Peak(s):  Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Date Posted:  09/11/2011
Date Climbed:   09/04/2011
Author:  HarknessHooligans
 5 seconds till blast off - Challenger & KC here we come.  

Trip report times.

Willow Creek start time: 12:30
Arrived at Willow Creek: 4:30

Next day hike start time: 5:15
Summit Challenger: 9:15
Left Challenger at 10:00
Summit Kit Carson: 11:00
30 minutes on top
Back to camp at: 3:30
Break camp and hike down: 4:30
Back to car/TH at: 7:30

Congratulations to my Texas friends who made it to the top of Challenger Point as their first 14er! What a great accomplishment on such a hard peak.

I usually consider myself an average speed hiker. But this hike took us much longer than expected. From camp to camp it took us 10 hours including stops. Challenger was much more of a challenge than we expected. We knew it would be incredibly steep with such a fast elevation gain, but it was still very exhausting. Challenger Point is definitely a mountain I never want to revisit. Kit Carson on the other hand was amazing. I would love to revisit Willow Lake. This was our first hike in the Sangres and it was GORGEOUS. The views of the Crestones and Humbolt are amazing. All the hard work is definitely worth it to be able to hike in such a beautiful mountain range.

Hiking with 40 lb packs to Willow Lake was pretty tough. It took us 4 hours. It is a very cool hike though. The river crossings are not as hard as the pictures make it look. There are many campsites at Willow Lake. We made sure we camped 300 feet away from the lake as the sign requests. There were even firepits already made at the campsites.

When we arrived at camp, the boys started dinner and refilled our water. The girls scouted out the route through the willows. I definitely recommend scouting the trail if you camp below the lake. Everything is always much more difficult in the dark with headlamps.

Me and Sarah

Challenger Point - Willow Lake Valley on the left at timberline

Our Group

River Crossing

Switch backs nearing the end of Part 1 of our hike

Our Campsite

We woke up at 4:30 and got a 5:15 start the next morning. Even though we scouted the hike through the willows, we still got off track just a little bit. At least we knew the general direction of where to go and just bulldozed our way through. We hiked around the top of the lake and then the sun came up right before we trekked up the 2,000+ elevation gain on Challenger Pt.

The hike up was uneventful. It was steep and seemed like it would never end. The notorious gully was not as hard as I had expected. It is still tough, but there were more solid rocks to hold on to even though the ground beneath our feet was loose. Once through the notch we went straight up the cliff to reach the ridge.

The exposure was incredible but the rock was very solid. It only took us about 15 minutes from the notch to reach the summit of Challenger.

me and Sarah on the trail

Challengers steep trail

Kit Carson in the clouds. Looks like the mountain is on fire.

More steep trail

Our Texas friends conquered thier first 14er! Congrats!

180 Panoramic on top Challenger Pt; Humbolt left of center, KC center, Crestones right of center

Me and Matt on Challenger

Me and Sarah

We spent about 45 minutes eating some pb&h bagels (peanut butter & honey) and taking summit pics. Our friends did an amazing job summiting this peak considering it was their first 14er and they were just down at about 500 feet elevation in Texas a couples days earlier. Many people on the trail congratulated them for their success. They felt accomplished and decided not to continue to Kit Carson. They were feeling a little bit of altitude sickness setting in and thought it would be best to head back down.

Me and Matt decided to continue to Kit Carson and meet our friends back at camp. We headed over to the Kit Carson Avenue which is not near as narrow as pictures make it seem. The views looking back on Challenger Point were incredible. I didn't realize the intensity of it until we hiked KC.

Challengers incredible exposure

KC avenue going up

KC avenue going down

Once we got to the back side of the avenue, the views were amazing! The rock formations were incredible. We could even see people on the top of the Crestone needle without binoculars.

clouds rolling in over the Crestones

The back side of the Avenue

Matt on one of the rock outcroppings


The trip report says to turn left up a gully (the 2nd gully) right before a rock rib that connects to Columbia Point. We took advice from a fellow hiker who told us to go up the first gully. It is Class 3+ on solid rock. It was a nice alternative to the 2nd gully that is mostly loose rock.

Class 3+ gulley



We made it to the summit of KC in a hour from Challenger. It was a beautiful day. The summit was surprisingly small considering the size of KC. We spent about 30 minutes on top and then headed back down. We were not looking forward to the trek across Challenger and the descent down the loose gully.

Summit of KC


Instead of resumitting Challenger, we just trekked across the side. I would not recommend this. It was talus hopping across the entire mountain and it was a killer on the ankles. We eventually met up on the ridge right before the notch. We headed down the gully and mostly slid down the whole thing. Going back down Challengers steep trail was hard on the joints. It seemed like we just couldn't get down fast enough. We did take our time because of the steepness of the mountain though. Be careful going back down this route....there was a hiker who did fall face forward and gashed his forehead open along with his knee. I highly recommend trekking poles for the descent.

Back down the avenue

trekking across Challenger

We made it back to camp without any injuries. We packed up and head out. It was very difficult to do that after such a long day. If you have the time, I would recommend staying 2 nights. This range was so gorgeous that I was kinda sad that I didn't have more time to just sit and take it all in. We were very pressed for time and kinda rushed ourselves through the whole hike. Willow Lake is so pretty. There was even some guy canoeing out on the lake.

It took us 3 hours to get back to the car. We stopped in Salida for dinner at a mexican restaurant called Fiesta Mexicana. I highly recommend this place. It was some of the best mexican food I have tasted. Even our Texas friends approved! Of course I think everything tastes so incredible after a long hike in the mountains.

Overall, this was a great hike. Even though we had prepared mentally and physically for a very hard hike, it was still harder than expected. After doing this, I pry wouldn't recommend this hike as a first 14er. I just hope I didn't traumatize my friends Hopefully they will want to come back for more.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Cool Report!
09/12/2011 01:55
We were over there this weekend too! Great trip report, your photos are way better than mine of KC and Challenger haha, great job!


Nice TR!
09/12/2011 15:36
You're trip pretty much matched mine exactly from last year. Times, route(first gully on KC, across the face on Challenger returning), sentiment on difficulty of the hike etc. I think the only difference between your trip and mine was you guys are smiling a lot more than I was on top of KC. That's one tough climb. It took me about a week to fully recover. Congrats on your success.


Nice TR!
09/12/2011 17:55
Not sure why I doubled posted. Can't find the delete button.


09/13/2011 18:56
This combo is one of my favs! My wife and I stayed in Crestone and wished we had camped at the lake.


Nice pictures, looks like a good time.
09/15/2011 19:40
Hey, great photos and nice descriptions. You look very happy and cheerful in your pictures- wish my wife shared your enthusiasm for the mountains. I think we'll be taking the sustained class 3 gully as you described up KC. Looks solid. How steep? I am a fan of talus-hopping so I probably will cut across challenger as well.

What camera are you using for these pictures?


Great report...
12/07/2011 16:09
Planning on doing KC and Challenger this summer... and since I'm currently recovering from shoulder surgery looking at trip reports is giving me some great motivation to keep moving forward. Thanks for such a detailed report with great pictures. Can't wait to be there come July.


nice pics
07/15/2013 22:55
Enjoyed the report and especially the pics. The one of kit carson with sun lit fog is outstanding!!

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