Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
Date Posted:  09/28/2019
Modified:  10/16/2019
Date Climbed:   09/23/2019
Author:  JQDivide
Additional Members:   bmcqueen
 North Ridge Scramble   

Kit Carson North Ridge

Brad needed his fall grid slot for Kit Carson and Challenger. I wanted a day off from work. Staci and I did this route in 2016 and thought it was great, except for the descent down Challenger.

I asked Brad if he’d carry me down. He agreed. So why not do it again.

Willow Lake
Sun rising above the basin.

We met in Salida and grabbed dinner then headed to the unique town of Crestone. We planned to camp at one of the dispersed camping spots near the trailhead. We didn’t expect to see anyone camping on a Sunday night. But all the lower spots were taken, none of the upper spots. We drove to the TH then turned around and took the closest spot.

So on the first day of fall 2019 we went for a hike up to Willow Lake and beyond. One of the good things about this hike is you don’t have to carry too much water. We each carried a liter for the approach. In just under three hours we made it to the creek above the lake the feeds the waterfall. It’s a great place for a snack and to refill water. The sun was up, but not visible in the basin. We each carried two liters for the next stretch.

New Sign
On the old Challenger trail, about to turn up the valley.
There are a few game trails in the willows. Notice the large gray boulder in the center of the photo, head toward that rock.

Just passed the creek there is a brand new sign for the trails. Straight for the new trail RMFI is building for Challenger. A left turn takes you toward the upper Willow Lake, Outward Bound Coulior and Kirk Coulior.

This left turn follows the old Challenger trail, at least for a while. You don’t have to go too far before you leave the trail (which goes toward Challenger) and you take another left to hike toward the upper basin. Once you hit somewhere near 12,000 feet leave that old trail. If you go much higher, you’ll have to deal with ledges and rock walls. Stay close to the 12,000 mark and you should be fine. Grass, rocks and willows are the path now.

Just below a rocky ledge, stay near 12,000 as you head up the valley toward the boulders.
In the rocky bottom of the Kirk Coulior, heading toward the "Gate."
Just passed the "Gate" heading toward the large gray boulder, center, that we could see nearly all the way.

As we looked up the valley we could see house size boulders in the distance. We headed toward those, which kept us below a boulder field filled rocks the size of sheds and cargo vans. (In 2016, we went through this hoping to stay higher, but it was a lot of work and a time suck.)

As we got closer, there was a ‘gate’ between a large boulder and the boulder field, the large boulders we had marked, were just beyond this. All still near 12,100 feet. We crossed the tailings of the Kirk Coulior and were at the gate. Just passed the larger boulders and we began to hike up to the entry point to the Outward Bound Coulior. I knew it was a hike, but didn’t realize it was still about another 1,000 feet up.

Hiking above and around the large gray boulder toward the bottom of the Outward Bound Coulior.
Bottom of OBC, and the rock cliffs. Moving toward that small snow field.
Outward Bound Coulior and the North Ridge

Plenty of solid ground and rocks to use as steps until about 12,600, and then you had to watch your step as the slope turned loose. We made it up to near 13,000 feet before turning toward the North Ridge. There were two large boulders at 13,000 feet, if you hit those, you really don’t need to go any higher.

We could see the North Ridge easily from this gully.

Hiking toward OBC
Slope to OBC
Near 13,000 and two large boulders... turn west here, toward the North Ridge and some Class 2-3 ledges.
Once near 13,000 head toward the bottom of the North Ridge, seen in the red circle. That point will move, but that's OK, because it will eventually hit the ridge.

We crossed some loose rocks and dirt and found solid rock as we moved back west toward the North Ridge. This was an easy Class 2-3 scramble on ledges. We weren’t exactly sure where the North Ridge met these ledges. I knew from my previous hike up here, that we needed to aim for the lowest point where we could see the Ridge, the spot where the ledges blocked the view. That point lowers as you move higher, parallax. That worked well. We made it up near 13,200 feet and a ledge led us directly to the North Ridge.

Just under 1,000 feet of Class 4 climbing to reach the summit.

Game on.

Scrambling up the ledges toward the North Ridge, again head toward that moving junction of the NR and the ledges.
The North Ridge
Entry to the North Ridge is just a step beyond this point.
Looking back from the NR entry point.

When Staci and I climbed this we stayed five to 10 feet to the right of the ridge. I thought that went fairly smooth. Brad and I went directly up the ridge. It was a bit harder. And I think it might have taken us a bit longer.

We took turns leading, if that’s what you want to call it. We only used the same steps and handholds as each other part of the time. Obviously, there were plenty of both.
Though there were times, that I had to search for the right ones. Several times I had to put my trust in my grip and the soles of my Merrell’s.

Had a couple ‘diva’ moments where I needed to take a moment before making a move, letting the bad thoughts fade away. The rock is solid, mostly. But still check every hold, as there are a few lose rocks. There were a few instances where I had to calculate the sequence of where I would put my hands and feet for the next several moves.

Looking up from the NR entry point.
Climbing up the entry point.
North Ridge
North Ridge

We took a break in the Notch near 13,700. The Notch provided an escape from the wind, and offered views of both sides of the ridge.

Again straight up the Ridge from the Notch, we continued up.

North Ridge
North Ridge
North Ridge
A break at the 13,700 Notch

Above 13,800 we saw the first cairn. This is the crack, the ramp, you can see from the valley. It leads directly to the summit ridge, right to the standard trail, just below the summit.

I guess you could continue straight up the Ridge. But don’t know for sure. We took the ramp. It was lose in a couple spots. Still had snow in others. And before we knew it, we crossed through a crack in the wall and were on the standard route.

North Ridge
North Ridge
North Ridge

We spent 45 minutes on the summit. Two other hikers came and went. It was a beautiful day. Though we could see the Decker Fire from Salida and Poncha Pass, we couldn’t really see the smoke from the summits. Great views of the Crestones and Sand Dunes.

We headed down the standard route, and spotted the cairn that leads to the Avenue. I still find it hard to believe people miss the Avenue, especially if you’re actively looking for it. The entry for the Avenue is near 13,600 in the gully. Just move down, keeping that rock rib on your right. As the rib disappears into the earth, the Avenue should be to your right. (37.97896, -105,60071, between 13,600-13,700)

Almost to the Ramp
Almost to the Ramp
Almost to the Ramp
The Cairn marks the Ramp entry

We grabbed “The Prow” on the way by and then summited Challenger. We didn’t spend much time there. The descent off Challenger is a lose mess. We took our time, which was a long time for the distance, until we finally reached the new RMFI trail near 12,600. Great work from RMFI on this route. Its teams have put in a lot of effort to build a new sustainable route.

Back at the upper creek crossing, we grabbed snacks and refilled our water bottles using the SteriPen.

The Ramp with the summit ridge in view
The Ramp
The Ramp

We saw a total of four other people in the basin, and one more on the lower trail. The weather was near perfect. We had a fun and successful Class 4 climb/scramble in a beautiful basin. There was enough anxiety in the climb to keep you attentive to the rock and hand/foot placement.

Staci and I did this route in 13H 20M. I thought Brad and I would be much faster. But we weren’t that much faster. We did it in 12H 30M. GPS devices vary, but guessing about 14.5 miles is pretty accurate.

At the summit ridge, taking one of the openings to reach the standard trail.
Looking back from standard route, to see where the Ramp meets the summit ridge.
Standard Trail to summit
Great views
Great Views
A quick stop to grab "The Prow"... the easy way.


Left the TH about 4am

2H 50M: TH to Upper Creek (6:50am)

7H 15M: TH to Summit (11:15am)

2H 15M: North Ridge entry to Summit (9am-11:15am)

7H 30M: Upper Creek to Summmits back to Upper Creek (6:50am to 2:20pm)

Back at TH at 4:30 p.m.


2H 50M: TH to Upper Creek (6:50am)

50M: Upper Creek to Gate (7:40am)

40M: Gate to Outward Bound (8:25am)

35M: OB to North Ridge (9:00am, About 5 hours from TH)

1H 20M: North Ridge Entry to 13,700 Notch (10:20am)
We spent 15-20 minutes in the Notch. I can’t remember when I clicked this way point, so time might be a little off.

35M: Notch to Cairn/Ramp (10:55am)

20M: Ramp to Summit (11:15am)

2H 20M: KC Summit back to Upper Creek (2:22pm)
(45 minutes on KC summit, left at noon, hit The Prow at 12:20pm, hit Challenger at 12:45pm)

KC from Challenger
A closer look at the North Ridge. The Notch is visible as is the Ramp.

If you’re comfortable with sustained Class 3, I think this route is a great choice for a next step, a sustained intro to Class 4. But make sure you have a good weather window, as this is a long day.

Looking at KC from the upper creek crossing.
Willow Lake

(Brad didn't carry me down Challenger... he owes me for that.)

Shot of Staci in 2016, just because, and just to show what it looks like to the side of the ridge.
More grassy spots.
Similar rock.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 17 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 51 52

Comments or Questions

Nice report & photos
09/28/2019 19:52
Did you get Brad's promise in writing? If not, your attorney will tell you that your court case is exceedingly weak.


Great pics!
09/29/2019 12:38
Sweet! I definitely want to do this route. This'll help.


Thank you!
07/13/2020 06:58
Thank you for your report - my partner and I found it to be the most useful route description in preparing for our climb yesterday. Very thorough with a lot of helpful tips.


Good report
07/13/2020 13:23
solid details. no hype. well done.


Best beta
07/14/2020 08:24
thank you JQDivide for this exceedingly useful trip report. Little_castaldo and I were able to nail this route with the great beta on getting to the base of the ridge climb.

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