Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
Date Posted:  08/06/2009
Modified:  08/07/2009
Date Climbed:   07/30/2009
Author:  Markwise
 Chicagoans on Kit Carson, a Challenger  

Kit and Challenger lived up to the namesake of the latter. We'd read quite a few trip reports and were aware of the distance, the elevation, and the intricacies of the Avenue. What we never fully understood is just how long a hike it is, first up to Willow Lake (with 40 lb. packs) and then up the 2000+ feet of Challenger's slopes.

WEATHER: No rain. But thick clouds were rolling through the skies above us the entire hike. On our way up Challenger we couldn't see but more than 100-200 feet ahead of us. This also aided in our underestimating the length of Challenger. While on top of both summits our visibility was < 100 feet. It wasn't until our descent from Challenger that the skies started to open enough for us to see some peaks. We had some concerns of being "whited out" or rained up, but thankfully neither ever became a problem.

CROWDS: This seems to be a growing trend and perhaps worth mentioning. Ran into perhaps 12 people today, 8 of which were in a group which was camped along the trail to Willow Lake. Interesting stories though. About 5:30am as we were about to ascend Challenger we ran into a guy coming down. Of course we asked first if he had already summited. And his reply was "no, actually, I spent the night up on Challenger." This guy got caught in the dark up on Challenger (presumably hiking way too late in the day) and couldn't find his way down. He was trying to use a Blackberry to find his way around up there but the cliffs kept him from going far. God bless you friend for making it down alive, you are a fortunate soul. We also ran into another gentleman who had missed the turn to ascend up the backside of Kit and instead went almost the whole distance to Columbia. He had to ascend over a difficult rock rib to get into the easier gully ascending to Kit's summit.

TRAIL BETA: No snow to cross from Willow Lake up to Kit's summit. The Avenue is free and clear and a joy. The only snow to speak of is a snow-filled gully on the upper half of Challenger. The standard route however ascends just to the climber's right and so you never need enter it. The trail up Challenger is a bit difficult to find at times but if you follow the route descriptions and know about where you're supposed to end up on the ridge, it isn't a bad climb. Challenger's summit ridge is basically a scramble. The Avenue on Kit is a joy and an ease to follow. The final ascent up Kit was also without a basic route but still an easy ascent to pick your own route if you're know about where to end up at.

TIME: For anyone who is curious about the length of this hike, I would consider ourselves average to just below average speed hikers. It took us 3hrs 19 mins to summit Challenger from just below Willow Lake. It took 1hr 19mins to summit Kit Carson from Challenger. It took us 4hrs 17 mins to descend back to our camp from Kit's summit. In all it took us 9hrs 20 mins to climb Challenger and Kit from our Willow Lake camp. As for the hike up to Willow Lake it took about 3 1/2 hours to reach Willow Lake from the TH and about 2 1/2 to 3 hours to descend.

On my 14er hikes I use a Nokia N800 Internet Tablet with bluetooth GPS to create a GPX track. There is an amazing program called Maemo Mapper that facilitates this. I have overlayed the GPX track file into Google Earth and taken some snapshots of our path.

The first two shorts are of our hike up to Willow Lake. In the 2nd shot you can even see us leave trail to hunt down a good campsite.

This Google Earth image is looking to the north, you can see on it the route up to Challenger and then Kit.

This Google Earth image is looking to the southwest at the route up to Challenger from Willow Lake. The long snow-filled gully seen on this image was also snow-filled during the hike. You can see how our track (as well as the standard route) ascends to a point just right of this snow filled gully.

A beautiful morning despite the fact that the sun is missing and the peaks cannot be seen. Who wouldn't want to wake up to the sight of Willow Lake and this waterfall at 5am?

You can see the thick cloud cover which hampered our vision of both Challenger and Kit Carson as we climbed on.

Occasionally a glaring ray of sun poked through the clouds to provide some color to the mountainside.

You can see here the upper end of the first section of Kit Carson avenue. For those who haven't stepped upon the Avenue before, this is just about the narrowest section you'll encounter and as you can see, it still provides plenty of space to feel comfortable hiking on this amazing stretch of the mountain.

This is on the summit of Kit Carson. You can see the awe-inspiring Crestones behind us in the background. Spectacular! (...well, almost).

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

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