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Challenger Point

Condition Updates  
Route: Willow Creek Approach
Posted On: 6/13/2024, By: anino
Info: Someone posted there was a full snow coverage above the Willow Lake on Sunday, however as of yesterday the situation is as follows: Little snow cover on switchbacks below Willow Lake (easy to navigate around), some snow cover on switchbacks above Willow Lake (manageable), full snow cover on the trail from half way below the rib. The snow is soft and hard to navigate. However, I crossed the gully and scrambled all the way to the crest which is free of snow. The ledge on Kit Carson is fully covered and impassable for the moment. Willow creek is quite high and require some balancing skill on all three crossings. 
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Route: Willow Creek Approach
Posted On: 6/10/2024, By: tbedient
Info: Climbed Challenger alone via North Slope route. Above the rock rib most of the trail is covered in snow. Needed ice axe and micro spikes. Multiple other parties couldnt make it. There is a snow filled couloir that runs up climbers left that can be climbed but early would need crampons and ice axe but softens in the sun and descended this much of the way down. But be careful because it ends at a waterfall so dont shoot off the end. I figure in about two weeks the route will be clear of snow. For now it is not very safe with difficult route finding and exposure. Added some pictures. 
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Route: Kirk Couloir
Posted On: 5/5/2024, By: slawrence2011
Info: Did not summit. Started from Willow Lake TH at 4. Trail was dry and clear until close to 11K. Intermittent snow starts shortly before the headwall up to the lake. I opted to keep wearing tennis shoes (ended up staying in them until transitioning to ski boots and crampons at the base of the Kirk). In retrospect, I would bring hiking boots due to the high snow level. Snow isn't continuous enough to ski or skin until getting up the first headwall shortly before the camping. Even then, plenty of dry patches, but generally short, and melting quickly. I followed tracks and crossed the lake in the AM, seemed well frozen around 7. Then went straight up, gained the trail, and snow in the upper basin above the headwall was pretty discontinuous. I was intending to do outward bound, but due to it already being 8, I decided to climb the first couloir to avoid snow getting too soft. I saw another party heading toward outward bound, and didn't see them again. Snow started out firm and stable, above 13,500, I started seeing some evidence of wind slab from 1cm to 5 inches, did a bunch of tests with my ice axe, but it was tough to trigger, top seemed pretty stout. I ended up climbing around climber's left side of the cliffs left of the col, and regretted it due to having to sidehill on ~45 degreeish snow above cliffs that was often soft and producing small wind crusts. Got to the saddle at 1, skipped the summit due to time, and went down. I almost opted to go down the way I climbed due to snow at the top acting a little scary, but decided to go down the main col since if a slab took me out, I would rather not be above cliffs. Turned out to be plenty stout in the couloir, great jump turns, I wasn't knocking much down. Then, traversed skier's left, and managed to stay on snow until the level of the headwall above the lake. Tried to ski across the lake, but the ice failed me near the edge (fortunately), so reclimbed to the trail and went that way (which I would recommend going forward). Managed to keep skiing from the trees on the trail above the lake through just below the headwall below the lake, but took skis off several times, and hit more rocks than I wanted to. Then hiked all the way out. Got back to the car at 6:45 pm. 
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Route: Willow Creek Approach
Posted On: 4/12/2024, By: Hjelmstadlt
Info: The road is closed at the USFS boundary, so if you dont want to add 4 miles to the RT mileage use the Baca residential parking. Trail is probably 80% snow packed with a few dry spots on the exposed south facing stuff. Very muddy and slippery on the way down. Snow is quickly melting out up there and approaching on skis to any of the Couloirs will soon be impossible. I had planned to go out to the OB Couloir, but the snow wasnt continuous enough for a simple approach. The furthest west couloir is in top to bottom! 
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Route: Willow Creek Approach
Posted On: 1/18/2024, By: the_hare
Info: Did not summit. Looking at precipitation reports & webcams, the KC/Challenger area looked like it missed the huge dump over the weekend & didnt have too much snow overall. . . or so I thought. I parked at the end of Pine Cone Way to bypass some road closure miles for the standard TH. Enough space for 5 or so cars, many tracks up rejoining Willow Lake Trail. Trail is bootpacked, traction useful. Flotation useful past tight switchbacks at 10,400ft; required after creek crossing at 10,960ft. Theres exposed, flowing water to fill at the crossing. I climbed up the rocks and hardpack snow between them to ascend the headwall. The forest after the headwall is heavily drifted and has much more snow than the valley below. I got lost here since the standard trail was drifted over until I noticed some coyote/fox prints in the snow. I followed these and incredibly they matched the standard trail exactly and marched over an old trench that had been covered over for quite a ways. I only sank to my ankles over the tracks; otherwise the snow was knee or thigh deep. After the tracks darted off into some deadfall I followed the trench by Braille for a little farther until I was too tired to take another step. Made it within 0.4mi of the lake. I believe the hidden trench continues from there to the lake; not sure about past there. 
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Route: North Slope
Posted On: 11/5/2023, By: yared0319
Info: Perfect weather. Very light snow (spots of ice) till ~12000ft where it's 6-12in along the trail where the snow tends to accumulate. Don't follow the tracks into the snow-filled (2-3ft depth) gully without crampons or snowshoes. The snow is very light/loose and, without adequate traction, is a slog. Microspikes + poles were sufficient for everything outside the gully. 
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Route: North Slope
Posted On: 10/10/2023, By: Jajohnson11
Info: Tons of snow starting at the rock rib and going up. Traction and poles mandatory. Brought my ice axe and definitely appreciated having it. If you're going over to kit Carson the avenue is loaded with snow too. 
Route: North Slope
Posted On: 9/21/2023, By: GSODJA
Info: My climbing partner and I climbed Challenger and Kit Carson this past Sunday. The Avenue was snow packed from the saddle between Challenger and Kit Carson to the Prow. We wore micro-spikes. The hike down the avenue to the gully had snow but there were multiple sections that were snow-free. Gully to top of KC was dry. The biggest issue was the ice in the early am climbing Challenger along the rock rib @ 12,500 (wore mirco- spikes). All the snow melt re-froze overnight into sheets of ice. 
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Route: North Slope
Posted On: 9/4/2023, By: jklammer
Info: Long time lurker, first time poster. Summited Challenger via standard North Slope and then Kit Carson via the avenue. Zero snow; no mud or water issue either. I started from the trailhead around 2:30am - it was full moon - back to the car around 3:30pm. Simple hike to Willow Lake to bottom of the Challenger slope. Easy enough hike and scramble up Challenger's north slope to the ridge, but pay attention for your return. On my return (after summits), I was too far descending right towards the snow in the gully. You want to stick descending left. It's a bit simpler to follow cairns and scramble on way up (at least for me), so pay attention. Thankfully some good people who I summited with appeared and talked me across to more solid rock. If you find yourself in loose scree on your descent, work yourself left and you'll be OK. The rest of this hike is wonderful. Avenue was much wider than I expected. Study the photos for where to turn for Kit Carson and you'll be fine. Probably smart to wear your helmet on the Challenger slope and most/all of Kit. Everyone should keep hiking on the weekends and leave Fridays for me :-P 
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Route: Southwest Ridge
Posted On: 8/8/2023, By: notidealbutfine
Info: Summited Challenger Point via the southwest ridge on 8/7/23. My first time on this fantastic route. Spanish Creek Trail is a total mess as it usually is, but worse than usual with the amount of water the area has had this summer. Tons of downed trees and despite hiking this trail a few times before, I lost the trail probably a dozen times on the way back. Challenger's SW Ridge was a wonderful sustained class 4 ridge similar to KC's north ridge. A little steep at the top but it's over before you know it. Amazing views of the prow while on the climb. Headed over to summit Kit Carson (class 3), then Columbia Point (class 3) and Kitty Kat Carson (class 2) next. Had Columbia all to myself. Sketchiest part of the day was trying to find a way down Columbia. All peaks are in fantastic, full summer conditions, just a bit of snow on the descent down the Cole Couloir, but easily avoidable. 9 hours car to car. 
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Route: North Slope
Posted On: 8/2/2023, By: mjweissman
Info: Climbed challenger 7/29/23. Got started later than ideal, 0630 from the trailhead. Up to and shortly beyond the late was easy and quite pretty. Mosquitos have been mentioned here lately but they weren't that bad and basically weren't noticeable at all as long as I was moving. Didn't bother with repellent. Trail becomes more difficult about the point of the "rock rib" noted in the route. It's pretty steep there, and was also pretty damp due to melt / runoff from snow still present in some of the gullies higher up, requiring added caution. Probably verging on class 3 at this point for several hundred feet of vertical if only due to conditions. A bunch of us around that point on the trail made a similar mistake, not tacking left (as you face uphill) early enough and ending up too high up and thus needing to double back a bit to re-find the route. It was necessary to navigate around a bit of snow at this point but nothing too bad. Around this point you get to a particularly steep & loose part of the route (as the route page notes). You'll spend some energy here but it's doable with a bit of care. Wasn't particularly hard from gaining the top of that "crux" part of the route to the summit. Along the ridge best lines are left (as you face in the direction of the summit & of Kit Carson) of the crest. Didn't attempt Kit Carson due to clouds moving in. Personally I found Challenger a harder day out than Blanca, Ellingwood, or Humboldt in this area, notwithstanding Blanca & Ellingwood were 18 mile days due to starting down low (I have a 2WD car). That said summiting Challenger + Kit Carson would be very doable in a day by starting earlier from the trailhead or camping by the lake and starting from there. About equal numbers of people that day did / didn't add Kit Carson to Challenger. Note - there is considerable loose rock on the upper part of the trail. Caution is warranted in what might be coming down from above you, and caution should be taken in what you're kicking up for the sake of those below. Helmet advised. Also, a number of people were using poles on the upper (steep, loose) part of the trail. I'm not usually a pole hiker, but was thinking it might not have hurt time. Nonetheless, a beautiful day out! 
Route: North Slope
Posted On: 8/2/2023, By: SARAH342
Info: What was more Challenging, fighting off the viscous mosquitos or navigating the quote difficult class 2? That being said, this was a gorgeous hike, we saw a plethora of goats along the top portion of the trail - AH-mazing. Willow Lake is a lively community campsite terrorized by one cute, persistent deer named Prudence. Watch out for Prudence! The upper trail to summit is mega rocky and steep, the rock is loose scree 60 percent of the time and avoiding it means adopting a class 3 route. We took the trail justified right up and justified right - closer to Kit - on the way down to avoid sandy chutes. Recommend bringing helmet, poles, and a good support system. Mosquitos are worse than I've ever seen, swarmed us about a mile below Willow Lake to the campsite. Literally ran for our lives from clouds of mosquitos clinging to our packs back at the parking lot the next day. DEET and other herbal remedies do little to keep them at bay. Recommend baggy and/or thick clothing so they can't bite you - saw a couple other hikers that got chewed up as bad or worse. Challenger is an intense hike up AND down, we opted out of combining Kit into our day adding the 3 mile/2 hour saddle and back. We would have been descending everything in rain and mud had we chanced it so no regrets on that one! Have the best time! Love, Celine and Sarah. 
Route: North Slope
Posted On: 7/24/2023, By: ILnoise
Info: Snow crossing is still there- felt pretty sketchy in my trail runners on the way up around 8-ish but was much softer and more comfortable on the way down. I don't usually bring poles but wished I had for that crossing on the ascent. There are two sections where tracks are packed into the snow crossing, I recommend taking the higher of the two as it's shorter and less exposed. The loose section along the rock rib before gaining the ridge is in pretty bad condition- very few cairns (maybe knocked over by rockfall), water from snowmelt was all over making rocks slick, and it looked like people were taking a choose-your-own-adventure approach. Whatever the 'standard route' should be is pretty much impossible to follow. Overall route conditions were good- beware lots of mosquitos by the lake in the afternoon, not just at the TH. The scree made Challenger more difficult than Kit Carson's relatively more solid rock, so come prepared! 
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Route: North Slope
Posted On: 7/16/2023, By: mjordan
Info: Only one easy snow crossing halfway up, which will probably be melted in 1-2 more weeks. No axe, crampons, or micro spikes needed. The rest of the route was summer conditions. Mosquitos seem to be easing too, theres a lot but they werent terrible. Bring some spray and an arm band for the evening and youll be good to go. 
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Route: North Slope
Posted On: 7/7/2023, By: delaney_wo
Info: Expect ferocious mosquitos along the entire approach from TH to camp beneath willow lake. We found there were 2 unavoidable snow crossings above the lake if staying true to the standard route. Traction is still important, need micro spikes & poles at a minimum. We thought spikes and axe were better. On one of the crossings, we saw someone (with spikes & no poles) slip on the snow & slide 30 feet to slam into a rock. Luckily they were ok, but its still definitely not quite full summer conditions yet. We also did KC & felt that we needed spikes & axe for that, see update there for more info. Overall fun hike and good opportunity to practice using an axe on low-angle & short snow crossings! 
Route: North Slope
Posted On: 7/4/2023, By: Swerner
Info: Summer conditions up to the lake, some creek crossings but nothing too hard. Good amount of snow heading up the slope, starting earlier or having an axe would have helped with peace of mind but didn't seem essential. I stayed right of the gully (looking from below) on the way up, and on the other side on the way down, and the other side (left side looking from below) was much easier. Summit ridge was no problem. Glissading down saved some time but it was pretty steep so make sure you have your self arrest skills! Mosquitos were absolutely atrocious, as others mentioned. 
Route: North Slope
Posted On: 6/16/2023, By: Mt_DAN
Info: Mosquitos are lingering around the trailhead. They clear up about a mile down the trail. Willow Lake Trail is in good shape up to the lake. Snow is still hanging on as you go up the route from the lake. Most kicked steps were good, some werent. The ridge to the summit was easier traveling. Watch out for small patches of ice. Ice axe was great for the glissade back down. 
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Route: North Slope
Posted On: 6/11/2023, By: ashleyelizabeth0312
Info: There are horrible mosquitos for the first mile and in the parking lot but dont worry they go away after that. We were able to summit Challenger Point but had to turn around for Kit Carson due to unsafe snow conditions sloping towards cliffs. There was a ton of snow going up to Challenger so we just climbed the rocks on the left side. Snow all along the ridge to the summit as well. If you have crampons and an axe to self arrest if needed Kit Carson may have been do-able but we didnt feel safe after trying to go up the avenue with that sloping snow, we ended up turning around. The most fun and longest glissade ever down Challenger with deep snow that made it easy to slow down and stop if needed! No snow until past the lake. 
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Route: Kirk Couloir
Posted On: 5/29/2023, 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. 
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Route: Kirk Couloir
Posted On: 5/19/2023, By: notidealbutfine
Info: Summitted Challenger via the Kirk Couloir today (05/19/23). No snow on trail until the first creek crossing about 3.5 miles in. Nice to have snow shoes after that. Snowshoed pretty consistently from the Headwall (11,000') up the the base of the Kirk Couloir (12,900'); snow was quite good on the way up and absolute shit on the way down as it had been raining below tree line all morning. High winds and blowing snow picked up heavily around 10:30AM when I started the climb. Visibility was awful. Snow in the Kirk Couloir was fantastic however. Some of the best snow I've climbed. The Cole Couloir (south couloir on KC), is absolutely loaded with snow and pristine (see my pics; someone go ski it!). Summitted Challenger at 11:58AM. Could barely even see KC from the summit. Challenger's ridge has a pretty massive cornice on it still, stay away from that edge. Spent a couple minutes on the summit, but severe blowing snow had me moving fast. Enjoyed the best and longest glissade of my life on the descent just as you get off the summit ridge. I glissaded from ~13,900' to ~12,500' in a matter of minutes on truly god-like snow. An absolutely unforgettable experience. Snowshoeing on wet snow down to 11,000' was remarkably bad. 10 hours car to car. I'll post a trip report soon! 
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