The Good PartAfter reading Andy’s excellent trip report from his climb of Kit Carson’s North Ridge, I decided that I definitely needed to climb that route. On July 31, 2005 we made what was probably the premier climb of the summer. If you don’t want to wade through the rest of this report, here’s a one sentence summary: climb the North Ridge, NOW!
To not belabor the unimportant details, we climbed up to Willow Lake on the evening of the 30th and made camp. The pack in was the usual, nothing special. There were terrible mosquitoes by the lake, but what’s new? We got ourselves packed for the morning and went to sleep on a calm and clear night. At daybreak, we were on the trail that climbs into the basin above the lake.
In my excitement, I completely forgot the route that Andy described to actually reach the North Ridge proper. My partners and I decided to contour beneath the massive boulders directly beneath the ridge and ascend some slabs closer to the Outward Bound Couloir. The slabs were fun, but the route-finding was more complex than expected. At one point, I managed to traverse out onto a featureless slab that was really frightening without rope and protection. A very ginger reversal of my moves got me back to where I started, but not without me first getting butterflies in my stomach. Not long after that route-finding mistake, we found our escape from the slabs – a ledge traverse to a fifth-class chimney. The chimney was about 15 feet high with tons of positive holds, but very steep, almost vertical. Later, we humbly rated it at 5.3, easy climbing but enough to command our attention. Regrettably, I forgot to snap a picture. The chimney led us out onto grassy slopes which we followed left toward the base of the ridge. The route-finding difficulties were over but our nerves were tested. If there’s one lesson to be learned here, it’s to get to the ridge the way Andy describes – our route wasn’t worth the hassle.
Once on the ridge, the climbing was spectacular. My only letdown was that it wasn’t twice as long. I don’t recall thinking once about the exposure because the climbing was so easy and fluid. As has often been said about Crestone rock, the biggest problem is choosing which perfect hold to use. As we climbed higher, the ridge became more defined. We tried to keep our line as close to the crest as possible. Toward the top, this became more difficult. We traversed a short distance onto the right-hand face and found a modest ledge to rest on. From our perch, we had a jaw-dropping view of the Willow Creek valley below us. After five minutes, we moved on, making quick work of the remaining hundred feet of ridge. Moments later, we crossed the catwalk and scrambled the few feet to Kit Carson’s summit. Our reward for a fine climb was a sunny morning view of Crestone Peak. After lounging for over a half hour on the windless summit, we began to descend the standard route on Kit Carson. At the base of the summit gully, my partners suggested we traverse to Columbia Point for a complete tour of the mountain. I countered with the idea of making haste to get down because the first signs of cumulus were beginning to show. My idea was dismissed, so I chose to part ways with them as they continued on to Columbia Point.
The Not-So-Good PartI ascended the up ramp of Kit Carson Avenue and met a few climbers at the crest who were about to start the final pitch of the Prow. They had been pretty amped for the climb, but in their haste they apparently forgot to research the descent route. I let them take a quick peak at my topo map and then I continued on to Challenger Point. I took a long enough break on the summit to radio over to my partners about their progress. I received a nervous response vaguely describing some “difficulties.” I wished them luck and began descending. By this time, about noon, the cloud bases were beginning to scrape by the tops of neighboring peaks. Trouble! I made a deliberately slow descent of Challenger, feeling thankful that I hadn’t ascended the tedious scree and endless grass slopes. Shortly before 2PM, I arrived back at camp and went into the tent to nap and hide from the mosquitoes. During the next hour, the sun said his goodbye and pea- to marble-sized hail begain raining down, accompanied by the occasional thunder clap. My partners were MIA, but there was nothing I could do for them. I rested fitfully, torn between the opposite emotions of fear for their safety and smug satisfaction for having told them this would happen. Around 3:30PM, just as the sun broke through the clouds, my partners straggled into camp looking considerably unhappy. Lesson learned? I doubt it.
We packed up camp in the brief window of good weather and marched down the trail in a second squall, this time rain. The sun returned toward the valley, making the air hot and humid. We got off the trail close to 6PM and headed for the nearest, cheapest steakhouse – Quincy’s in Buena Vista.
Boy did that story turn sour at the end. Such a disappointing ending to an awesome climb. But, the whole thing could’ve been avoided by not playing chicken with the weather. Don’t let that scare you. The North Ridge of Kit Carson is a spectacular climb in a great setting. I’d recommend it as a first route for a newcomer to 4th class climbing. Leave early, move quickly and don’t look down!