Peak(s):  Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Date Posted:  06/22/2020
Date Climbed:   06/21/2020
Author:  StephRose
 Challenger, Kit Carson main routes   

We hiked up to Willow Lake and camped overnight in the camping area just below the lake. It was relatively crowded by the time we got there around 7 p.m. on Saturday (late start). A river from the lake runs right along the camp, which was great for water refills. A little windy, but not bad that night. Deer overnight were very brave and apparently were poking around outside people’s tents, so make sure to protect anything outside.

Camping below Willow Lake. A stream is off to the left in this photo

“Slept in” and started hiking around 4:45 a.m. Trail was very easy to follow thanks to pictures from this site’s route page. Be ready for an easy-ish first mile before the climbing really starts to the Challenger ridge.20228_10

Melting snow on the rock rib makes the path icy and slippery, so we bounced on and off the trail a bit as needed. Got to the ridge after some fun scrambling and walked 5-10 feet off to the left of the ridge to avoid exposure. Beautiful views. It’s a relatively flat walk once you’re on the ridge to the actual summit. No wind, which was nice. Stopped for good ole summit pancake, which was just as dry and unappetizing as you'd imagine.


From there, we continued onto Kit Carson. The saddle is pretty obvious to find and you can see the KC Avenue from the top of Challenger and as you descend to the saddle. The Avenue looks very narrow from the top of Challenger, but once you’re there, it’s actually quite wide and the “dropoff” next to it isn’t that much more steep than what we climbed heading up to Challenger.

View of KC Avenue from partially down Challenger

A little bit of snow was left on the first part of the Avenue, but you could easily walk around it.

First part of KCAvenue

Once you turn the corner, you’ll see the second part of the Avenue. There was a little more snow here, and we used microspikes going up, but opted out going back down. There are very sturdy footprints in the snow, so we used those to cross.

After turning corner to see second half of KC Avenue
Closer view of snow on second half of KC Avenue

We then started up the gully to the summit. We were told to stay central and follow cairns, but most were knocked down and the middle was full of scree, making for very difficult going. A few folks coming down told us there was a newer trail toward the left as you go up the gully, either hugging the left side or going up the slight rock rib. We switched from the middle of the gully to the left side about 1/3 of the way up and it was much, much better. Highly recommend doing this. Cairns line the new route and it spits you out at the same place as the main route.


The above picture is from the middle of the gully.

The top is pretty easily found from there. Great views of Crestone and Crestone Needle looking quite daunting.

Heading back down, we kept to the side of the gully again (not the center). We passed through the Avenue again without a problem.

First section of KC Avenue seen from descending side. Can see saddle to Challenger

Then, we continued across the saddle and started back up to Challenger. There’s a small sign near the bottom of the saddle warning hikers not to go further down as loose rock can create major problems.

Caption Here

Going back up Challenger felt a lot harder than the way down. The trail is sort of hard to follow, but since you’ve already been to the summit, just head in that general direction as best you can.

Once we re-summited Challenger, we took a quick break before heading back down to Willow Lake.

Be sure to keep an eye out while heading back down Challenger along the ridge for where to descend. Many folks go down too early. There will be a fairly obvious notch. Maps like Trail Run Project or All Trails are helpful here because they show where this is compared to your location. There’s a cairn near the notch on top of the ridge.

Descending Challenger was much harder than ascending due to the loose rock. We had a hard time scrambling downhill in the rocks. Our shoes had good traction and we still spent a lot of time on our butts. There’s really no trick to descending quickly other than to just take it step by step and avoid anything that looks loose. Harder than it sounds. There are a few snowfield crossings as well, but microspikes were not needed.

The challenge continued once you were out of the rocks and just in the alpine dirt and grass — still quite steep and slippery. Just had to grin and bear it and laugh as we stumbled along. The trail eventually flattens out more and leads to the top of the Willow Lake waterfall on the west side, which s beautiful. There’s a big flat rock right above the waterfall to rest with an awesome view of the lake.

Willow Lake as seen next to the top of the waterfall

The trail continues through some wooded areas, a small boulder field and over to the east side of the lake, where camp is.

The only time snow/ice became any kind of issue was on the Avenue and even there, it just took a little extra careful footing.

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

06/22/2020 20:32
Great report...thanks for the little hints along the way...what was your time to summit Challenger if you left at 4:45 am? I am heading there next week...

Answer! ^
06/22/2020 20:47
Hi! Sorry, just made an account last week and not sure how the best way to respond. We got up to Challenger in about 2 hours, taking it easy with some breaks. My Garmin watch said it was roughly 2.5 miles. After the first mile, the terrain got either slippery/icy in the grass or was scrambling, so our pace dropped dramatically haha.


nice work!
07/06/2020 09:03
StephRose - that was an excellent trip report and greatly appreciate the good photos and descriptions. Your route tips will definitely come in handy!

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