[img:62251:alignleft:small:On The North Ridge]I woke up about 9:00am at my parents’ house in Denver. The night before I’d flown in from Portland, Oregon and drove straight to my parents’ house for a few hours of sleep. I had a nice breakfast, stopped by the grocery store for a few last minute items, and hit the road.
The drive down to Crestone was really nice. The traffic was minimal, I had the tunes blasting, and the scenery was gorgeous. South Park, the Arkansas River Valley, and the San Luis Valley are all just beautiful. After about four hours of driving I made my way through the little town of Crestone and parked at the Willow Lake Trailhead. I got the last parking spot in the lot. I tossed on my gear and headed up the trail.
It took me about three hours to reach the Summit Post camp above Willow Lake. Willow Lake was really cool and the waterfall was even more spectacular than I imagined. While I rested by the lake I saw a 15-inch Greenback swim by. I wished I had my fishing kit - maybe next time!
During the last hour or so of the hike the clouds had began to close in and I felt like it would be a real race to make it to camp and set up the tent before the storm began. When I made it camp I said hi to Alan and Jackie and they showed me a good spot to pitch my tent. I pitched my tent as fast as I could, put on my rain gear, and then grabbed my water filter and Nalgene bottles and hustled to filter some water. Just as I was finishing it started pouring. I finished filtering my water and then hustled back to the tent. By this time the rain was turning into hail and it was really coming down. I scrambled inside the tent and went to sleep.
I woke up an hour and a half later and the weather had subsided. Outside there were some piles of marble sized hail. I wandered around to say hi to the rest of the Summit Post crew: Aaron, Ellen, Vern, and Barry. After greeting everyone I fixed up some dinner and we chatted until it got dark and cold. The storm had dusted Kit Carson with a layer of hail/snow and Barry wasn’t sure if he’d be able to do the North Ridge as planned. There was a group of climbers camped not very far away who were planning on the North Ridge also. They were determined to do it and one climber among them had done it several times previously and thought the snow/hail wouldn’t be a problem. Barry decided to wait until the morning to make his decision. I was leaning toward the standard route, but I’d wait until the morning to make my final decision too.
We decided on a 5:30 start time so I set my alarm and went to bed.
I rolled out of bed at 5:00 and had a cup of hot cocoa while I got my stuff together. Alan, Jackie, Barry, and I got together at 5:30. Aaron and Ellen decided to sleep in a bit and catch up with us later. Barry said had decided to try the North Ridge and I decided to go with him. Barry and I set off up the valley and Alan and Jackie headed up Challenger Point’s north face.
The other group of climbers got a start about fifteen minutes after us. As we contoured below a cliff face on Kit Carson’s north face we could see the other group of climbers following behind us. They chose to stay in the valley floor and follow Willow Creek while we contoured along Kit Carson’s north face and weaved our way between a field of truck-sized boulders below us and a cliff band above us. I think staying low and following the creek was probably easier than what we did, but it was probably also wetter. Brushing against all the dew-covered grass and shrubs probably soaked their boots and pants while we were relatively dry scrambling through boulders.
As we passed underneath the cliff band and the North Ridge the group of climbers down in the valley gained on us significantly. We climbed up some gullies below the North Ridge as the other group climbed up a talus slope and we met on the grassy ledges at the beginning of the North Ridge. The guy in the other group who had climbed the North Ridge several times gave us a few bits of advice before we continued on: namely stick as close to the ridge proper as possible and stray to the right if needed, but don’t stray to the left.
For the next hundred feet or so we negotiated the steep grassy ledges. These were largely covered in a thin layer of hail/snow which made them tricky to climb. Soon we passed the grassy ledges and made our way onto solid rock. Barry did the route finding as we headed up.
The lower sections of North Ridge were not very sharp and it looked like you could find a route almost anywhere. However I got into trouble a couple of times so I decided to follow right behind Barry whose route finding was much better than mine. As we ascended the ridge sharpened and soon we narrowed our route to the ridge proper. From the top of the grassy ledges the climbing had been steady class 4. The rock was also wet in places from the melting hail/snow which made things extra tricky. Because of the wet rock we didn’t have much confidence in our footholds. I had to concentrate on every hand and foothold, making sure I had three good ones at any given moment. I did my best to keep up with Barry and follow his line, but several times I had to ask him do slow down and wait for me.
The ridge was unrelenting class-4 and there were very few places where I felt comfortable enough to stop and rest or to take a photo. The ridge itself was very steep and the exposure off to our left was incredible and the exposure off to our right was nothing to sneeze at either. After climbing for quite a while we passed a notch where we could rest, have a bit to eat, and snap a few photos.
After the notch we soldiered on. The steady class 4 climbing continued. There were several places where the hand and footholds were very tricky and I had to ask Barry’s advice on how to complete several moves. With Barry’s coaching I managed to make it over the more difficult sections. As we neared the summit the slope of the ridge quickly decreased and soon we popped out onto a near horizontal ridge. The exposure was exhilarating as we walked across the ridge to the summit. The group that head been following us up the ridge showed up right afterwards and we chatted on the summit for a few minutes while we snacked, snapped photos, and signed the summit registry. It was about 9:30am. This group decided to go on to Columbia Point (aka Kat Carson) and Barry decided to go with them. I didn’t think I had it in me and decided to wait for Alan. We had been in contact with Alan via two-way radio throughout the day and knew that he was somewhere between Kit Carson Avenue and the summit.
I watched Barry and the group set off for Columbia Point. During the past hour the clouds had really moved in. It started as a wisp of mist filtering in between Kit Carson and Columbia Point and gradually built. Now visibility was down to about a hundred feet. Soon Barry and group were out of site but I could hear them chattering amongst themselves. As I waited in the mist for Alan I heard many voices down below. Gradually people started to emerge from the mist. Three other people arrived on the summit before Alan showed up. He signed the summit log, tossed down a small snack, and then we set off down the mountain. The mounting clouds were a bit of a concern so we didn’t feel like killing any more time on the summit.
As we made our way down Kit Carson we almost missed Kit Carson Avenue. We had just passed Kit Carson Avenue and were still heading down the gully when we heard some voices above. When the hikers materialized out of the mist we asked them if they were on the avenue. They said they were and we climbed back up to and set off on the right track. It was a good thing that those people happened by or we might have spent a lot of time wandering around in the mist looking for Kit Carson Avenue. Alan and I huffed and puffed our way up Kit Carson Avenue until it made a right turn around a sharp corner and descended down to the saddle between Kit Carson and Challenger Point.
At this point the clouds cleared a bit and we had a good view of Challenger Point. After passing the saddle I angled up toward Challenger Point. Since Alan had already been on the summit earlier that day he took a more gradual rate of ascent as he contoured up Challenger’s north face and achieved the ridge about a hundred feet past the summit. I made the summit, took a photo of the plaque, and attempted to sign the summit log. It was a soggy mess and I couldn’t find a space to sign so I gave up and put it back. As I finished up a group of guys reached the summit of Challenger Point. They asked me about what to expect on their way to Kit Carson. I told ‘em what I could and then set out down the ridge. I met Alan and we continued the descent. The clouds began to roll back in and soon visibility was back down to only a couple hundred feet. The exposure down the south side of the ridge was incredible. The fact that you couldn’t see more than two hundred feet down due to the clouds made it seem even more impressive.
Soon we made it down the ridge to the top of a large gully. Alan and I opted to descend the gully instead of wrapping around the west end of the ridge via the standard route. The gully was steep dirt and loose rock but made for a relatively quick descent. However, this terrain really sapped my legs and by the time we were halfway down my legs were pretty tired. During the descent we met a couple of guys headed up. It was already 1:00pm and they probably had close to two hours of climbing just to reach Challenger Point. Pretty crazy. Alan and I were glad to be almost off the mountain, rather than just beginning. The last bit of the hike seemed to take forever but we finally arrived back at camp at about 1:30pm. It was pretty much eight hours round trip.
The Oklahoma/Texas contingent had decided to hike back down to their car this afternoon so I hung out and chatted with the group while Alan and Jackie packed up their stuff. After a while I felt like a nap so I laid down while Alan and Jackie finished packing and waited for Barry. Barry showed up a little later, packed up his stuff, and the Colorado contingent said goodbye as they headed down the trail. I didn’t envy them the long hike down to the car after already spending eight hours on the mountain. Frankly I was feeling really whipped myself. I hung out a little talking with Aaron, Ellen and Vern until the storm clouds finally closed in. We all retreated to our tents and then the skies let loose with a vengeance. Hail, rain, crashing thunder, and violent flashes of lighting bombarded us for more than an hour. However, it was nice to be snuggled in the tent while this went on. I wonder how many unfortunates had to experience this up on the Challenger Point ridge. That would not be fun! As it turns out Alan, Jackie, and Barry almost made it to the car without getting dumped on . . . but not quite. The got drenched in the last half mile of their hike out.
After the storm passed I got up and fixed dinner and chatted with Aaron, Ellen, and Vern. They were still considering going after Adams the next day but I had pretty much ruled it out. I was feeling really exhausted and I didn’t want to push it. I told them to wake me up in the morning before they headed out. After the sun went down the temperature began to drop rapidly and I got cold. I said my goodnights and retreated to the warmth and comfort of my sleeping bag.
Aaron woke me at about 8:00 saying that they were all packed up and headed back to the car. They had opted to forgo Adams because Vern’s feet were hurting him, Aaron’s back was hurting him, and they didn’t want to get caught in afternoon weather like the day before. I said goodbye and lazed in the tent for another our before dragging myself out at 9:00. When I stumbled out of the tent I found my tent covered with a layer of ice. It must have got quite chilly that night! Everyone who had been camping in the area had already departed and I had the valley to myself as I leisurely packed up my stuff.
I took my time making my way back to the car and arrived about 12:30. I piled into the car and drove up to Buena Vista where I went to the hamburger joint on the main drag (I forget the name but it may be K’s). They have great burgers, fries, and shakes. However when I pulled in there was huge line and tons of people milling about so I decided to pass it up and went to Seven-Eleven instead for a hotdog while I filled up the gas tank.
After that I drove down to my parents’ house in Denver for a shower and dinner. My parents’ had taped the network TV coverage of the Tour de France (which totally sucked) so I watched that with ‘em. I realize that the mainstream public doesn’t give a crap about the race except to get warm fuzzies over Lance Armstrong, but there is a lot more to the race than just Lance. For instance, it would have been nice if they’d said who won the frickin’ stage! Or who won the green jersey! In other cycling news that I missed over the weekend Tom Danielson smashed the Mount Evans record by over four minutes. That guy is an animal and I hope to hear big things from him in the future. Anywho, after catching up on the cycling news I left Denver and picked up the wife at the airport on the way back up to Fort Collins.
It had been a long, fun weekend. If you count Challenger Point, that makes thirteen fourteeners for me.