. A few minutes later I noticed another headlamp coming at me from up ahead in the other direction. “What are they doing going the wrong way?” I thought, and suppose they probably thought the very same thing about me!” So my next thought was - OK, make sure YOU aren’t going the wrong way before you open your mouth and insert your foot! Sure enough-- checked and I was now heading North instead of South!! How do these things happen!? Well, another dose of humble pie, and it was nice to meet someone on the trail. The couple I met- they were nice enough to let me join them on the hike in the CORRECT direction!! Glad to run into them as it saved me from going the wrong way back towards the trailhead for who knows how much longer!!

So a few minutes later when it got light we stopped for a quick break. It was then we were talking about climbing, and Seth mentioned something that rang a bell! Talking about risk and adventure he mentioned he had gone to 14ers.com and read some ‘scary’ climbing stories, and one in particular. Well, he started mentioning his reading about this guy who got off course and descended too far, climbed up and ended up having to down climb again and lost his water bottle… and then ended up spending the night in the wilderness! Well, I about started laughing out loud at this point!, as I could tell he was talking about this Kit Carson adventure post!! Here is someone I never met before telling me about an adventure that happened to me. How ironic! But -at this point- I was not really wanting to reveal my identity quite yet! We had just met, and at that time I was going completely backwards, in the WRONG and opposite direction (quite a first impression A?), and the hike was just beginning! I certainly didn’t want to add that “oh yeah, that was me- I’m the one who got off track on Kit Carson, and ended up semi-lost down below the avenue, and then couldn’t find my way out of willow lake in the dark!!” That’s me alright… shall we carry on with this hike!?! Not exactly words of confidence when it comes to first meeting some new folk!!

So I kept that under my hat until we reached the summit of Lindsey! Made for a nice summit story and told Seth when we were on top that he was looking at the one who posted the adventure he was talking about earlier, and we both had some good laughs talking about the craziness of the Kit Carson adventure and all that the mountains have to offer!! The mountains continue to humble me. Thanks so much for hiking with me Seth/Sandy on the fun climb of Lindsey! That was a fantastic day and another great memory! The views of Blanca, the big puffy white clouds hanging below us in the basin… getting so close to the herd of big horns! Sure is fun to be above the clouds! Had a great time and enjoyed your company!

Next time you see me… I WILL be going the right way!

Joey

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Postby Floyd » Mon Jul 31, 2006 1:03 pm

Wow, I plan on doing KC/Challenger from the east in a few weeks and I won't even have the luxury of coming up from Challenger to mark my trail. I'll be sure to keep a careful eye to find that ledge to get over to Challenger.

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