Aug 26, 27 2005
Challenger Pt (14081') - CO Rank 34
Kit Carson Mtn (14165') - CO Rank 23
CMC Basic Mountaineering Seminar Grad Climb
11.6 miles RT, 6300' gain
via West ridge
Participants: Joe Preiss (CMC instructor), Peggy Stafsholt, Jenni & Kevin Baker
Basic Mountaineering School (BMS) is a series of 5 different courses offered by the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) which varies depending on what section of the club you enroll with. The C. Springs section offers classes in the basics of backpacking, orienteering, rock climbing, ice climbing, and snow travel. These classes culminate in a "graduation" climb coordinated by the students. This year the C. Springs section only had 4 members eligible for the climb, so I came up with Challenger/Kit Carson as an interesting climb. The difficulties of this climb are no worse than class 3 with a little bit of routefinding, but I have read some reports of where people have gotten into some trouble. Our instructor Joe Preiss wanted to keep the climbing at class 3, so after a couple months of planning and getting our schedules in synch, the stage was set for the hike.
Since Peggy, Jenni, and I could not leave C. Springs until late afternoon, we did not arrive at the trailhead just outside of the weird town of Crestone until around 6:45 Friday. Our instructor Joe was waiting for us, so we strapped on our overnight packs and began what turned out to be a long grind to Willow Lake. We left at 7:10 with temps probably in the upper 70's. The weather throughout the evening was very warm as I hiked in a tank top for the duration. The backpack in is a steep climb of 2,800 feet in 3.7 miles to pristine Willow Lake, nestled in a basin at 11500'. Within an hour, we donned our headlamps and plodded slowly up the endless switchbacks. I never do a good job of packing efficiently for a backpack since I haven't done it much. We only had one routefinding snafu in the dark missing a turn at a stream crossing. We arrived at Willow Lake at the late hour of 11:15 and quickly setup up camp unknowingly only 2 feet from the shore. We couldn't even see the water! I guess we flunked that part of the climb. At one point in the night I heard what sounded like a large animal lapping up the water. I thought it could be a bear because it was drinking for a long time, but it turned out to be just the water lapping against a log. It's funny the things you dream up in the woods!
Jenni and I as expected did not get much sleep camping at 11500', but we were thankful for a peaceful night with no rain. 5:15 came pretty early and we were on the trail at 6:10 after filtering some water. We found the trail which climbs the benches on the north side of the lake and tops out above a beautiful waterfall. It is truly a privilege to visit such a pristine place! The trail then crosses Falls Creek and cairns lead the way to the dreaded gully climb to the n.w. ridge of Challenger Point. At this point, clouds were already beginning to form early in the morning, so I was concerned what the day would hold. The 2000 foot climb was straightforward in terms of route finding as there was sort of a trail on the right side of the snow, but the rock was a lot looser than I anticipated. It was evident that Jenni was quickly not enjoying herself as she likes to be on smooth class 1 trail. I set the pace early on but then Peggy let the way so I could wait up for Jenni. We donned helmets near the top as occassionally one of us would knock a rock loose. We finally topped out at 13700' along the n.w. ridge of Challenger after 2 hours of steep climbing, then followed the ridge to the summit of Challenger Point, which is ranked by some and not by others. It is basically a sub-peak of Kit Carson Mountain, named in honor of the space shuttle Challenger victims. Jenni and I arrived at 9:30, staying for all of 10 minutes as it began to snow.
Peggy asked me if I thought we should continue on since we as "students" were making the decisions. I was comfortable to turn around but told her I would have to come back up Sunday to do Kit Carson. With those words, we decided to press on as the clouds were snow snower clouds with no vertical development. As we started heading over to Kit Carson, the snow quit and conditions improved. If the weather worsened past the saddle, we would take shelter. The rest of the climb to Kit Carson was enjoyable as we followed the easy to distinguish "avenue" ledge which was more like a wide shelf road carved into the face.
Peggy and Joe began to climb a steep gully heading to the summit until some people coming down told them the standard route was around the corner. This gully was a little looser but less steep. We saw a few parties going up/down the sketchy terrain of top 100 Columbia Pt. I was hoping we all could head over to it as well, but nobody else showed much interest and the weather was still iffy. I chose a line direct to the ridge, then followed it left to the summit, arriving at 11am. Jenni topped out a few minutes later as it began to snow again. We ate a quick snack, soaked up what views we had, and headed back down at 11:20, knowing we would be exposed to the weather for quite awhile.
I plotted a waypoint in my GPS at the corner where we were to find the avenue again so that we would not miss it. I had read reports of people getting in trouble in the cliffs below by overshooting this key point. Here the weather improved again, so we sat down and had a snack. Here we met my friend Patrick Thornley, who was doing these as a dayhike, starting around 6am. He did the stretch to the lake in a little over 2 hours, so I would probably dayhike these with an alpine start if you don't have time to hang around. The hike back up the avenue and over Challenger started to take its toll on all of us, but our 2nd visit of Challenger was more relaxing as the weather continued to hold.
We left Challenger at 1:08, not looking forward to the descent down the loose gully. About halfway down the gully, Jenni hopped on her knee wrong and tweaked it, so slow progress was made the rest of the way. I stayed with Jenni while Joe and Peggy headed back to camp as we started getting hammered by graupel. Fortunantly there was no lightening that I could see, but it did make the rocks very slick. This terrain reaffirmed in Jenni's mind that she would never do a tough climb with me again. She just doesn't like messing with loose stuff. At 4:30, I finally rolled into camp. Pat had caught up with us and hiked with Jenni around the lake so I could break camp. After an hour, all of us except Joe headed down so we could be home for Sunday. Jenni and I made slow progress, finally arriving at the trailhead at 8:50. I was too lazy to look for our 2nd headlamp, so the last half hour I played the guessing game at where to step on the trail. It was near pitch black as we finished with no moon. A long climb but two rewarding peaks indeed!