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Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,167 feet
Challenger Point  -  14,086 feet
Date Posted:  11/27/2023
Date Climbed:   07/11/2023
Author:  rbbirrer
 Only Blue Skies   

My first trip report on 14ers....so here goes

My college buddy (of 20+ years) and I set off to climb Kit Carson and Challenger on July 10/11 after successfully summiting Blanca and Ellingwood a day earlier. Having flown in from NY on July 8 we were still relatively unacclimatized but decided to push on to maximize our peak exposure during our short time in CO.

We set off for Willow Lake around 4:30PM on the 10th and were immediately bombarded by hoards and hoards of mosquitoes that absolutely would not relent until we reached out camp site 3 hours later. Knowing ahead of the time that the mosquitoes would likely be bad, we opted for the later start and took a bunch of bug repellant with us which I think had an effect although it didn't seem so at the time since there were just so damn many of them! We made pretty quick time and thankfully the heat wasn't too bad since we were hiking later in the day. Our goal was a campsite above the lake at about 11,750', away from mosquitoes, and with a clear and easy path to the summit of Challenger without having to navigate willows at 4AM.

We put up our camp quickly and were resting by 8PM. The views of Willow Lake were stunning and the weather was absolutely perfect. We closed our eyes and settled into what we thought would be a good night's sleep until around 12PM when we heard noises outside the tent. While initially nerve-racking, especially when the proximity seemed to be only about 2-3', we ruled out (or at least tried to convince ourselves) that it wasn't a bear and indeed could hear distinctive hoof prints of a heavy ungulate walking around our tent. We didn't make too much noise and after about 5-10 minutes the sounds dissipated and we emerged from the tent to check our surroundings. Seeing nothing other than the stunning wash of the Milky Way and countless stars, we resumed our sleep and were packing to hit the trail by 4:30AM.

As we left for Challenger we immediately saw above us two glowing eyes which we figured was the animal that had had investigated our campsite. While we couldn't get a very clear ID on the creature, judging by the large silhouette we surmised that it was likely a lone bighorn sheep and not a mountain goat. We did not see any other ungulates for the rest of our climb and hike out.

We pressed on towards the summit of Challenger and met intermittent water and ice which forced us to don our micro spikes as we continued up to the right of the snow-filled gully. We topped out at the notch around 6:15AM and were on the summit by 6:30AM. We took in the amazing scenery and views and then descended over to the avenue. At the base of the avenue we were met with about a 10' stretch of residual snow, which we easily crossed with our spikes/axe and then continued along the avenue, encountering 2 other sections of snow which we were easily able to circumvent.

Ahead of these climbs we had done our research on the route (as we generally do), and read the many reports of climbers who had missed the entrance to the avenue after descending Kit Carson so we had decided ahead of time to leave a very visible marker (we ended up using my buddy's blue shirt), and and then powered up the last remaining slopes to reach the Kit Carson summit at 7:30AM, an hour after reaching Challenger's summit. We had the summit to ourselves and the views were incredible. We took care on the descent and actually had no problems locating the entrance to the avenue even before we reached the marker that we left. From there we took care on our way up and out of the avenue and then re-summited Challenger a little before 8:30AM. We rested briefly on the summit and were back at camp by 10:30AM.

All in all a great day. If I were to give out a few pointers I would say research the route ahead of time (duh) and leave a marker at the avenue's exit (or entrance coming down) if you want to be extra cautious. For those using GPS drop a pin at the location (we did this as well). Also, on the way down, take care to make sure you swing around the backside of the ridge in order to hit the notch at the top of the gully in order to avoid the steeper rocks on the North side of the slope

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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