Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
Date Posted:  12/10/2006
Date Climbed:   12/09/2006
Author:  jcwhite

 Why an alpine start is important.  

My buddy Andy and I decided we were going to go and climb Kit Carson this past Saturday, and so we planned to leave Fort Collins around noon on fri and drive down and pack in a ways and camp. Well noon turned into 2 which turned into 4-4:30, well finally off we of course hit traffic in denver and had to make a stop for some equipment and finally got to the willow lake trailhead around 10:30 pm. Well sat would be an extremely long day if we dont get some of the way in tonight. So we downed a beer, made the decsion to leave the skis in the car. and headed up the trail and camped somewhere around 10,600, never encountering more than 3 or 4 inches of snow.
Well we all know about how important an alpine start can be on a planned long day.
Too make the story shorter...i need to find some sort of alarm system that will do a better job of waking me up in the tent than my altimeter watch alarm. I had it set for a 630 wake up time as we had around 3500 feet to ascend from our high camp below willow lake. As with our luck this trip it either didnt go off or we slept through it. Well anyway the extremely loud chattering of some annoyed chipmunks awoke us around 8 am or so. After eating some cold and frozen energy bars along with a bag of cliff blocks and my ritual red bull we were on the trail.

We started walking up the trail and as soon as it switches over to the South side of the valley the snow became much deeper ranging from 1 to 3 ft.
This made for some miserable post holing. Somewhere within a quarter mile of the lake we got off the trail cut and ended up on the right side of the lake and after some wondering (and bouldering on snow covered slabs)
We found the lake and were of course on the wrong side of it. Well as it has been very cold in the area the lake was frozen absolutely solid and we simply walked across to interesect the trail.

At this point we found our first sun of the day and went ahead and put the sunblock on, which turned out to be a useless task. As we rounded the lake we walked right back out of the sun never to see it again for the remainder of the day. We started our ascent up the NW slope route.
We climbed from rock rib to rock rib and around 12,500 decided to put the crampons on as we were encountering some bullet proof snow in areas. As we climbed i was keeping my eye on the time and coming to the realization that at this point we were bound to be walking back to camp in the dark regardless. As we continued up i was becoming very skeptical about A)our time and B) our snow conditions above us.

Well around 3:30 we came to an obvious avalanche gully around 13'400 and Andy did the honors of digging a small snowpit and deemed it "textbook" avalanche danger. It would have been avoidable with a climb up and then back down, but it was going to be dark.
At this point we made the decision to head on down and come back another time. We arrived back at camp around 6:30 pm and packed up camp and headed on down to the car, both of us cursing our boots by this point.

As we drove through crestone about the only movement in town was some dance party at the local bar...but much to our disapointment the kitchen was closed...Oh well Burger king in Salida it was.

So just to recap START EARLY!

Here are some extra pictures:

For those of you interested in ice climbing the waterfall above the lake is pretty magnificent.

And here is a view of Kit Carson and couloir between Challenger and Kit Carson.

And here is a picture lookin across the lake at the alpine glow.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

If you look at the comments four years later....
08/27/2010 22:01
...I'm thinking about doing the N Ridge as a winter climb this coming late December. Any thoughts on this (besides going early?)

I'm hoping the N Ridge will be scrubbed off. The ridge itself may be the easiest part - the approach and the descent is what has my attention.


PS - I'm actually just a little surprised there are no TRs for the N Ridge in winter.

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