Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
Date Posted:  08/04/2007
Modified:  08/04/2011
Date Climbed:   07/29/2007
Author:  Always_Wear_Sunscreen

 Kit Carson via Challenger Pt -- 1st Backpack, 1st Class 3  

As my weekend plans were canceled and I was looking for some hiking to do, I remembered the summer gathering post on That trip sounded great, so just 2 days before the gathering, I posted to determine if Kit Carson would be a good first class 3 climb. With a quick response from roozers and jamienellis, I was in. Now, I had to find some backpacking gear since I've never done it. I messaged a friend and he enthusiastically offered whatever I needed (thanks Zane).

After grabbing some gear from Zane Thursday night, packing and preparing some meals, I hit the road. The weather was looking pretty stormy around Salida, but I kept going.
Coming in to Crestone, I was preparing myself for the seemingly inevitable wet hike up to Willow Lake.
I hit the trail about 3:30 PM and quickly realized as I hit the first stream crossing, that I needed to get more adept at hiking with a pack. I also realized that it was much more difficult to take pictures with a pack on my back and had to take the pack off to get some better shots of this first stream.

About 30 minutes later, the rain started and I put on my rain jacket and covered my pack. Several times I contemplated turning around and sleeping in my car for the night, but I kept going and about 45 minutes later, the rain stopped.

The wildflowers were in full bloom on the hike up to Willow Lake and I've never seen so many columbines before. It was hard not to take more pictures. I also saw this interesting weed/flower -- I've never seen a pricker with a flower or seed pod like that before and soon I realized these were very common along the rest of the hike up to the lake.
I then reached the last waterfall crossing. What a beautiful site.
After the waterfall, the trail is fairly steep with many switchbacks and then levels off to the lake. I reached the campground before the lake about 7:45 PM (I guess I shouldn't have taken so many pictures on the way up). I worked my way around the lake and up the small boulder field to get to the north/top side of the lake. The willows and blue bells were drenching my lower legs and socks. I became more wet walking thru that stretch than walking in the 45 minutes of rain earlier. As I reached the upper side of the lake, it was pretty dark and made it difficult to find a spot to pitch my tent. I finally settled on a semi-flat spot near a big boulder. I unpacked, ate some dinner and then tried to get some sleep. About 2 AM, I heard voices which I later found to be stevevets689 and Chicago Transplant.

07/28/2007 6:00 AM - I emerged from my tent to meet Chicago Transplant, jamienellis, shanahan96, and stevevets689 and talk to a few climbers that were going to attempt the peaks today. It was a beautiful morning and I decided I was going to hike back down to the waterfall and see if I could get some good pictures. I took some morning light pictures of the upper vally, Kit Carson, and the route leading up to Challenger Pt.
The rains came in early and delayed my hike by about an hour so I didn't get started until about 8:45AM after the rain stopped, but the clouds still lingered. I was hoping the clouds would stick around to allow me to get some artsy shots of the waterfalls. I made my way around the lake on a much easier trail than the one I took up the night before in the near darkness. I stopped several places along the way and on the south end of the lake to shoot some photos of the lake and waterfall. A couple hundred yards south of the lake, I got off the trail and made my way thru a thigh-high field of wildflowers to the waterfall at the east edge of the gulch. Unfortunately, the sun, even with the overcast skies, was too bright to take some great pictures, but I took some anyway. I made my way back to the main trail and hiked down to the waterfall crossing. The sun and clouds were taking turns at being dominant and I was hoping the clouds would win out by the time I made it to the waterfall. Of course, the sun won and came bursting through just as I reached the waterfall. I snapped some shots, but again it was way too bright for the photos that I wanted to capture. I tried to make my own darkness by placing my sunglasses over the lens of my camera and that actually worked somewhat but gives the pictures a bluish tint that I can't seem to correct using my photo software.
When I get more time, I'll try to figure it out in Photoshop. The view of the waterfall from the crossing isn't that great, so several times, I climbed off trail to get closer to it higher up the gulch. At one point, I was hanging on the side wall of a steep gully with the waterfall falling behind and below me and snapped this picture.
I climbed back up to the lake and found the clouds rolling in and the storms looking imminent.
As I got back to camp, the Jamies, Chicago Transplant, and Steve were all in their tents. I followed suit just in time for the nearly 4 hour soaking to occur. The rains stopped about 6:40 PM and everyone emerged from their tents for dinner and the possible gathering. A couple of other people made the hike up to the top of the lake and we discussed the plans for the climb in the morning.

07/29/07 5:00 AM - I could hear the troops rustling outside my tent, but I refused to join them that early. I emerged about 40 minutes later and told Stephen that I needed to filter some water before starting the climb. He graciously waited and we hit the trail at about 5:55 AM. It was still too dark to take pictures without a flash. As we worked our way up the trail, we discovered it was quite wet and muddy from all the rains. We were rewarded with some beautiful morning glows on Kit Carson and Challenger as the sun rose during our climb (see Aubrey's trip report and Stephen's for some nice pics). Once we arrived at the rocks and scree, we realized that there were many different routes each marked by their own cairns. We chose the left side, nearer the snow field, and we noticed others sticking to the right wall. I believe that's Aubrey and Jen near the wall.
We had to negotiate a few class 3 moves to continue our route, but nothing that made us turn back. A view looking back down the descent. The tents are now mere specks (especially at this resolution).
Steve had a goal of reaching the top of Challenger Pt by 8:00 AM and we hit that almost exactly. Steve left the top shortly thereafter and I lingered to eat my 2nd breakfast, a cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter. KirkT arrived and we took pictures of each other while Ann from Edwards also arrived. Together, the 3 of us made our way over to Kit Carson. Here's a picture of Ann and Kirk climbing up the avenue. Although, it was quite a drop on the low side, I never felt as if I was in any danger. The three of us collaborated to make sure we were climbing the right gulley once we decided to leave Kit Carson Avenue.
Wispy clouds were rolling in and out all through our climb. None of them were rain clouds, but they did add some nice contrast to the pictures.
The Jamies, Aubrey and Jen were descending as we were ascending the Kit Carson gulley.
Climbing Kit Carson wasn't as difficult as I expected and the looseness of Challenger Pt and the route Stephen and I took near the top made Challenger Pt the more difficult climb IMO. At the top of Kit Carson, we imagined a zipline going all the way back down to the top of the lake. Wow, what a ride that would be!! We also snapped some more photos and KirkT did a headstand on my fleece pullover while Stephen snapped his picture and I recorded it using the movie mode of my camera.

The trip down was pretty uneventful except that I overshot the avenue and Chicago Transplant and Ann from Edwards helped me find my way. As Aubrey said, the trip down Challenger was very slippery and I found myself on my butt several times. No injuries other than a few scratches on my knuckles.

I finally made it back to camp and took one more shot of my camping site looking back up the valley.

I talked with Jamie Nellis a bit and wondered why she hadn't packed up my gear too. Just kidding Jamie. The Jamies, Stephen and Chicago Transplant all left before me and I thought I'd catch them on the way down, but I stopped to take several pictures at the top of the lake and a few more on the way down. The scenery is so beautiful, it's hard not to. Oh, and I got onto the wrong trail a couple of times around the lake and had to backtrack a little to get myself on the main trail. Does anyone offer a course in route following? Oh, and one more thing; as I crossed the waterfall log bridge, I lost my sunglasses which were loosely hanging from the chest strap on my pack (another reason not too spend too much money on a pair of sunglasses).

I passed a few groups going down the mountain, but never did catch up to the others from As I drove out of Crestone and North on 17 and 285, the storms were rolling in from the West and I just had to stop and take a few more pictures.
The storms finally caught up to me on my way down 50 through the Arkansas River Valley. Throughout the weekend I ended up taking over 570 pictures (and some are pretty good). I sifted through them and uploaded a few hundred of them to

On the 3 hour trip back to the Springs, I reminisced about the weekend and all the beautiful scenery and great people I had the opportunity to experience. Oh yeah, and my knee kept reminding me about the hiking/climbing too. I had a great time and look forward to more adventures in the future.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

02/05/2011 00:22
Good pics--and I thought I spent too much energy taking photos! You might try putting your camera case on your back belt for easier access.
I think we chatted briefly at the lake Saturday night. Glad you had a satisfying trip. (And welcome to the wonders of hauling all that gear up & down the trail...)


Great report...
11/30/2010 17:28
and I enjoyed getting to hike with you. It's always nice to meet new people. The video you took of Carson's summit is priceless. 8) You took some really incredible pictures. Hopefully we will meet in the near future on another hike.


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