(WINTER) HOLD ON! If you don't have much high-elevation, winter climbing experience, be careful in your planning and take a partner. Even the "easy" 14ers (Quandary, Sherman, Grays & Torreys) can be deadly in winter.
Take Colorado 17 to the town of Moffat. On the south side of town, look for a sign for the turn to Crestone. Turn east on the "RD T" road. You will soon see a Forest Service sign that says 15 miles to the South Crestone trailhead. Drive 11.4 miles to a road junction. Keep left and follow the main road into Crestone. In Crestone, turn right (east) onto Galena Street and the road will turn to 2WD dirt, with approx. 2 miles to go. When the road enters National Forest, it is labeled as the "South Crestone Road 949" and becomes more difficult but good-clearance vehicles should be able to make it to the end.
Once you are near Willow Lake, follow the trail as it parallels the lake's north side. Leave the trees and continue through thick willows along the shore. Your next goal is to gain the cliffs/headwall on the east end of the lake. Before reaching the cliffs, turn left and climb north up the hillside on a rugged trail - Photo #1. Climb 150', turn right and continue through bushes to reach the top of the cliffs, near 11,800', where you get a view of the remaining route - Photo #2 and Photo #3. Kirk is a narrow couloir which splits the cliffs between Kit Carson and Challenger.
Cross the stream and follow small cairns and trail segments across the remainder of this flat area. Above 11,800', angle left through willows and bushes to reach the base of Challenger's standard, north slope route, near 11,900'. As the terrain opens up near 11,900', continue south on gentle terrain toward Kirk Couloir - Photo #4. After passing over a flat area near 12,200', the climb begins to get steeper - Photo #5 and Photo #6. And steeper above 12,900' as you approach the entrance to Kirk Couloir - Photo #7, Photo #8 and Photo #9.
This is where the fun begins! Turn right and enter the steep couloir (Photo #10) which starts out with a slope angle near 45 degrees. Continue up the narrow, near 50-degree couloir (Photo #11) for approx. 200' and the exit becomes obvious - Photo #12. Leave the confines of the couloir (Photo #13 and Photo #14) and continue toward the Kit Carson-Challenger saddle - Photo #15. From the saddle (Photo #16), turn right and climb 300' to reach the summit - Photo #17, Photo #18 and Photo #19.
Kirk Couloir is the best ski route on Challenger and it usually holds continous snow through the spring ski season. This narrow couloir doesn't have many "safety" spots so it can be difficult to move out of the fall line.
Photo #20, Photo #21, Photo #22, Photo #23, Photo #24
Crampons, helmet, axe and avy gear are recommended for this snow-only climb. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.