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Kit Carson Peak

North Ridge
Difficulty Class 4 
Risk FactorsExposure: High
Rockfall Potential: Considerable  
Route-Finding: Considerable  
Commitment: High  
TrailheadWillow Creek
Start8,850 feet
Summit14,167 feet
Total Gain5,315 feet
RT Length11.4 miles
AuthorBrad Snider
Last UpdatedJan 2022
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Take Colorado 17 to the town of Moffat. On the south side of town, look for the sign for Crestone and turn east on the "RD T" road. Drive approx. 11.5 miles to Crestone. Continue straight and turn left on Alder Street. Drive through town a bit and turn right onto Galena. Follow Galena out of town and it turns to dirt. Now on Forest Service road #949, it's approx. 2 miles to the trailhead.


For a single day trip, start hiking EARLY! From the Willow Creek Trailhead follow the well-worn trail east toward Willow Lake. There are numerous switchbacks as the trail winds up through the valley, crosses over the creek and eventually arrives at the scenic Willow Lake. This is a great place to camp.

Find the easiest route around Willow Lake on its left (north) side and be sure to stay above the cliffs and waterfalls. From here the North Ridge of Kit Carson Peak is fully visible, as is the remainder of the one-mile approach through the valley - 1 and 2. 3 shows a profile of the ridge. Continue southeast and pass below the boulders and cliffs seen in 2. It is crucial to get past the cliff bands before continuing much higher. By either staying lower in the valley or passing between the boulders and cliff bands, hike all the way to the Outward Bound (OB) Couloir. When you hit the base of the OB couloir, turn right and ascend the rocks on the west side of OB - 4. The northeast face of Kit Carson ( 5) comes into view and the skyline is the north ridge.

Find the easiest route toward the north ridge. Some easy class 3 scrambling will lead up grassy ledges ( 6) and toward the northeast face. Gaining the ridge is this route's first crux ( 7). The terrain on the northeast face gets steeper and the class 4 climbing begins. The exposure here can be daunting for the uninitiated. Keep angling right as much as possible until coming to the obvious spine of the north ridge.

Once on the north ridge, enjoy an aesthetic, exposed climb the rest of the way to the summit. 8 shows one of the many steep class 4 sections that will be encountered. 9 gives a good idea of the clumpy conglomerate rock that makes up the entire route. 10 looks back down the first half of the climb, while 11 gives a good idea of the slope's angle in relation to neighboring Challenger Point. 12 shows the route's final crux: the steep pitch to gain the summit plateau. Note the exposure to the left. After that pitch, the angle relents and gives way to one final scramble and hike to the summit ( 13 and 14). Enjoy the hard-earned view, a portion of which is shown in 15.

For the descent, the best way to return to Willow Lake is via Kit Carson Avenue and over Challenger Point. Descending the Outward Bound Couloir is another option if you are carrying the appropriate gear. Going back down the north ridge would probably require a rope for at least one rappel.


This is a steep, exposed route up mostly solid rock. That being said, there is always the potential for rock-fall and a helmet should be worn at all times. A rope and climbing gear may not be a bad idea for this route, depending on the comfort level of the climber. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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