Kit Carson Peak - 14,165 feet
Challenger Point - 14,081 feet
Kit Carson Peak - 14,165 feet
Challenger Point - 14,081 feet
|Corn, Rime and Powder in the Sangres|
Skiing Kit Carson and Challenger Point
Dates: May 2-4, 2019
Day 1 - approach to camp at Willow Lake near 11,500 ft
After seeing absolutely caked summits of Kit Carson and Challenger from Crestones two weeks ago, I knew I had to ski them next (and that was even before the 2 feet+ snow storm that hit the Sangres, as well as the rest of the state several days before the ski trip). I waited out the storm in Buena Vista and Salida, hiked in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and then finally it was the go-time again. After talking to and hearing various reasons for "no" from no less than 10 potential ski partners, again, it was Matt who was up for another sufferfest. He wanted to get both peaks done on Friday as a day trip from the car. Meanwhile I was hoping to add one or more 13ers to the main course, so again, it was the backpack time for me (and I just recovered from the prior one!). These 14ers aren't getting any easier or shorter, aren't they?
I woke up in Alamosa, made a short scenic drive to the town of Crestone, had some breakfast in this highly unusual and very expensive town, and made my way to the trailhead. There was another car parked there - sweet! I also talked to Kurt B about him potentially joining me on Saturday. With all back and forth messages, I slowly got ready, and finally took off on dry trail by 2.30 pm.
The trail was indeed dry for the first 3 miles, meaning I had to carry my skis and boots on my already heavy overnight pack. Oh joy. Finally the snow started around 10,400 ft, I happily stashed my trailrunners on the tree branch just off the trail, switched into my ski boots and continued. Right before the stream crossing near 11,000 ft I ran into the solo hiker who turned around, and was on my own. I finally started skinning after the stream crossing, vaguely remembering the route from my solo winter trip up Challenger in 2016. I did a bit better route finding this time and by 7 pm arrived at the "No camping beyond this point" sign near the lake. I called it good, made a flat platform for the tent, had dinner and settled in for the night.
Day 2 - Kit Carson via Outward Bound couloir
Around 5.30 am Matt's headlamp emerged from the dark forest. He wasn't feeling that great and tried to take a nap, but it was still cold. So we set off around 6 am. I was feeling ok and for once was in the lead, which I knew was very unusual. We slowly made our way across the basin to the base of the OB couloir.
By that time the sun reached us, and once we found a flat spot at the base of the apron, we settled in for a break. Matt promptly fell asleep. I transitioned from skinning to booting mode, stashed the skins and had a snack. About 30 minutes later Matt's watch alarm went off unexpectedly and he was awake.
I started up the apron, but Matt soon caught up to me and took over. He was back in his stride - whew. We both marveled at the couloir conditions as we were going up - it was deep, dense powder! I always hope for ski conditions to be great, but it's easier said than done on 14ers. This time conditions seemed to exceed our wildest expectations. This was before we reached the summit ridge. Once there, it felt as if we reached some alternative reality. The upper 500 feet of the mountain was covered in spectacular, and rapidly melting rime. I've only seen it a few times before, most notably, on Shasta's summit ridge. Kit Carson was clearly putting up the show for us that day.
With all the oos and ahhs, and countless photos, I followed Matt to the summit, where we arrived around 10.30 am. After some texts (gotta love that 14er cell reception), it was time to ski! And what a ski it was.
We started off directly off the summit ridge and skied some slippery corn down to Cole couloir. There Matt had to be convinced not to rip it all the way down to the Spanish creek. After getting over his disappointment, we booted back up to the top of Outward Bound couloir and clicked in. It was time to enjoy the rare 14er powder! Matt went first and ripped the couloir in minutes. Then it was my turn. The ski was very nice, albeit felt short.
We had a brief discussion if we wanted to add Challenger. I felt ok, but not great and wasn't sure I still had it in me, while Matt was anxious to be done earlier and head for his next objectives in the Elks. So we just skied down back to camp, arriving around 1pm. Matt left and I spent the rest of the day lounging and waiting for more people to show up. Finally around 7pm two high-schoolers showed up and set up their camp. I was hoping to see Kurt but there was no sign of him, so I conceded it will be a solo ski next day. "Solo it like a man" was Moneymike's sage advice to me.
Day 3 - solo ski of Kirk couloir on Challenger Point and ski out
The night turned out to be pretty turbulent. Either my dinner food or some vitamins I picked up at a gas station didn't agree with me, so I ended losing my dinner overnight. I woke up severely dehydrated and unable to eat. I managed a waffle and a tea and slowly got ready. I was hoping to make it to the top of Challenger by noon (north-facing line), so set off by 7.30 am. Quite a few more people showed up, this being a Saturday. Two skiers passed by my tent around 6 am going for Kit Carson, 2 high-schoolers left 30 minutes before me with their goal being Challenger and a solo snowboarder was still sleeping in his tent as I walked by his camp (that was Kurt). To describe the day as a struggle would be a major understatement, but it seems like Challenger always throws such days at me, not sure why.
I slowly made my way to the apron of Challenger, expecting frozen corn, and it was. Ok, I should be fine, it is just corn, so I wasn't punching through much. Once past the apron and in the couloir, here it was - powder! And it just got deeper and deeper towards the top. I still had no appetite and could't eat anything solid, so I was just eating Gu and Jelly beans. My energy level was around 40-50% of my normal output. Usually, I can kick about 30-40 steps before needing a short break. That day the magic number seemed to be 17, followed by the long break.
Somehow I made it to the top of the couloir, slapped skins back on (no way I would be able to posthole to the summit otherwise) and dragged myself up, arriving an hour behind schedule at 12.45 pm. I was so depleted that I seriously considered skiing down the less steep standard route. After a brief rest on the summit (and watching clouds rolling in) I skied back to the top of Kirk. I told myself to go as slow as needed. My options were either to pass out or to make a perfect jump turn, and luckily, I chose the latter. Fortunately, I now have skis that rose to the challenge. I completely trusted them and was just there for the ride and they performed great. Conditions were perfect, deep consolidated powder with no windslab issues. I had to stop a few times and wait for the clouds to clear, as I wasn't trusting myself to do jump turns on 50 degree slope in flat light.
Once on the apron, it was corn time again, and even with all the stops I made it back to my tent in 40 minutes after leaving the summit. After packing up the tent, I let the gravity and skis do all the work. I was amazed I could make viable turns with a 40 pound back, so the skis continued to deliver.
Eventually the skis had to go back up on the pack and the hike began. I ran into 2 more skiers who skied Kit Carson and then Kurt caught up to me. He made a go at Adams but turned around. Four of us made it down to the trailhead by 5.30pm. 14er skis #45& 46 are on the books.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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