Kit Carson Peak

Condition Updates  
Route: Outward Bound Couloir
Posted On: 2023-06-01, By: KevinHadley
Info: Packed snow and ice - no flotation needed. Hike to Willow Lake had very little snow, packed down. Snow began at 12k at the entrance to the Couloir and was present to the peak. 
Route: Kirk Couloir
Posted On: 2023-05-29, By: AndyFromDenver
Info: I summited both Kit Carson and Challenger via the Kirk Couloir. Trail conditions past the lake are excellent--no need for snowshoes with just a few small spots of snow above the headwall that don't even need traction. The Kirk Couloir was in excellent condition. From the saddle to the summit, it was solid snow the whole way on Kit Carson. The entire avenue was filled with about 45-degree angle snow and crampons and an ice axe are an absolute must if you dare attempt it right now (pictures coming). If I would've been on it any later, it probably would've been too late as the snow was softening by mid-morning since much of the avenue is south-facing. Rather than go up the standard route on KC, I chose the couloir to the climber's left of the standard route and it was in good condition, but also starting to soften as I headed down (I assume this is the route people take from Spanish Creek since this couloir continues down--don't know the name though). Heading back over to the saddle was even a bit spicer as the snow was warming but I made it with no scares. From the saddle to Challenger, just follow the knee-deep postholes up to the summit. It's a slog, but it's short. The descent down the standard route of Challenger was pretty simple, although I took one variation. Rather than go down the standard route, I took the couloir to the skier's right and did a mix of speed walking down the soft snow and glissading (wasn't wearing the best pants for that or I'd have glissaded the majority of it except for the steep part near the top). By noon or so, all this snow was mashed potatoes and I imagine it would be anywhere on the mountain since this is north-facing. Left the trailhead at about 1:30 a.m. and summited KC around 9:50 and Challenger around 11:40. 
Route: Spanish Creek Approach
Posted On: 2023-05-20, By: 14er101
Info: I was aiming for Coles Couloir, but could not even make it a mile up the Spanish creek approach! High water levels made the trail a river and even the first creek crossing had stuff soaking wet. Lots of annoying deadfalls as well. We described it as "impossible unless you really really want to suffer and are OK getting soaked" Went and played around at the Sand dunes instead. 
Route: Via Challenger Point
Posted On: 2023-04-24, By: AndyFromDenver
Info: This will mostly be irrelevant immediately after tomorrow's storm, but I imagine that snow will settle after a few warm days and the conditions will return to the way they were this weekend in the next week or so... The road is still closed 1.2 miles below the trailhead. From there, it was mostly dry with a few packed-snow spots until right around the Willow Creek crossing at 10,900. This is where the snow really starts. On the way up, it was good footing since everything was still frozen. Flotation is needed the last mile to the lake after the big ascent of the headwall. I went back to just boots when I reached the lake and added crampons at the trail junction and they were needed, as well as an ice axe after this. The standard route of Challenger is one of the steepest class 2 routes and in the winter is essentially a couloir. I stayed a bit left of the actual route to make it truly a couloir climb and it was great. Snow was solid through late morning. I ended up turning around 3/4 of the way up the route around noon because I realized I still had probably five hours before I'd begin the descent and I had two friends who were expecting to hear from me by mid-afternoon. Additionally, who knows if the snow would've remained steady late into the day. Looking over towards Kirk Couloir, there were some wet slides there. I'm hoping the snowpack returns to this state soon because I can't wait to go back there. It would've been a 17-hour day had I been successful so expect a slog, but a really fun day of alpine climbing. 
Route: North Ridge
Posted On: 2023-04-12, By: One Sierra Charlie
Info: Kit Carson as seen from the summit of Humboldt. 
Route: Cole/South Couloir
Posted On: 2023-04-10, By: andyclimbs
Info: Climbed South/Cole Couloir from Spanish Creek with the intent to ski. Trail begins getting snowy after about a mile and a half, but is not skinnable till upper basin. Boot and snowshoe trail all the way to the couloir is in. With a hard overnight freeze, the going on the snow was quick and easy in shoes until past the initial downed trees in the upper basin, where I put on the skins and skis. Skinned to bottom of couloir, then cramponed up couloir and on snow all the way to summit, very fun. Left TH at 4:45am, reached summit at 9:40am. Glorious day up there, not a breath of wind. Started descent at 10am. Difficult skiing from summit to top of couloir, scary variable snow, hardpack windrifts. Some rocks to negotiate. Couloir was too icy to ski from melt freeze conditions. Warm day, and couldn't wait for deep SW facing couloir to get sun and soften, as the SE facing slopes above were melting and rocks were coming down, so had to take off skis, put crampons back on, and descend as quickly as possible to escape overhead hazard. At base of couloir put skis back on, and "skied" out the most variable, unconsolidated mush in existence back to bench where trail drops out of upper basin. Horrible isothermic bottomless collapsible mush that not even skis would float at only 11am. Put shoes back on and walked out down mostly consolidated W facing snow on trail below treeline to car, which was very pleasant compared to travel in upper basin. Based on my experience, I would strongly recommend against considering the Cole/South couloir as a ski descent option at this time. Impossible to balance needing softened snow in the couloir to ski with the exposure from melting rockfall from above, as the couloir itself gets sun much later than the summit slopes perched above it (10:30am the couloir starts getting some sun, not in full sun till 11:00). The timing is just off for managing melt freeze cycle and hazard. For snowshoers/snow climbers, it is a super viable and fun climb option, but be sure to pick a day with a hard overnight freeze, get a very alpine start, move quickly if you intend to descend the same route, and expect a pretty epic wallow on your way out. For those interested in choosing a different escape, I saw no tracks on the avenue or on Challenger. E slopes of Challenger looks to be very well filled in, but looks like wintery snow still with possible wind slabs as of 4/10. Would give it a little time, but it should eventually be good snow climbing or maybe skiing. 
Route: Outward Bound Couloir
Posted On: 2023-04-10, By: aksean22
Info: Bailed at 13,200' due to questionable snow conditions. The road is gated 1.2 miles/700' below the summer trailhead, so expect a little bit of extra walking. The trail is a well traveled mixture of dry, snow, and ice. Flotation needed the last mile to the lake. Not much snow in the upper valley. We skinned through/over a lot of willows and rocks to the base. The snow up high is still very wintery. The apron was mostly hard packed sastrugi with occasional wind drifting. We booted up to the base of the couloir but it wasn't getting any better. I went maybe 100' into the couloir and found a wind slab that we weren't comfortable with so decided to call it. Would not recommend for a few more weeks. 
Route: Via Challenger Point
Posted On: 2023-04-04, By: tonygoes4th
Info: Spanish creek route: Easy going the first couple miles. Snowshoes wanted from about 1.5 mi to the base of the couloir. Snow is settling with warmer weather and i had a lot of post holing on the way out during the day. Good trail there now! Couloir was wonderful. Hardpacked and pretty icy. Wouldn't wanna ski it right now but it made a fast climb. Ridge over to the summit had some deep cornices and drifts. Definitely wanna watch your line but it was totally safe for me. As the weather warms up watch for slides up there and in the Couloir. Super windy on the climb (50+ sustained with gusts well in the 70-80 range) but not bad on the summit. Went ahead and took the avenue over and caught the summit of Challenger. Down climbed the gulley on the side of the prow. Pretty wild descent for sure. 
Route: Spanish creek to south couloir
Posted On: 2023-03-14, By: lkk8815
Info: To start, getting the parking permit for Spanish creek was extremely easy. Seems like you get an automatic email when you apply online, fyi for last minute planners. Spanish creek approach isnt terrible. I counted 89 downed trees in anticipation of a tedious approach, but theyre spaced out, really not a bad hike in. The snow isnt deep until higher up, generally supportive with snowshoes, and there mostly was a trench in place - thank you to those who came before! Snow in the couloir was nice and firm. It was pretty straightforward getting over to the summit (with crampons and ice axe), just a few steep hard snow crossings that got my attention. Fun route. 
8 2
Route: East Ridge
Posted On: 2022-11-24, By: bmcqueen
Info: I came in from S Colony side. Decided I didn't have the gas to bolt KC on, but thought a view from Columbia might be helpful. 
Route: Via Challenger Point
Posted On: 2022-10-20, By: Will_E
Info: Did the standard to KC yesterday. Dry until about halfway up the east side of Challenger, there's a pretty good track through the snow. I didn't use traction, but it might be helpful. Snow on the short slope between the Challenger saddle and the start of the avenue. The avenue is completely dry, along with the rest of the way to summit. Nice day. 
Route: Via Challenger Point
Posted On: 2022-10-10, By: hank420thetank
Info: Climbed up on 10/8. There is 6-8 inches of snow on parts of the summit/traverse to Kit Carson so highly recommend bringing micro spikes. 
Route: Willow Creek Approach
Posted On: 2022-10-03, By: Another Steve
Info: Heavy snow on 10/2 and overnight into 10/3. Snow starts at the lower Willow Creek crossing and as of this morning there are 2-3" at the lake itself. Reports from climbers we saw coming down on 10/2 is that on top of Challenger Point was 4-6" (and it snowed more overnight). We camped below Willow Lake but didn't make an ascent due to the weather (snowfall and clouds/fog). The snow is beautiful though. 
Route: North Ridge
Posted On: 2022-10-02, By: mparrish94
Info: North Ridge route was solid, fun Class 4 climbing. The approach from Willow Creek was very long but straightforward, even in the dark. Once the trail split from Challenger on the East side of the lake, the trail was very hard /confusing to follow, but never exceeded Class 1 up to the base of KC. From that point on there was still no real "route" to follow (no cairns, just going off of photos from previous routes). The terrain was very steep (class 2-3) up to the ledge (climber's right of OB couloir). We then had an easy class 1-2 traverse on the ledge to the start of the North Ridge. Bomber holds the whole way up, with tons of exposure. We stayed close to the ridge for 3/4 of this portion, which proved to be a good idea. Some snow at the top, but nothing too sketchy. Descending KC and then ascending Challenger was all good and straightforward. Descending Challenger was miserable, steep, loose, and confusing. For 2/3 of the descent, there was little to no trail, and the trail that was there was washed out. The bottom 1/3 to the sign was gorgeous trail and well marked. Willow Creek approached was 4/5, North Ridge route was 5/5, and Challenger descent was 1/5. 
Route: Via Challenger Point
Posted On: 2022-09-18, By: PJ88
Info: Took the alternate line up from the avenue and thought that was a great option. The rock is very solid and not too steep. Finding the exit back to the avenue was easy. Took a peek over to the standard option and saw plenty of loose rock. 
Route: North Ridge
Posted On: 2022-09-13, By: TheHikingDoctor
Info: Fantastic exposed class 3-4 climbing on the ridge. Once onto the grassy ledges just below the ridge, the rock was quite stable. I made the mistake of veering away from the trail that leads to upper willow lake quite early and made a straight shot for the Outward Bound Couloir - I would recommend NOT doing this. Stick to the trail, stay low in the valley until almost at the lake, and then cut up to the couloir. This will prevent tedious boulder hopping. I stayed on the ridge all the way to where it intersects the standard trail just short of the summit. Descent from Challenger was awful. Very loose going down the gully, cairns were random and not much help. Much more enjoyable once you hit the RMFI trail about halfway down. 
Route: Via Challenger Point
Posted On: 2022-09-07, By: MTBen
Info: Not much to add, summer conditions obviously. I would recommend a helmet on this route, I saw at least three rocks come bouncing down the route; a couple while going up challenger and one while going up the class 3 variation gully to the summit of Kit Carson. My hiking partner and I were debating the usefulness of our helmets on the route when the first rock came down, answering our question right there. 
Route: Via Challenger Point
Posted On: 2022-08-22, By: shapovalovm
Info: Mostly just +1 to the previous post. Not sure why the description says it's class 3, I don't think I've made a single Class 3 move over the whole day. That said, for Class 2 saying it is Difficult class 2 makes sense. Navigation is easy, but try to rely on your knowledge of the route more than the cairns as they literally lead in all directions and some are better than others. Creek crossings were easy too. Rock was wet in a few spots, but it never was a problem. Rockfall was not a problem for me at all, even with people in front. Frankly, it did not look steep enough for a falling rock to even be dangerous. So I was not sure helmet was that necessary. That said, I had mine with me, so I wore it (from the summit of Challenger to KC to Willow Lake) because why not. Parking was almost full by 5am when I got there. 
Route: Via Challenger Point
Posted On: 2022-08-16, By: Istoodupthere
Info: Lucked out and had a great day to do challenger/Kit. The gully to the summit ridge is easy compared to going up challenger's north slope. Did 1 class 3 move on the way up, which was completely avoidable. You can do the route while keeping it at class 2 imo. Route finding was mostly easy. The only slight confusion was the location of the gully. There are 2 cairns on either side of the avenue at the gully right before you get to the correct gully. Not sure why they are there. Bring a helmet. While contemplating if this was the correct gully, 3 softball size rocks came crashing down. One about 20 feet from my head. I was the only person on the mountain. 
Route: North Ridge
Posted On: 2022-07-10, By: E_A_Marcus_949
Info: Similar to last report - snow field below Outward Bound Couloir. One in my group of 3 traversed across higher up (pic); myself and someone else went across the snow lower as it was warming up and steps were easy to make (5 steps max). You could avoid it if you wanted to go down and around. Fabulous route up - highly recommend if you are comfortable with route finding through the basin and are up for a class 4. The rock has amazing hand and footholds. We stayed closer to ridge proper or slightly to the right. When you hit the final notch and meet up with the standard route there is some snow still but all is avoidable. Photos attached of: Outward Bound Couloir (+ the snow climber we saw heading up it) and snow patch we went across (I went lower than the person in this pic). 

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