Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
Date Posted:  07/22/2008
Date Climbed:   07/20/2008
Author:  gatorchick

 KC & Challenger - first class 3!  

Having hiked up seven 14ers since we were bitten by this bug last year, the fiance (jasper9890) and I were ready to step it up a notch and try something a little tougher. I was thinking my first class 3 would probably be Kelso Ridge or the Sawtooth but when 14ergirl invited us to tackle Kit Carson and Challenger with her and her hubby HolySchist I could not say no! After doing some research I decided it didn't look too bad and that we would give it a go. I was nervous as this would not only be our first class 3 (or 2+ for that matter) but also the longest hike we have done by FAR. It would also be our first double peak hike. The day before we were going to leave I almost backed out but 14ergirl can be very convincing. ;)

We made it to the Willow Creek TH Saturday evening and met some people in the parking lot that had done KC & Challenger that day. One group told us it took them 10 hours to make it from Willow Lake up to both peaks and back to Willow Lake. I remember wondering how that could be possible seeing as it was only approximately 5 miles from lake to peaks to lake. I would soon find out JUST how that was possible!!

We hiked up to the Lake in the dark, set up camp, and tried to get a few hours of sleep. At around 4:45 a.m. we started up the trail from the lake. The trail was a little tricky to follow as there are a lot of other trails in the area but as long as you stick to the north you will be ok. We made it to the bottom of the steep slope up to Challenger's ridge just as the sun was coming up. I remember thinking it didn't look THAT bad.

Alpenglow on KC

We began ascending the steep loose slope to Challenger's ridge. It wasn't easy but it wasn't that bad. There was a small snow field to cross but as long as you took your time you were fine. You always had to be aware of rocks coming down the slope from people above. One large rock caught some serious air and landed in the snowfield next to us. Getting hit by that thing would have made for a very very bad day.

The fiance hiking up the steep slope.

The views of the Sangres were awesome!

This is a pic of the top of the slope - it gives you an idea of the terrain.

The group making their way up

Honestly, I didn't think coming up that slope was all that bad (I would have a very very different feeling about it on the way back down ...). It wasn't long before we made it to the notch and dropped onto the backside of the ridge.

me on the back side

From there it was an easy walk along the ridge to Challenger's summit.

14ergirl and HolySchist making their way along the ridge

View of the final approach to Challenger's summit

The fiance and I on Challenger's summit - my 8th 14er

We didn't spend much time on the summit as we wanted to get moving to KC as quickly as possible, knowing it would be a slow descent back to treeline on the way back down. We dropped off the summit and made our way over to the entrance to Kit Carson Avenue.

I have to admit that the pictures I had seen of the Avenue had made me a little nervous. In reality it was no big deal at all. There was a sharp drop off to one side but it was very wide and I never felt like I was in any danger. It was a really neat feature of this hike and I really enjoyed it!

Kit Carson Avenue went by pretty quickly and before I knew it we were at the bottom of the class 3 gully. When we turned the corner and saw the class 3 section my heart sank a little bit. It looked a little intimidating. Once we got on it, however, it wasn't bad at all - in fact it was REALLY fun. I never once felt nervous going up or down it. The rock was very solid and there were great hand holds and foot holds and for the most part you could just walk up using your hands when necessary. I'm not really sure what makes this class 3 because it was NO problem at all.

14ergirl on her way up the gully

looking up the gully

looking down

The scrambling went by fast and before I knew it we were on KC's summit with breathtaking views of the Crestones in the background. Arriving on this summit felt SO GOOD - the feeling was reminscent to when made it to the top of my first 14er last year. I knew this one was going to be a new level of challenge and it felt AWESOME to have conqured it!!!

Yours truly - THRILLED to be on KC's summit (14er #9 for me!)

group summit shot

Humboldt from KC's summit

Crestones from KC's summit

Challenger from KC's summit

We hung out on top for a while and then started heading back down. Downclimbing the class 3 gully was no problem. I mostly scooted down on my butt which may not have been the most efficient method of travel but I felt very safe and comfortable.

me on the way down

The hike back over KC Avenue was uneventful. We didn't go all the way back to Challenger's summit but came close. Things were going really really well until we made it to that stupid slope down off Challenger.

And that is where things got ugly for me. I HATE HATE HATE walking down loose steep stuff with a passion. It freaks me out and I walk like an old woman taking teeny tiny baby steps. I need to get better about this. Early on we hugged the wall to the climber's left, using it to make our way down and making some easy moves on the rock. That part was pretty fun but once you left the wall things got considerably more difficult. It took me much MUCH longer to make it down this section than it did to make it up. I felt horrible because I was slowing our group down considerably and by the time we made it to the bottom I was so frustrated that I burst into tears. I had been so proud of myself for everything up till that point - I had done fine on all the "hard" stuff and had led the group going up that stupid slope but coming back down I sucked big time. Coming down that baby wore me out both physically and mentally and I paid for it for the rest of the day.

On our way back to the campsite we got a little lost in the willows but we had time to snap a few pics of Willow Lake which is absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!!!

While making our way through the willows we spied a bear (actually, I didn't see it, but the others did) about 50 yards from where we were hiking and very near the campsites by the lake. Be aware that they ARE out there!!

We made it back to camp and then headed out on what felt like an ENDLESS hike back to the car. It was pretty much a death march and the whole time I was telling myself "I am NEVER doing another 14er again!!!" (famous last words ;)).

Some final thoughts: This is a difficult hike but it is not the class 3 section that makes it difficult. The class 3 gully was EASY and fun! What makes this hike difficult is the overall length and the loose, steep class 2 slope up to Challenger which in my opinion was MUCH MUCH harder than anything you encounter on Kit Carson. THAT was what made this hike tough. It got HOT on our way back down from Challenger and I found myself drinking a ton of water. Be sure you have enough water with you (or the ability to filter water) if you are going to do this route. I started from the lake with three liters and we stopped to filter more on our way back down to the campsite. We had debated about whether or not to bring our dog with us and I'm really glad we didn't. There were other dogs up there and they did fine and I' sure our girl could have made it but I would have been really worried about her kicking rocks down on other people. In the end i was happy we left her at home.

Its now two days later and I am still INCREDIBLY sore. I have done some physically tough things in my life and this ranks right up there with the toughest. Its entirely possible that this hike isn't really that hard and I just got in over my head, who knows! Having said that, I am REALLY happy we did it and I don't regret it for a moment!!!! As much as I hated Challenger, Kit Carson itself was a BLAST and I'm so happy I pushed myself to do something tougher!!! I can't wait to try some more class 3 - hopefully WITHOUT slippery slopes of death to get to the fun parts!!

Thanks to 14ergirl for pushing me to get out there (and I take back all those times I told you I hated you on Sunday! ;))!

Thanks for reading - be safe out there!

If anyone is interested, there are a ton more pics from this trip on my flickr page:


 Comments or Questions

07/22/2008 19:59
to #8 and #9. Nice pics, cool TR


07/22/2008 20:00
i‘m STILL sore as well. some great photo‘s you got on this trip!


07/22/2008 20:33
Nice TR! It was very interesting to read because I just posted my first TR of my 1st ever Class 3 (Longs) this past weekend, and our experiences sounded very similar. I was more than a little intimidated, struggled through parts of it, and felt so proud to git er done. I can‘t wait for more class 3 now! I just don‘t want to have to hike 15 miles again to do it.


10 hrs very possible!
07/22/2008 20:36
I remember my adventure up to KC-Challenger all too well. Was my 3rd and 4th 14ers, passed everyone on the approach, got altitude sickness big time on the slog up to Challenger and everyone I passed caught up to me. Stubbornly I pushed on and finished off the day, it ended up being a 14 hour day. 2 footlong subs couldn‘t appease my appetite, but what a view of the Crestones.

Great report and pics, thats the epitome of a slog......

Holy Schist

07/22/2008 22:28
My calves are hurting so much today, and I rode the bike in to work.

Great hiking with you, but I am too sore after doing that, so I can‘t say how many more times I am going to do that again.


Proud of you!!!
07/22/2008 23:29
You did awesome, but knew you would. With all of your athletic feats, you have to admit this one is just another notch in the belt, no biggie! The downhill sucked so bad, but I am so glad you did it smiling, well except for the very end, but I really don‘t blame you. We had so much fun with you guys. Can‘t wait to hike more peaks together! I need to write my report now!!

Jim Davies

On the first try!
07/23/2008 01:42
Congratulations on NOT joining the ”club”! It looks like you got perfect weather. How long were you hiking on Sunday?


Thanks gang!!
07/23/2008 02:08
Holy Schist: Your calves are sore? My calves are fine ... its my QUADS that are STILL making it difficult to walk.

Jim: I‘m not exactly sure how long we were hiking. (”Too damn long!!” is my knee jerk reaction! ;)) My guess would be 11 hours from the lake to the peaks to the lake and then another couple hours to hike back out to the car. That includes probably half an hour spent on KC‘s summit.


First Class 3!
07/23/2008 02:57
Thanks for your thoughts on KC as a first class 3. I think we‘ll try it - if not this summer then next. We did Holy Cross this weekend and I feel the same way about large talus hopping as you do about the loose stuff - I can‘t move down it fast, and yes, there was some near crying involved. And YES, I was ready to take a break from 14ers for a while (which explains why were heading out to Humboldt tomorrow). Sounds like great minds think alike! Congrats on #8 and #9.


8 & 9!
07/25/2008 14:49
Great job! Wonderhubby and I are thinkin‘ we‘ll get to these two in a year or so. (After we finish off the Sawatch) Your TR is quite inspiring.


07/29/2008 01:06
Thank you so much for your detailed TR! I moved to CO last year and have since been bitten by the 14er bug; just getting started a little later than anticipated and starting out with the ”easier” ones to warm up!


Ditto on the Downhill
08/03/2008 21:24
I came down Challenger yesterday (8/2/2008) and so far as I‘m concerned that type of steep ”skidding” should be called class ”5”. It terrorizes me as much as a flying rock overhead. My nephew, kwsingr, had to hold my hand most of the way down--really! (I‘m 71 and he‘s only 47) I‘ve climbed 74 14ers (not all different--only 45 of those) and this is the worst. Kit Carson was a joyful blast in comparison. It was fun and very easy compared to that miserable, scary loose stuff coming off of Challenger. Great report, by the way

Mel McKinney

Thanks for posting this!
03/30/2009 20:02
I‘m hoping to make K.C. my 1st class 3 this summer. It‘s good to read your report. Belated Congratulations, by the way.

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