Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
"Kitty Kat Carson"  -  13,980 feet
"Obstruction Pk"  -  13,799 feet
Date Posted:  09/05/2020
Date Climbed:   09/04/2020
Author:  Wentzl
 Another way to Skin a Kat   

This report is intended to provide information to anyone who has wondered if there is a way off Obstruction Peak directly to Upper Willow Lake which would make it possible to make a nice loop rather than hike back over Kitty Kat, Kit Carson and Challenger. The short answer is yes, it is possible.

I got it in my head that I would like to start at the Willow Lake trailhead and get all the way to Humboldt and back in a day. It would be too much work for me to do this as an out and back, but if there was a shortcut for the return trip, then maybe. So I set out on this hike with the idea of finding out whether or not it would be practical to get from the Bears Playground back to Willow Lake without climbing over 14,000'. Turns out that it is not only possible, but that there is actually a cairned trail that is pretty well established and sort of fun.

The drive into Crestone. Challanger and Crestone Peak ahead.

Aptly named "Red Gully" on Crestone Peak as seen from outside the town of Crestone.

I set out from the trailhead at a little after 7:00 a.m. on the Friday before Labor Day. It was already pretty crowded for the holiday weekend, but I managed to snag a tent site just a couple hundred yards from the trailhead. My plan was to start up one of my favorite 14er routes, the N Ridge of Kit Carson.

The 14er initiative has done some great work on the trail around Willow Lake and up the first part of Challenger. A funny coincidence, I said hello to a couple hikers right at the trail junction where the N Ridge and Challenger split. I would see them again on the summit, where we arrived within 5 minutes of each other.

I will not spend too much time on the N Ridge route, that being covered extensively in other reports, but a short narrative and a few photos just because.

As you work your way toward the start of the N Ridge it is difficult to stay totally out of the willows, but with care, the bush whacking can be kept to a minimum.

I like this big broken rock.

After the broken rock, you work your way up and under the Outward Bound Coulior. There is some tedious scrambling to be done before reaching the N Ridge proper.

Tedious Scrambling; the skyline ridge is the objective.

The angle looks pretty mellow from the previous photo, but once on it, the angle seems more severe.

Part way up the ridge

Upper Willow Lake

So the whole time climbing the ridge I am looking for a possible line to follow back down to Upper Willow Lake from Obstruction Peak. I was considering several options, but the next photo traces, as best I can estimate, where I actually went.

The final arc of a Perfect Circle.

But this gets ahead of the story just a bit. First, finish the ridge to get up Kit Carson.

Looking back at the ridge from a good ways up.

I got to the summit around 12:30 and set off shortly afterward for Kitty Kat Carson. Another strange coincidence, on the summit of Kitty Kat I met another group of hikers. They would set off on their return over Kit Carson and Challenger at about the same time I set off for Obstruction. I would meet them again at the intersection where the N Ridge and Challenger trails diverge at almost exactly the same time, around 4:30.

The hike off of Kitty Kat was straightforward and well marked. I was off Kitty Kat around 1:30 and on the summit of Obstruction before 2:30.

Looking ahead to Obstruction from lower part of KK.

Looking back at KK from the saddle with Obstruction.

Looking at the hike back up and over KK was real incentive to find an alternate way down.

Eyeballing the slopes below Obstruction leading to Upper Willow Lake

It didn't look fantastic, but didn't look impossible either. I pressed on with an open mind, ready to hike the long way back if necessary, but curious nonetheless to see what I might see.

Uncommon view of Kitty Kat, Columbia and Kit Carson.

Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak from Obstruction

First step into the unknown

The entire ridge between Obstruction and Mt. Adams

I don't know if the ridge is a good option to try and get to Mt. Adams. The previous photo shows the whole thing. Might be a fun project for someone!

So I drop down from the second saddle that I came to after leaving the summit of Obstruction. I do not drop down more than 100 feet when I spy a cairn. No way, I think. This can't be this easy. I am shocked and surprised to find a well marked and pretty decent trail all the way down to the lake! Make no mistake, this is not a good trail. It is not anything I would ever try hiking up, as it is way too lose. Some of it requires that care be taken not to start a rock slide, but it is very obvious that many people have found this a convenient way to get back down to Willow Lake.

A small cairn marks the "trail".

Still pretty far from the Upper lake, but the cairn directly ahead lifts my spirit.

Still some loose rock to navigate, but the end is not in doubt.

About half way down, looking back.

Smooth sailing now!

Good option for going down, probably not so good going up.

The whole enchilada from the comfort of the grass.

Yep, heading for a swim in no time at all.

Upper Willow lake is really a beautiful place. I had been up Kit Carson a number of times and never detoured up to this place. It is a worthwhile destination.

Upper Willow Lake

Last look back at Kit Carson; North Ridge highlighted in shadow.

Back to the trailhead just a little past 6:00 p.m. making an 11 hour loop.

Good Night.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Comments or Questions
Nice report!
09/06/2020 10:48
Had planned to go for the same exact route today but did not know there was an alternate line back down. Totally going to check this out... easy enough to find the turn off to go back to upper willow lake?


09/07/2020 09:13
Once you leave the summit of Obstruction Peak you come to an obvious saddle. Keep going. The next time you can look down toward the lake, it will look much more mellow than the first pass. After just 100 vertical feet you will start seeing cairns. If you don't find the cairns, you might have dropped down a different gully. If you find the cairns, keep looking, they mark a pretty good path most of the way to the lake.

Another leap into the unknown
09/07/2020 08:56
Enjoyed reading this, Wentzl, really admire your willingness to roll the "I wonder?" dice.


Excellent report
09/11/2020 16:07
Been on kc and challenger 3x and often wondered about such a passage.
Thank for posting this detailed report of passage.


09/11/2020 16:57
Glad you found it interesting. Best part of is sharing this kind of beta. Let me know what you think of the route if you give it a go.

Another great route
09/12/2020 09:53
Thanks for sharing another uncommon alternative. Awresome views all around. By the way, what's in your opinion the most expedient way down from Kit Carson to the Willow lake trail if one does not want to go as far as Obstruction? Over Challenger?


The way down
09/12/2020 10:41
Down the OB Coulior in the spring if the snow is in and you have snow skills. Otherwise up and over Challenger is the best and only other viable option.

It is worth repeating here that several have died trying to find a short cut from the saddle between Kit Carson and Challenger, so don't go there.

   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.