Kit Carson Peak
Via Upper S. Colony Lake TH
Saturday July 25, 2009
I took a PTO day Friday to partake in yet another attempt to reach the summit of this peak as it’s been somewhat of a nemesis for me over the last three years. No less than 3 failed attempts; twice from the Willow Creek side and once from the South Colony Lakes side. My fingers were very much crossed for this next adventure into the Sangre de Cristos.
I got all my gear ready and was on the road south out of Louisville at 9:05AM. The rush hour traffic was over and everything was moving OK as I proceeded south via route 36 to I-25. At Colo. Sprgs I picked-up Academy Blvd (route 115) around Ft Carson, to route 67, to route 96 through Silver Cliff, to route 69 out of Westcliffe. A few miles out of town I turned right on Colfax Lane and headed due west after the road turned to dirt and headed up into the San Isabel Nat Forest.
The S. Colony Lake TH road is a long, 4-wd, rocky, bumpy, humpy, rutted, cruddy road and the US Forest Service has indeed improved this road with rock crushers and bulldozers and is in the process of adding some campsites well below the first creek crossing. The USFS will be closing this road in the not too distant future somewhere around the Rainbow Trail or near the 1st creek crossing. It took just about an hour to go from Route 69 up this road to the second parking lot just after the last creek crossing.
Weather was great with plenty of sunshine and the parking lot was quite full but I managed to back in to a suitable, level spot. Temperatures were very comfortable and after a short while I had my fishing pole and daypack readied for yet another venture that I’d always wanted to do; trout fishing at Lower S. Colony Lake. I covered the 1.5 miles to the lake in about 30 mins and had a brief encounter with a full grown mountain goat right on the trail. We looked at each other and all I saw were those black eyes and black horns I now know what a matador feels like as I could have touched him with a red cape if I had one and my eyes must have appeared like saucers as he bolted by me as I side stepped and gave him the space to pass and not much more. I fumbled for my camera but the incident occurred much too fast to get the shot as the goat didn’t want any more to do with me than I did with him………and that’s OK by me; pretty wild and bit concerning.
Arriving at the lake; I rigged-up with a bubble and two Blue Wing Olive flies one 6” above the other approx. 20” behind the bubble. Bright sun and glass smooth water made the fish very visible and I’m certain the fish could see me as well. A couple of quick misses then nothing. I repositioned myself to the West side of the lake and a slight breeze now created a little surface chop and the fish started hitting right away. These fish were all cutthroats with remarkable, vibrant splashes of color; goldish-yellow with big dark spots and red underbellies with the unmistakable orange twin slashes under the throat. I caught and released a dozen or more before the clouds began to build and blocked-out the sun. The fishing went dead just that quickly but I had a good 30-40 mins of continuous action. My camera failed to do these fish justice but the fishing was superb and the scenery spectacular with Crestone Needle directly behind and Humboldt Peak right in front of me. Most excellent!!.......I was not the least bit disappointed as I hiked back to the TH as a rain shower passed through right around 4:30PM.
I chatted with a few people at the TH as more and more vehicles arrived right up to and after dark with some people packing-in and others setting-up camp right at the trailhead where there are a few clearings near the creek complete with fire rings. I made a nice dinner and settled-in for the night in the back of my recently acquired S-10 pick-up with camper shell at about 8:50PM
At around midnight I was awoken by another arriving vehicle that parked right along side and it sounded like a group of people pitching camp down by the creek right behind my truck. This went on for a good hour before they too finally bedded-down. The stars were blocked by partly cloudy skies as I finally dozed-off again. About 3:30AM I heard more people stirring making ready to pack in and I couldn’t fall back to sleep; I got up at 3:36 with bright stars overhead as the clouds had cleared-out and the temps were comfortable enough. I fired-up my single burner stove and prepared my normal breakfast fare of instant oatmeal, black coffee and a quart of Gatorade. The parking lot was totally full and lots of camps were set-up in the trees and along the creek. I was moving rather slowly and was still a bit tired as I made ready my pack, donned my headlamp and started up the trail at 4:50AM.
I passed through the gate and signed-in at the trail registry and started up the good trail where it then empties into a box canyon of sorts with tall peaks to the immediate left and in front with much taller peaks in the distance to the right including Crestone Needle rising tall above all else. The temperatures were very comfortable and the trail had a few spots where trees had been uprooted and the trail showed signs were detours around these spots made up the new route.
I hiked around and to the right where the trail moves through a brushy section and back into the forest, I continued with a creek running hard on the right and willows now on the left as I made my way to where I could see Lower S. Colony Lake directly ahead. After a short while I came to the sign for Crestone Needle standard route and at this junction the trails forked to the left and up through some more willows. Here there were other people camping and I spoke briefly to a few people heading up for Crestone Needle & Peak as I beared to the right and on up the right side of Lower S. Colony Lake. I stowed-away my headlamp and gained the high ground right and above Upper S. Colony Lake leading to the switchbacks taking me up to the saddle between Humboldt Peak and a high point connected to a very rocky ridgeline heading due West. The view from the saddle was quite a sight with Broken Hand Peak and pass on the left, Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak directly across, Humboldt Peak way up over my left shoulder, both S. Colony Lakes (upper & lower) down below; with the sun rising in the East offering a pinkish hue to the illuminated peaks with scattered clouds and blue skies overhead.
I headed directly up the high point and found a faint trail with an occasional cairn as I advanced up, over and through this broken ridgeline and after about 30 mins reached the down slope where the ridge ends and Bears Playground begins. Here the rocky ridge gives way to grass and staying up higher and to the right is the way to go versus heading down into the Playground itself. Crestone Peak can now be seen up and to the left and staying up on the grassy ridge to the right while re-gaining some altitude made for a good advance and a chance to catch my breath as I could see the next objective right ahead; to gain the summit of Kat Carson Peak (Columbia Pt). I soon found and followed some large cairns that lead the way across the grass and up and through a short rock rib section and along left of another ridge leading to short switchbacks up along the right of the mountain. You still cannot see Kit Carson as Kat Carson rises wide and blocks the view entirely. It wasn’t until I gained the summit that I could then see Kit Carson wide and high with several people already on top. I rested briefly and was not able to find a summit registry here. I took some photos and some food & drink and then made ready for the descent down the other side and over to Kit Carson.
I put on my helmet and started down over the West side and immediately got off too far left and found myself going down the wrong couloir as I couldn’t manage to find a trail leading to the traverse described in Roach’s’ book. I backtracked some and then kicked some steps in a short snowy couloir to get back where I belonged and spoke to a guy who had just come across from Kit Carson and got myself on the cairned “trail” leading down and over to the traverse. At this time three other guys were now there to do the same as they’d come over from Humboldt Peak. We then gathered as a group of four and trekked across some exposed class 3-4 sections to reach the very top of the Outbound Couloir still very much filled with snow. I recognized the section immediately from my failed attempt in June to gain the summit of Kit Carson via this couloir as the day got too warm and the snows became increasingly dangerous and not able to hold our crampons.
The four of us advanced another 200’ until we reached the gully leading up to the summit. After some steep climbing often on all fours we gained the gully and up and on to a rather small crowded summit at 10:55AM. I was glad I had found these three guys and making the traverse over with them made the route finding better and safer. The skies remained fairly clear and sunny with the views awesome with many 14’ers in the immediate vicinity and the Blanca Massif and Sand Dunes to the South.
Took in some food & drink, some more photos and visited with the summit occupants for about 12 mins when it was decided that the three guys I hiked up with would be heading over to Challenger Pt via Kit Carson avenue and I would be heading back over to Kat Carson and back from whence I’d come. We parted ways at 11:04AM and bid our a dues as we all headed back down the approach gully at the same time.
I made good progress back down to the Outbound Couloir and then started
the tedious traverse back over the class 3-4 sections and did OK with the route finding and was pleased to make the ascent back up to Kat Carson as another guy had just arrived from Crestone Peak. This person had managed to find the summit registry and I signed it as a “twofer” for the day before heading back down the trail and on to the rocky ridge. I lost my way somewhat and ended-up a bit too low and had a harder time traversing the rocks and getting back across the rock rib and on to the Bears Playground. I was getting pretty tired and some dark clouds were now starting to gather as I crossed the Playground and proceeded back to the rocky ridge up and over to the saddle for Humboldt Peak. My route finding suffered some more and made this crossing more painful and longer than it should have been. I was glad to gain the saddle once again and start the descent back down to the Colony Lakes. I was getting a little extra energy from the Skittles I pulled from my pocket as I went and continued to stay hydrated as best I could while the descent went slowly but surely back down to tree line above the lakes. After a short while the trail levels near the lakes and the gathering clouds were starting to block the sun and precipitation was definitely soon to follow.
Although fatigue was most certainly taking hold; on the more gradual descent I was able to pick up the pace some and get back down into the brushy sections heading back to the trailhead. The dark clouds above and the occasional rumble of thunder had me into my rain coat as the weather turned and relinquished rain soon turning to hail and as the time went by the hail got to be marble sized. I paused under some pine boughs and got some protection from the pelting I was taking after a while the hail stopped as the rains continued. The trail soon turned into a wet sometimes slick passage as I hiked back the last mile or so in the pouring rain reaching my truck at 4:00PM sharp.
The road back down to route 69 was a muddy mess and made the drive even worse although the rains had finally stopped. Again it took a solid hour to get back down and the numerous rain storms heading back to Louisville created havoc as a few cars hydroplaned right off the road on I-25 Northbound just before Castle Rock. A real “white-knuckler” most of the way home. Anyway……….all and all a good day as I’d conquered my nemesis and recorded my 44th 14’er………..Sweet!!