Download Agreement, Release, and Acknowledgement of Risk:
You (the person requesting this file download) fully understand mountain climbing ("Activity") involves risks and dangers of serious bodily injury, including permanent disability, paralysis, and death ("Risks") and you fully accept and assume all such risks and all responsibility for losses, costs, and damages you incur as a result of your participation in this Activity.
You acknowledge that information in the file you have chosen to download may not be accurate and may contain errors. You agree to assume all risks when using this information and agree to release and discharge 14ers.com, 14ers Inc. and the author(s) of such information (collectively, the "Released Parties").
You hereby discharge the Released Parties from all damages, actions, claims and liabilities of any nature, specifically including, but not limited to, damages, actions, claims and liabilities arising from or related to the negligence of the Released Parties. You further agree to indemnify, hold harmless and defend 14ers.com, 14ers Inc. and each of the other Released Parties from and against any loss, damage, liability and expense, including costs and attorney fees, incurred by 14ers.com, 14ers Inc. or any of the other Released Parties as a result of you using information provided on the 14ers.com or 14ers Inc. websites.
You have read this agreement, fully understand its terms and intend it to be a complete and unconditional release of all liability to the greatest extent allowed by law and agree that if any portion of this agreement is held to be invalid the balance, notwithstanding, shall continue in full force and effect.
By clicking "OK" you agree to these terms. If you DO NOT agree, click "Cancel"...
I had first attempted a winter Challenger Point last January (2021) and turned at 13,800 feet. It was a tough call, and I had been thinking about it ever since. I believe a summit had been possible that day, but the risk had been more than I was willing to take. I think my risk tolerance level is not what it use to be. This is probably a good thing though, but this made me question my ability to finish the 58 in calendar winter. I don't usually mind turning on peaks but for some reason I couldn't let this one go. So, with the winter solstice fast approaching (and I typically like to climb on this day) I started planning for my second winter attempt on Challenger Point. The Sangres had been very dry thus far (probably the driest range at this point) so it looked like a perfect chance for my redemption. The only potential hitch I saw was that winter didn't officially start until 8:58 am on the 21st so a late start would be necessary. The forecast after this didn't look great, so we decided to give it a go before more snow could fall on Challenger.
Day of Climb: December 21, 2021
Trailhead: Willow Creek
Peak: Challenger Point
Mileage and Elevation Gain: ~13.6 miles and 5119 feet of gain.
I arrived at the trailhead parking lot the night before with plans to sleep in my truck. Sleeping conditions in my truck aren't the best, but I've gotten use to it over the years and make do. I was climbing with Ben who was already there sleeping in his more luxurious accommodations. Luckily, upon arrival the winter gate had still been open. I was assuming this would be the case knowing that very little snow had fallen in the past few weeks. A closed gate would have meant an extra 3 miles or so round trip which I had done last winter. I wouldn't have minded the extra road walk, but it sure was nice to drive those miles instead.
Our late starting time allowed me to sleep in, and I lazily got up around 8 the next morning. I'm use to getting very little to no sleep before a climb so this was a pleasant benefit to strictly following the winter rules. I started my truck to warm myself and took my time getting ready. Ben and I were hiking by 9:15.
We moved quickly out of the gate knowing daylight was limited. Our goal was to summit and be back below the lake before dark. At approximately 1.5 miles in we decided to stash our snowshoes realizing that they most likely would not be needed. Snow to this point had been mostly continuous but very thin. Hopefully we would not regret this decision. The snow did get ankle deep as we approached the headwall, and after that we did have to do some trail breaking in deeper stuff (mostly shin to occasionally knee deep) from there to the lake. Still, snowshoes were not neccessary but may have helped a bit.
Our journey to Willow Lake was uneventful for the most part except we did take a wrong turn at the campsites near the lake and had to bushwack out of it to rejoin the trail. I did a bonehead move during this and soaked one foot stepping through some ice. Fortunately, I always carry a pair of dry socks to change into so no harm done.
Once back on the trail we followed it around the left side of Willow Lake on a mostly dry trail. It was noon and time for a well deserved break. We found a good spot on the rock slabs over looking the lake and prepared ourselves to assault Challengers North Slope.
After a quick snack and my sock change we started up Challenger. It was evident almost immediately that today would be much easier than our attempt last January. We could clearly see the lower sections of the standard route and followed it. At some point we switched to our crampons for better traction and as we neared 12,700 the trail ended in solid snow.
The snow looked safe and we found it to be bomber as we worked our way straight up along side a rock wall. Ben loves his snow climbs and led the way. Eventually, it turned into a fun mix of snow and rock as we reached the upper cliff band which had the occasional class 3 move. Following this we were back on the standard route climbing along the pencil couloir (which amazingly looked in) and then up to the notch which gave us access to the upper ridge.
Once at the notch we started scrambling up the ridge towards the summit. I kept my crampons on although they probably weren't needed. The strap kind I have are a pain to get on and off so I didn't bother changing, and they were a bit helpful on the slick rock we encountered. The ridge was mostly windblown though and an easy cruise to the summit. Redemption!!! It felt so good to summit on this winter solstice and the views were astounding! We could see perfectly The Great Sand Dunes, Blanca group, Crestones, KC and so much more.
Our summit stay was brief with the clock ticking and the sun getting low in the sky. Had there been another hour or so of daylight I think we could have gotten Kit Carson too. The Avenue had some snow, but it didn't look bad. Oh well, we'd come back for that another day. Our descent back to Willow Lake didn't take long as we made quick work of the snow while still in crampons. Darkness hit us after we rounded the lake and were below the headwall. We hiked the last 4 miles in complete darkness grabbing our stashed snowshoes along the way. It was another great day in the mountains!
A few descent pictures below:
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
I'm glad you found your redemption on Challenger. It's tricky business if you can't catch it from the north side. I did the avenue in a deep snow year: spooky place to be. The comparison photos are cool, and at least you had the experience of seeing photo 29 on your first attempt. Lean snow conditions rob one of the great things about winter: the aesthetics.
Redemption is sweet. What a difference (approximately) a year makes! I love the side-by-sides of the two attempts, really shows it off! We had such a terrible time last year, and then when we attempted Sneffels like three days later and turned around again... Pretty sure that was when we disgustedly gave up on that winter. Great climb, amigo!
Ben - Yeah great climb buddy! So sweet to go back and get that. Look forward to the next one!
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. 14ers.com 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 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.
Please respect private property: 14ers.com supports the rights of private landowners to determine how and by whom their land will be used. In Colorado, it is your responsibility to determine if land is private and to obtain the appropriate permission before entering the property.