Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Date Posted:  03/21/2020
Date Climbed:   02/01/2020
Author:  Will_E
 Kit Carson February 2020  

Kit Carson Peak February 15, 2020

(Outward bound Couloir)

My first attempt of Kit Carson was in April 2019, I summitted Challenger Point, headed to the Avenue, and was completely sketched out by the snow on the avenue, it was steep, stiff and nasty. It was one of just a few times last year I went up a mountain, but turned back (but at least I snagged Challenger, so the day wasn't a total loss). I would go on later in the year to summit KC from the S. Colony Lakes side in August (fantastic route, btw). So when I had a nice weather forecast going into Valentine's Day weekend, I started looking at it. I knew the avenue would likely resemble its conditions from last April, so looked at the other 2 routes. Decided that my first option would be the Outward Bound couloir, with the N. Ridge route as a backup if there wasn't good snow in the couloir

I tried to get a room at the hotel in Crestone for the night before, but their online reservation system wasn't working, and they couldn't get me booked over the phone, so headed to my normal Sangre winter sleeping spot, Alamosa.

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Stopped at a familiar locale, was eager to test out my new camera. Its ugly and slow, but I love my toaster.


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Timing worked out great for sunset.

After a good nights sleep, woke up at 5am and made my way to (town of) Crestone. There's a gate closure about 1.2 miles from the start of Willow Lake trail, and lots of parking. I started hiking about 6:20.

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Trail was well packed up to about a mile before Willow lake, no traction or flotation required.


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Caption Here

I was surprised how well packed the trail was, there hadn't been a conditions report posted for KC or Challenger recently. Didn't even need GPX app to stay on course. I made good time up to Willow Lake.


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This is the top of the steep initial incline, before trail levels out for a mile or so before Willow Lake. I put snowshoes on here.


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Looking down at the San Luis Valley.

I lost the trail for a short distance before the lake, lost maybe 15 minutes or so, after checking GPX file. Whoever came up with the GPX file system should be rich. Maybe they are, they deserve it.

Found the lake shortly thereafter.

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Pristine Willow Lake, before I added snowshoe tracks.

I don't know what it is but, I get a little overexcited about walking on a frozen lake. I like the neat, orderly snowshoe tracks as well.


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Willow Lake from opposite side, can just make out my snowshoe tracks on left side.

I made my way around the lake in snowshoes, clanked around a little bit on rocks, which can be a little tricky when you're 5'7", 145 lbs and using 25" snowshoes. After rounding the corner I get my first glimpse of Kit Carson.


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It wasn't warm, but definitely bright and sunny.

At this point I hadn't quite decided which route I'd be utilizing, but the couloir and North Ridge route both start from the same area. Made my way towards base of the couloir. I had never climbed a couloir before, so was a little eager to get there and see what all the hype was about. When I reached the base of the couloir, the snow felt pretty good, nice and punchy. I took off my snowshoes, and started up.


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Good snow in the OB couloir.


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Near the top of Outward Bound.


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From the top of the OB couloir.


I was able to get most of the way up the couloir without traction, until the very end, maybe the last 100' or so when the angle steepens, there was a stiff layer of snow a few inches below the softer surface snow. On go the crampons, and they would stay on all the way to summit. Unleashed the ice axe as well and kept it at the ready.

From the top of the couloir to the final ridge, there was mix of dry sections and really stiff snow. I'm not a fan of crampons on dry rocks, but I'm also too lazy to constantly take them on and off. Some nice rock ribs to climb before getting to the final ridge.


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Final ridge to summit. I'm a little giddy when I reached this point.

Final ridge was pretty drama free, I stayed just left of the cornice on the ridge.


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I'm in awe when I see the Crestones from this side of KC. It was foggy when I climbed KC in August, didn't get this view then.

Summit. I'm ecstatic. This is one of the toughest winter peaks I've done, thrilled I was successful. And the views of the Crestones are phenomenal.


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Crestones in all their glory.


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New camera has just enough optical zoom to get nice closeup of Crestones.


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Humboldt, Crestones, Sand Dunes, what's not to love? Okay, maybe the Crestones make Humboldt look a little homely.


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Sun ended up in perfect position.


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Summit temp, winds were maybe 20-25 mph.

Hung out at summit for maybe 30 minutes basking in the glorious Crestone view, topped off batteries on watch and phone, and away I go. I really wanted to bag Challenger on the way back, but the only way I'd have time was to descend to the Avenue and get Challenger from there. When I started up the couloir I was still considering this as an option, otherwise would have left my snowshoes at the base of the couloir. I decided I'd had enough good fortune for the day and going to the avenue was likely to result in me seeing the avenue and adding more distance turning back there. Played it safe and retraced my steps to OB couloir.

Going down the couloir was uneventful, when I reached the bottom I strapped my snowshoes back on.


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After descent of OB couloir.


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Playing with zoom again.


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Looking back on my accomplishment.


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Put some nicer looking tracks on the return.


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Won't be long before headlamp goes on...


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Final stats.


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Garmin always gives me less distance than Apple. Oh, and I can assure you I was moving for more than 5 hours and 39 minutes...

It was a fantastic day up on Kit Carson, one of those days I get to the end of, and can't believe I get to do this. Incredible place we get to live and play. Thanks for reading.




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
hellmanm

Amazing climb!
03/21/2020 23:47
Your pace and skill are both incredible. Cool pictures too. Thanks for sharing!


ltlFish99
Cool pictures
03/22/2020 02:04
What a fun report. Those pictures of the crestones are simply wonderful.
Thank uou.


Jay521

What hellmanm said...
03/22/2020 15:43
I wish I could match your pace (and skill) on a climb like that. Very, very nice job!!


supranihilest


Kay See
03/22/2020 15:44
Another nice climb, Will. Great photos too. Ballsy taking a north facing couloir in the dead of winter, way to get it done!


TomPierce

Yikes...
03/22/2020 17:57
I caught your comment that this was the first couloir you'd ever done. Doing a couloir in February that's N/NE-facing that clocks in at 43 degrees, going up to 50...yikes. The OB couloir has been known to slide. I assessed it one afternoon years ago in May and decided it was too risky to climb, big cornice at top. It slid the next morning, pretty impressive blocky debris which no doubt would've buried us if we'd gone forward as planned. But hey, you won at roulette! Be safe out there,

-Tom


JtheChemE

North Facing Coulouirs
03/25/2020 06:06
If this was your first couloir, and in deep winter, I'll agree with Tom and say good job you played roulette and won. Since this report is a time capsule for years to come, some notes for future folks who may use this report as beta: This aspect/elevation had been moderate in CAIC (and suspect) for over a month near and above treeline for N to NE aspects in the Sange when OP did this climb. For north aspects, and this line in particular, either you have some very applicable beta, some good evaluation skills/experience, or you have none and are rolling the dice. When I saw this CR in February I was really surprised somebody did this, given to this point there had been zero beta on snow stability in the Sangre on this aspect and elevation. Doing this route in February is a not the norm. As the 'stoke' for winter 14ering grows with the newer climbers, it's important to remember that being calculated and intentional with your risks is the best way to avoid being a statistic.

Fear mongering aside, it looked like a great climb for you. Super aesthetic that time of year! Daytripping does give a great sense of satisfaction when you get to the car.


Will_E

Thanks
03/24/2020 19:27
Thanks all, definitely a newb at this in some aspects. Had no idea that couloir was dangerous due to its direction, just looked at CAIC and saw yellow so assumed low risk. Maybe I should get around to taking an avy course. Thanks.



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