Peak(s):  Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
Date Posted:  09/24/2008
Date Climbed:   09/22/2008
Author:  zoomie83
 Challenger Point 9/22/08  

After maybe three hours of sleep Saturday night (excitement?), I left Wheat Ridge at 5 am Sunday morning for the drive to Colorado Springs to meet up with my friends Ron and Shane. The plan was to drive to the South Crestone Trailhead, hike to Willow Lake, and climb Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak on Monday. Considering what the weather turned out to be, we think we did ok. Ron drove, I napped for about an hour, and it took about 3 1/2 hours to drive to the South Crestone Trailhead. As soon as we got close enough, we could see the Kit Carson Group, or at least where it was supposed to be in the clouds.II I think this the Challenger massif (behind the hill in front) viewed from the road going out of Crestone.
We met a group of about eight people from Texas who had been thwarted by weather after summitting Challenger Point. Minus their long drive back to Texas, come Monday afternoon, we could relate.
We started up the trail at about 11:30 am with the wind blowing about 15-20 mph, which would be a recurring theme throughout the next two days. Ron's level of fitness was not what he knew it should be, so Shane and I soon were quite far ahead, another recurring theme. (Ron had no problem with this; he's very experienced, 40 14ers) We passed probably 15 people coming down and I don't remember anyone who had made the summit of Kit Carson Peak, unfortunately a third recurring theme. Shane and I made it to Willow Lake in 3 hours 15 minutes and passed all the camp sites, completely disregarding the information contained in the route description from this site. Next time, we'll set up camp and THEN climb the steep rock section to the lake, instead of doing it with a 33 lb pack at the end of a 4.75 mile hike. DUH!
Shane and I set up our tents and made sure every stake was secure as the wind had now increased to probably 25 mph. Ron arrived about an hour later, and after he set up his tent, we made the short walk to Willow Lake. How can you ever tire of this photo?
Shane scouted the route around the lake to the ledges
and I highly recommend this. The next morning we were able to follow the correct trail in the dark, which is crucial due to the social trails in the area. After returning to our camp, we "dined" on Subway sandwiches and prepared for the next day. I turned off my headlamp about 9 pm but due the constant and sometimes gusty wind I don't think any of us slept more than an hour at a time. Question: How come no matter how flat a spot looks when you set up your tent, when you set up your pad and bag, it slants one way or another? I felt like I was sleeping on the side of a hill. It also rained for about an hour around midnight.
My alarm went off at 4 am but after 8(?) snoozes I finally got up at 5 and we left camp about 5 minutes before 6 am. The weather was still windy and cloudy but we quickly made it to the ledges and traversed to the base of the North Slope of Challenger Point. As we started up the slope, Ron again fell behind and I kicked myself for not remembering the two-way radios I had charged Saturday night.
The slope is definitely steep and loose and I don't know if I've ever been on such a long steep slope without any breaks. We just kept slogging up the trail and didn't encounter any snow until a few hundred feet below the top of the gully. It was easily avoidable by climbing on the rocks to the right and the last couple hundred feet were actually the easiet part of the hill as the usually loose dirt was frozen. We walked right across it. Shane's Yaktrax and my Stablicers ended up being just dead weight. During this ascent, we occasionally glimpsed Kit Carson Peak but each time the clouds rolled in, they seemed to last longer. Once we reached the top of the gully, the trail is easy to follow as it circles around the initial hump on the ridge and regains the ridge. The bad part here was the wind as you really had to be careful when walking near the ridge crest. This was still the easiet part ot the climb and 3 hours after starting Shane and I stood on the summit, his 28th and my 35th. The feeling is always amazing.
We briefly caught a view of the Sand Dunes and it was pretty cool to see them from this vantage point. The clouds continued to roll in and I think my summit shot is the last time we saw even part of Kit Carson Peak. We stayed about 20 minutes as Shane put on another layer and I wished I had another layer to put on. He wanted to scout part of the route down to the Avenue so I started back down the ridge to find Ron. I found him part way back down the North Slope and Shane soon found us. He had only gotten about 100 yards as the clouds and wind were just too much. Here is a picture of Kit Carson Peak taken from about 13,000 ft on the descent.
We felt bad about Ron not making it even to Challenger Point but he was OK with it and has been turned back enough times to know we made the right choice. The trip back down the slope involved a couple of slips for each of us but we were back at Willow lake at noon. We packed up and started down about 1 pm and sometime during the descent the wind stopped and the sun came out permanantly. Isn't Colorado wonderful? Challenger Point from Hwy 17.
The trip back to Colorado Springs was easy (I wasn't driving) and I was back in Wheat Ridge at 9:45 pm.
This was a fantastic hike even though we were 1 for 2 but I highly recommend getting to this area if you can. Its just incredible.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Don‘t feel bad
09/25/2008 16:26
Don‘t feel bad about the failure to stop and camp before that huge hill at the lake. My buddy and I also made the same mistake (with 40 pound packs) about 3 weeks ago. Also didn‘t make it all the way to Kit Carson the next day, mainly because summitting Challenger was harder and more time consuming than we expected.

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