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Kit Carson, Challenger Pt, Columbia Pt, "Obstruction Pk" and here Kitty Kat!
Trailhead: South Colony Lakes
Navigators: Darrin (kansas) and me
Elevation Gain: 6,756'
Kit Carson route: class 3+ gully
Choices: South Colony vs Willow Lake
It was a tough choice between two beautiful areas. I had originally dreamed of doing a car to car traverse, to avoid the out and back. But that was logistically a bit difficult. So after quite a bit of waffling, we arrived at the South Colony Lakes route. With the road closed, we would add a bit of mileage on, and backpack in further, to give the best possible chance of success with a poor forecast.
Note on road: With the new closure, I forgot how much walking the road sucks (I bought my off-road truck for a reason - I drove this road twice!). It adds on ~2.7 miles to the original road end and is not pleasant. They are also putting fliers on vehicles announcing the new "proposed" fees. $10 per person, for a day trip. $20 per person, per night, if you camp. Uggg. Looks like I will be finding a new approach to these peaks when I want some repeats or the other 13ers!
Once done with the road, the mile or so pack into our camp was pleasant, and rather like walking through a lush garden. About the time we found our campsite, a large ram crossed our path, but was a bit too quick for me, fumbling with my camera.
We found a not quite flat tent site near "tree line" and were able to get through all the camp duties and dinner before it started to rain. We had hoped it would stop, before we had to go to bed, but it didn't. It just kept sprinkling. Once it was beyond time to slumber, the rain did stop, but then the wind started. About the best to be said about the wind, was that it managed to dry most of the plants and willows along our path up to the Humboldt saddle.
Crossing the ridge between Humboldt and Bears Playground took a lot more effort and time than we had anticipated (1.5 hours). With the misty fog around us, as well as the darkness, route finding took a while. The ridge involves some class 3 moves if you want the most direct approach, or more time and down climbing for class 2+.
When we reached Bears Playground, the nice flat grassy area, it was a relief that the crazy ridge was over. Of course, it was still dark and foggy, so finding cairns was nigh impossible. So we GPS navigated over to where the Obstruction Pt - Kitty Kat saddle was. As long as our right foot was further uphill than our left, we were headed in the right direction. As we neared the saddle, day began to unfold, and the fog lifted. We could finally see where we were. The sunrise from our vantage point was amazing. There was no moving me from my seat until the sunrise was over.
Kitty Kat waking up:
The sun helped our cause by allowing a much easier ascent on Kitty Kat. The path up is pretty obvious and well cairned. The rock was still a bit slick from the night's rain and morning fog. Time and more sun would only help that cause. From Kitty Kat to Columbia Pt is an easy, close ridge walk.
Photo Credit: Darrin
On our way over to Columbia, on the SW ridge, we found the descent route as described by flyingmagpie
The shuttle does point in the general direction you need to go to find the route from Columbia to Kit Carson. Down climb the SW ridge until you see the route on the western face of Columbia (directly below the summit). It will be a series of ledges reasonably well cairned. The descent is down this main gully, until you hook a right, over a rib and follow cairns until the scree gully saddle that connects Columbia to Kit Carson.
The wet conglomerate rock made the down climb a bit spicier than normal. We had to look for different features than otherwise cairned. No smooth slabs for us. Only dihedrals and cracks.
A bit slippery, when wet. Photo Credit: Darrin
The slab or the crack: crack wins! Photo Credit: Darrin
In the crack. Photo Credit: Darrin
Darrin exited straight down the last gully, but I decided to take the cairned route to the saddle. Much easier, and safer (for me) under the slippery rock conditions.
From there, it was a nasty scree gully descent to the start of the fault that cracks Kit Carson. We walked up the fault, and passed by the standard route, in favor of a much more solid class 3+ climb in a gully to the west. It reminded us of the standard climb up Crestone Needle. Very solid conglomerate hand and foot holds abound.
Photo Credit: Darrin
Nearing the top! Photo Credit: Darrin
In a theme for the day, we had the summit to ourselves. Quite the view to be had! We only spent a short time on the summit, as we still had a long way to go.
We took the standard route down Kit Carson, and it was not so pleasant. It was just a scree gully. Very glad we went up the other more fun route! On our descent and climb to Challenger, we met our first hikers of the day, the only people we would see for most of our route. The avenue was a nice up and down ramp taking us to our next destination of the day, Challenger. From the base of the avenue, it was a short hike up to the summit. All ours, except for a summit pika.
Photo Credit: Darrin
On our return over the avenue, we were spotting our final serious climbing hurdle: back up Columbia Pt. At least now the rock will be dry! The route finding is done, and it was a fun scramble back up to the top.
Starting up the crack. Photo Credit: Darrin
A tight squeeze! Photo Credit: Darrin
A short pause on Kitty Kat to snap a few pics, and look at our next possible target: Obstruction Peak. Would the weather hold off long enough to allow us passage? YES!
After the 20 minute jaunt up Obstruction, we now only had to tackle that annoying ridge and descent back to camp. But after one ridge feature, Darrin had enough. He declared we we going to descend one of the muddy scree gullies off of the ridge. I was tired, and my knees were sore from all the scrambling, so I was ok with the plan. I just wanted down!
Since our return from the western side of the range, we had noticed a helicopter approaching and circling the area. Not a good sign, but we hoped it was only a training mission of some sort. As we descended the scree gully, it became apparent that it was no training mission. The helicopter was hovering (and later landed) near the upper lake. It took a while, from our distance, to spot the SAR team. Then we knew some terrible accident had taken place. Now, looking on the Peak and the Needle, we could see evidence for mudslides down nearly every gully feature along the fractured and sculpted ridge. Walking past the SAR team, and talking with one of them, confirmed our suspicions. A couple had perished on the slopes above, and we were witnessing the recovery. Quite the sobering end to a successful day in the mountains. A reminder that we are just visitors here, and that respect for the wilderness is of the utmost importance. We only have control over our choices, the rest is up to the mountain.
Note: I will edit the TR to put in some route photos/maps. Done!
Map of Trek:
Kit Carson route (Very much like Needle standard route, class 3):
Columbia Pt Route (approximate - actual route may vary by user):
My comments from a recent thread:
"From Kit Carson follow the avenue to the scree gully separating Kit from Kat. Go up gully until a foot or two from the saddle. On your right, there should be a cairn up on a ridge to Kat. I went up at the easiest point. I remember a black rock as my foothold on the way down from Kat. Once a little bit up on Kat, follow the cairns as they lead you down parallel to the scree gully. This should lead you to a larger gully. Follow this gully up Kat for a short distance, always looking to your right for a cairn to take you over a rib and over to another gully. This gully intersects that fault that creates the shadow. Once around this fault to the right, you go up almost all the way until you get onto the ridge and turn left to the summit. I did my best to draw the approximate route we took on the face.
We followed flyingmagpie's route description as much as possible, as talking with Keith recently, he said they just sort of descended a gully that looked like it would go. From Kat to Kit, flyingmagpie's decription of the space shuttle pointing the way is dead on. We followed that SW ridge until an obvious ramp on our right, as seen in a photo of his.
On our trip from Kat to Kit we spent a lot of time trying to find the best route with wet rocks, and that is what we came up with. Most of the cross-over rib cairns were relatively easy to spot, if you keep your eyes open for them. It basically an ascending or descending right ladder traverse from either direction."
Those are some awesome sunrise shots, Otina! Great way to climb KC and Challenger. I remember that ridge between the Humboldt saddle and Bear's Playground be very tedious as well. Good choice to bail off it on the return!
Oh, so that's what it looks like! I traversed it from Challenger Pt to the summit route in mid-May 2000, full of snow. Quite the exposure, hoping my ice axe would hold on the snow,looking down onto the Prow.
You may have a career in outdoor photography, as all your photos are quite good and some are outstanding!
Is that Kit or Kat Carson with the orange glow in the wow photo? (never mind- I missed the Kat caption on top 1st run) I love Kit and that mountain will always hold a special place in my heart.
... for the new desktop background (photo 6) and great account of a route I covet. Here's one person who would love to see those additional route photos/maps if you add them. Trying to digest everything I can about that west slope of Columbia. Nice writeup, fabulous pics on a great route.
for the detail and references to flyingmagpie's report as well.
...been on KC and in the Bear's Playground on various trips but not on Columbia. I'm headed out solo in a month to rectify that omission and while thinking about it, I became curious whether I could sneak in a re-visit to KC or even Columbia if starting at S. Colony Lakes. I hadn't known there was a quasi-cairned route @ class 3-ish, so weather permitting, I might just follow your example here!
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