Peak(s):  Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Date Posted:  08/26/2019
Date Climbed:   08/25/2019
Author:  HikesInGeologicTime
 Kit Carson and Challenger for the Kinesthetically Cowardly and... Challenged   

I don't know whether congratulations are in order or not. Merely one week after I declared Mt. Lindsey my Least Favorite Fourteener Ever, its title was usurped by Challenger Point.

But more on that later. To try and keep things in some semblance of order for my hiking-fried brain (also sleep-deprivation-fried and food-deprivation-fried...suffice to say that "listen to your gut" is NOT good advice when said gut is telling you that it is too urpy to eat breakfast right before a Homerian epic of a hike), I'll recount my latest adventure chronologically, starting with the drive, whose dirt road section was mercifully shorter and easier than both Matterhorn Creek and Lily Lake but did have some large ruts/bumps just before the TH that had me thinking, "Wow, it's like driving on my own personal set of rock-hardened sand dunes!" as I thumped my way over them in the dark. I did not see any cars smaller than my Subaru at the TH, and I would not want to try taking a lower-ground-clearance vehicle past that section of road.

I'd set out with the intention of beginning my hike at 2 a.m., knowing that it was going to be a long one and that steep slopes - of which both peaks on the route promised decently lengthy (in my reading, anyway) sections - slow me down to a pace akin to that of a glacier making its way uphill. Buuuut the National Weather Service promised a full day of sunshine, and the hardest section wasn't even, like, real Class 3, and I was tired when I got to the trailhead, so I set my alarm for 2:30. After a good deal of time dithering about maybe resetting it to 4 when I woke up on my own at 2:16, I finally made myself get out of the car and gear up, hitting the trail at 3:36 - only 96 minutes later than planned!

Thanks to the cakewalk that is the trail leading up to the gully, however, I did meet my goal of making the Willow Lake campsites by dawn. In some ways, though, I wish I'd had the mojo to get my rear in gear just a few minutes earlier - I had a clear enough view above the trees to be awed by the sunrise, but I kinda wish I'd gotten to see it from above Willow Lake to capture the colors reflected in the water.

19725_03Still pretty impressive.

19725_01I guess I did get some water in one of my sunrise pics.

Not long after the lake, the trail starts to climb for real, and not long after it does that, in the manner of the frog being slowly cooked to death in ever-increasing temperatures, the trail starts getting steeper and looser as it approaches the infamous gully. It makes one tragically noble attempt to reassert itself to cross a swath of grass before vanishing entirely under the rubble of stones and dirt known as Satan's Diarrheic Backside...I mean, the Challenger gully.

I say to you, ladies, gentlemen, and those like me who don't quite fall into either category, that in my humble estimation, reports of the Challenger gully's sheer heinousness have been greatly *under*exaggerated. I found myself humming a favorite Springsteen song, "One Step Up," with emphasis on the lyrics following those in the title: "and two steps back." Rocks that looked as though they should have been firmly planted in the ground gave way when I pressed on them lightly; one whizzed past with such ferocity that I was still gaping at it in horror when the climber next to me (not below, thankfully!) reflexively yelled, "Rock!" on my behalf.

But just as all good things must come to an end, so too must all bad things, and eventually, I found myself working my way over the more-stable rocks that pock Challenger's summit ridge...although, in proof that I was right to think, "Well, isn't this turning to a hate-screw of a hike!" only with less family-friendly wording about a quarter of a way up the gully, even the easier ridge-hop turned into a False Summit Extravaganza.

I did reach the summit at last, though I neglected to make a note of what time I got there. It didn't matter anyway, however; I had already decided that, despite not feeling like I was on my A game (B+ game, perhaps...not bad enough to turn around, but at no point did I feel like I was crushing it), I was going on to Kit Carson anyway as long as the weather looked good. As I told my summitmates, "I am never doing that gully again if I can help it!" Even the sky commiserated with my gully-averse sentiments, because there wasn't a cloud in it. A few Challenger summit pics later, and I was on my way to the allegedly harder peak.

I'd read enough about climbers having trouble correctly locating the Kit Carson Avenue exit on their way back to Challenger to be concerned - I've gotten, shall we say, unintentionally creative with route-finding before, and this outing promised to be taxing enough for someone of my limited abilities without me needing to backtrack up the steep slope below the route in order to figure out where I'd screwed up. I'd come prepared to idiot-proof myself, though: my trekking poles, which I usually leave in the car for Class 3 scrambles, accompanied me on this one, both (I hoped) to give me extra stability descending the gully and as a personal marker that would guide me back to the exit. Having already proven their worth on the Avenue's downward slope to the start of the KC gully, I propped them up a short distance above the trail segment leading to the exit.

19725_04I'll admit to worrying a little about whether I'd have to make a forum post today asking if anyone hiking Kit Carson in the near future could keep an eye out for my poles.

Perhaps the three "real" Class 3 fourteeners (since I did Lindsey's NW Ridge for my ascent of it, I figure that counts!) I've climbed have given me a swollen head, but Kit Carson's final pitch barely registered as anything to worry about. Sure, it was steep enough that I needed to stop and gasp for air multiple times on the way up, but what loose parts couldn't be avoided by sticking to the solid rock on climber's left were brief and more easily navigable than Challenger's. At 10:50 a.m., I was on the summit, enjoying a nice moment of breezeless blue skies while I took in the views...and flipping off Challenger from its loftier neighbor's perch.

19725_05I saved the one-finger salute for when I had the summit all to myself, though I have heard that in some cultures, an upraised thumb amounts to the same intent.

Despite my precautions, I nonetheless worried I'd screw up on the way down and somehow overshoot my poles and, by extension, the Avenue exit (or is that on-ramp, if you're returning to it from KC?). Honestly, though, I don't think I needed to use the poles as a marker at all; as long as you continue sticking to the overall solid rock on climber's left (downclimber's right, if, like me, you still need to make an L with both hands to figure out which is which), the good-sized cairns marking the exit will be in your line of sight before you know it.

Climbing back up the Avenue and, eventually, Challenger ranks highly on my list of Things I Am Happy Never to Do Again. Even as I reflected to myself on the shorter peak's summit that, "It's all downhill from here!" however, I immediately recollected that a good chunk of that downhill would be torturously steep and loose. I was almost grateful for how much longer the rock-dance along the ridgeline seemed on the way back than on the way up...almost.

19725_02I plan to use the selfie I took on my re-ascent when I audition for a Village People revival.

The first part of the descent into the gully wasn't so bad. I clung to the solid rock on my left with my left hand and used my right trekking pole for stability as I side-stepped down into the lost chapter of Dante's Inferno; my 94-year-old, walker-using grandmother has a smoother technique for descending the occasionally necessary staircase, but hey, she didn't get to be 94 by throwing caution to the wind! When the rock wall railing ceased to be an option, my crabwalk only worked so much before it turned into a full-on slide. I suspect that I may have singlehandedly - or is that singlebuttedly? - contributed to roughly 90% of erosion taking place on Challenger Point in 2019.

Eventually, my new gravel underlayer and I reached the still-steep-and-loose but at least less sketchily so bottom portion. This part, which I also didn't recall being as long on the way up, was positively tedious on the way down, and I practically kissed the first switchback I saw, because I knew that meant I was back on walkable ground.

I reached treeline at 4:20, found a good rock to shuck my climbing helmet, shake rocks out of my boots, de-layer, and re-apply sunscreen (if a bit too late). I reassured a guy who'd had to bow out at 13,000 feet due to leg and foot cramps that a) he'd absolutely made the right call and b) that I'd talked to his buddy near Challenger's summit and that he probably wouldn't be that far behind me, given how painstakingly I'd descended the gully.

Once I was ready to go again, I booked it - it would not have been the end of the world if I'd still been on the trail after dark, seeing as how I'd had my headlamp anyway for the ascent and had even brought extra batteries for it, but I wanted to avoid breaking out either of the above if at all possible. I had to run the last half-mile of trail or so, something my exhausted legs were not thrilled with, but I did make it back to my car just as the sun was nestling out of sight behind the trees on the hillside above my car.

19725_06Given how late it was already, I briefly considered waiting until sunset just so I could have a lake shot with pretty colors in it.

I checked my phone as I unlocked the car. 7:49, which meant for a 16h13m hike - not quite a Personal Worst for hiking time, a distinction still held by by my 16h33m on Longs, but impressive nonetheless! Still, considering this route had not one, but two peaks with a hefty amount of steep off-trail scrambling, not to mention a re-ascent of the first peak that essentially leaves one summiting three peaks in one day, I was content to have finished at all, and in the very last microsliver of daylight, to boot.

To think that last week, I'd hoped I could've done Lindsey and this troublesome twosome in two back-to-back days! I'm now glad circumstances conspired against me; each outing gave me a thorough beatdown, and even though my hobbies clearly mark me as a masochist, even I can only take so many spankings in one weekend. But even though I tell myself I'm content with the thought that the East Coast travels I begin tomorrow will keep me from seeing a fourteener for at least a couple weeks, I already have the info for Blanca and Ellingwood downloaded on my phone.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6

Comments or Questions

08/27/2019 14:08
Why do we need shirtless photos of you?


Why not?
08/27/2019 23:25
âNuff said.


09/02/2019 21:52
Consider ascending the SW ridge of Ellingwood - almost no rubble! Easy class 3 and only a mercifully short stretch of surprisingly solid talus gaining the ridge if you do it right. (Hint: see my TR for how to do it right. The couloir described in the route description on this site is not the best ascent.)

Keep up the good work kid. Post any photo you want.


Ellingwood SW Ridge
09/04/2019 16:55
That does look waaaaaaaay better than, well, pretty much any other route up Ellingwood, especially the part about solid talus! Also, great trip report - sorry your hiking companions weren't feeling their best, but I'm glad you got to go up and take some spooky pictures in the mist (my horror writing/filmmaking background approves). I can tell that road's going to be obnoxious regardless, so at this point, I'm eagerly looking at ways to ensure I can at least Blanca and Ellingwood in the same go - I'm gonna need to work my way up to LB and its ilk. :p

And thank you! I paid good money to be able to take my shirt off outside my home, dangit! ;)

   Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2021®, 14ers Inc.