Peak(s):  Challenger Point  -  14,086 feet
Date Posted:  01/09/2022
Date Climbed:   12/21/2021
Author:  CaptainSuburbia
Additional Members:   supranihilest
 Winter Challenger Redemption!   

Winter Challenger Redemption!


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.

My turn around point last January at 13,800 feet.

Day of Climb: December 21, 2021

Trailhead: Willow Creek

Peak: Challenger Point

Mileage and Elevation Gain: ~13.6 miles and 5119 feet of gain.

Our route.

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.

Ben starting up the trail.

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.

Passing an ice flow as we approach the headwall.
Getting close to Willow Lake.

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.

A frozen Willow Lake
Dry trail on north side of lake.

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.

Our first good look at Challengers North Slope.
Following the standard trail over thin snow.
View of Kit Carson
Looking at Kit Carson on my first winter attempt of Challenger. January (2021).

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.

Snow climbing along the rock wall.
More fun snow climbing.
Looking down from the upper cliff area.
Ben having a good time!
Ben working his way back to the standard trail.
Looking back at Mt Adams A and 13,580 A.
Same view of Adams and 13,580 when we attempted Challenger last winter.
Back on the standard trail leading to the notch. Photo Credit: Ben

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.

Scrambling up the ridge.
Approaching summit.
Summit view of Kit Carson and Crestones.
Spcae Shuttle Challenger remembrance.
Ben ready to descend.

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:

Photo credit: Ben
Photo Credit: Ben
Photo Credit: Ben

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35

Comments or Questions
Nice Work
01/12/2022 06:27
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.

01/09/2022 07:08
Great pics. Challenger was one of my toughest days last winter. I‘ve never had views from Challenger, it‘s been a fog both times.

01/09/2022 10:16
We're running out of beer
And, "Honey, we need to talk"
Are the only words I fear
I'm a bird, I'm a plane, I'm... !!

Yeah buddy
01/09/2022 16:26
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!

01/10/2022 11:01
Thanks JtheChemE! Yeah the pics I've seen of the Avenue on a big snow year look nuts. Glad I avoided that. I agree about the snowy views. It was so beautiful on my first attempt.

01/10/2022 11:07
Thanks Will! Challenger was definitely not a gimme last winter and you did well to get it. You better go back again on a nice day though for the views.

Captain Surburbia!!
01/11/2022 10:21
Thanks greenonion!

The weeds will grow, the grey will show, and my garage will overflow now
Lucky me!
I'm Captain Suburbia!

01/12/2022 17:28
Ben - Yeah great climb buddy! So sweet to go back and get that. Look forward to the next one!

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