Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
Date Posted:  10/04/2020
Date Climbed:   10/02/2020
Author:  GraceU2DSummit
 Mission Accomplished - Challenger & Kit Carson 2020  

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

So I had been aching to climb Challenger and Kit Carson for a few seasons. Why hadn't I? Good question really! Sometimes you just have to make something a priority to get it accomplished! That is what I did this season!

20767_04
Heck Yes My Friend! Great Day Indeed!

I have found that I meet some of the coolest people while hiking 14ers. Just something about sharing a summit with someone that just pushed through the same challenge you did. I met @hip_hip_jorge on Mt. Lindsey on Sept 6th, 2020, early into the hike. He connected with my friend Justin and I early into our hike, and three of us summited and finished the hike together. Really great day! And now I knew who I wanted to climb Challenger/Kit Carson (C/KC) with!

AND THEN IT SNOWED 2 FEET IN SEPTEMBER!!

Grateful for the snow, especially having the Cameron Fire so close to home, but I was concerned it could end my opportunity of completing C/KC this season. But, atas, the temps heated up again! I looked for peak condition and/or trip reports on Faceblock and .com almost daily. I was very thankful for those who took the time to share their reports, as I was concerned about the steep climb up the North Face route and the relatively narrow and exposed Kit Carson Avenue. Yes, yes, I know I need to spend more time on the snow/ice and get comfortable on it! I know! The weather looked to be holding up and the snow mostly melted. I knew I had to schedule this stat!

@hip_hip_jorge was in! We scheduled the trip! And then days out, I got word, from a very trustworthy source, the weather was going to suck those days. Fortunately, we were able to reschedule for Oct 2. And the weather was LEGIT!

TO BACKPACK TO WILLOW LAKE OR NOT, THAT IS THE QUESTION??

The C/KC route is not a "short" route! And Willow Lake is something special! Backpacking in and camping makes a lot of sense! But, being a trail runner, the distance isn't uncommon and therefore intimidating. Plus, the challenge of pushing a decent pace for this type of climb is hard to pass up. We opted on a single day push from the trailhead. So we camped right at the trailhead. Kind of nice having the bathroom there. Fully stocked with TP and very clean honestly. Except I noticed some JACKASS dumped a grocery bag of trash in there. What the heck man?!?! If only the person who did that was caught and made to go get that out of there! Don't be that guy/gal you all!

20767_18
Another Reason Why!

I SLEEP LIKE CRAP OUTDOORS

Just being honest! Friggen up at midnight knowing we're waking up at 3am to leave at 4am. Anyone reading this with some tips on sleeping through the night outdoors, send em! So yeah, 3am came sooner than I would have liked. It always does! Breakfast for me was a couple packets of raisen & walnut oatmeal, a pop-tart, and a packet of Justin's honey peanut butter. Carbs and protein (and a little sugar)! Quick tip if you don't already know. You can poor your boiling water into the oatmeal packets and eat out of them. Saves dishes! And at 3am, screw dishes! We decided to take down the tents as well, knowing it would delay us 10 minutes or so after 4am. Glad we did though! Easier to get that done before rather than after this one! You know what I'm sayin.

Go time came at 4:15am. We packed light, but carried the essentials, and some microspikes (in case). Pushed a challenging, yet sustainable, pace. We honestly didn't run but a few SMALL sections on the way up. The two of us willingly admit we underestimated the time it would take to get up to the summits. Our aspiration was 7 hours RT.

I am always thankful and grateful when I complete a peak (or any challenge for that matter), because so many things could happen that can stop you in your tracks. On our way up, temps were probably freezing, or close to it. While crossing one of the many streams, my foot slipped off the log and went right into the water (marsh really, it was stinky and muddy in that one). I fell, but fortunately I fell onto the log. My hand, with a glove on, went in the water as well. Not great! Can I stop here and say this is why wicking materials are best to wear outdoors? My Altra Timp shoes are made for pushing water, my Injinji socks and gloves both wick well. I shuck it off and we kept moving. Don't think I am not aware of what the consequences could have been if I fell in the water completely. Good thing I had extra clothing in the pack if I had needed it right then. A stuff-able puffy, base layer for the legs and a short-sleeve short for later where worth their weight!

AM I WRITING A DAMNED BOOK OR WHAT?!?!

20767_14
Not Bad, Right?!?!

Let's fast forward out of respect for your time. We got up to the lake in time to see the moon setting inline with the lake. Great view, but of course a picture never does it justice. Just gotta be there. Time for the crux of the climb of Challenger. It is steep going up the North Face. There is loose rock, although not as bad as many other routes, and there was still extended patches of snow on "the route" up the face. Never used our microspikes though. Is it just me, or does this climb seem never ending??? Route finding was a little time consuming, and I swear people make cairns just to throw you off. Just sayin... The top of The Notch might as well be the summit because it's like sweet victory! Just a short jaunt over to the summit from there.

20767_03
Going Up? Yes, And Down!
20767_08
Victory In Jesus! Might As Well Be The Summit!

I remember where I was when the news of the Challenger Shuttle explosion flooded the country. Do you? That memorial on the summit is very special.

20767_15
Just Awesome!
20767_05
Exciting View Of KC And Those Sexy Crestones

Looking over at KC it was comforting to see the snow on The Avenue was definitely avoidable. Just needed to skirt the side. A little closer to the exposure than normally necessary, but not a big issue. Getting down to the wall, at the saddle was nice because it immediately stopped the wind. And once around the first section of The Ave the sun hit ya and it felt joyous! We made certain to pay attention to where we exited The Ave and made our way up the gully. Reminded me a lot of the Crestones, but way shorter. Mission accomplished! We made it to the summit of both C/KC. Another group, from my same town, caught up to us at the summit. If you guys are out there, I'd love to connect!

20767_10
West Ave w/ Mostly Dry Conditions
20767_09
South Side Avenue
20767_11
KC Gully w/ cameo by chem trails
20767_13
KC Summit Pic

AT THE SUMMIT YOU'RE ONLY HALFWAY THERE!!

It's true right! Got to get back down to the trailhead safely to be able to celebrate! The climb down KC gully was certainly quicker than going up. Knew exactly where we needed to exit and we did. You don't want to miss The Avenue! Heading down the North Face of Challenger was daunting. Loose rock, snow, on steep terrain, and then there's gravity! Makes the 1,800' of suck on Maroon seem tame IMHO. Just like reaching The Notch, getting to the bottom of the face is cause for celebration! And the sun was blazing a slight breeze in the air! Time to throw on the short-sleeve shirt I mentioned earlier. A little change of gear, some more calories (I had taken in around 1000 calories at this point. Decent, but not great). We ran 99% of the rest of the way back to the trailhead. Great training after just gaining over 6,400' of elevation, and that mileage. Oh yeah, let's talk about that mileage. Bill, what's the scoop sir? It says 14.5 miles for this route. Our watches were both over 16. Mine was 16.9. One of the watches of the individuals we met on KC was at 8 miles+ at that halfway point. Never once had to backtrack either. Worth noting if you're planning on this route. May change your mind as to backpacking into Willow Lake or not. Moving Time RT was 9:32 (Strava - https://strava.app.link/KBXrOokFhab)

I celebrated at the trailhead with a nice cold non-alcoholic beer (that's how I roll), and @hip_hip_jorge had his peanut M's. Hung out for a short bit knowing we both had long drives ahead on tired bodies. Looking forward to the next adventure. I'm thinking The Wilson Group!




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
ltlFish99
Excellent report
10/04/2020 23:52
Great report and wonderful photographs.
I love willow lake, certainly one of my favorite places in Colorado.



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