Some personal history- Jesse Ramos and I "discovered" the route on descent after summiting Kit Carson via Kit Carson Avenue and Challenger Point. I knew that Lou Dawson covered the route in his excellent Southern Rockies 14er Guide. I wasn't sure which one we were headed down. In retrospect Lou calls this North or O.B. "Outward Bound" Couloir. Due to its "Kitty" neighborhood and rubbly nature, I'm taking creative liscence and calling it the "Kat Litter Chute" in honor of those that have had the shame of weilding "the scoop."
This fine August after noon we were armed basically with tennis shoes a ski pole each to help secure our safe descent. With proper gear this route would be more tame.
Uberfit parties could pull this climb off in a very long day (read a 24hr. day) from Willow Lake TH. However a camp below the Lake is recommend; for the sake of time and for the sake of enjoying a setting I refer to as "little Hawaii of Colorado." The signature narrow falls dive off the horseshoe cliffband are worth the stout approach to the Lake. Camping within sight of the Lake is prohibited but is pleasant and close enough for a trip to paradise.
Route DescriptionFrom Lower Willow Lake traverse either the north or south side of the lake. Counter to most descriptions, the south side (aka lower north facing slopes of Challenger Peak) is more interesting for desceptively easy rock scrambling (bouns) and avoids much of the pantwetting willow bashing (double bonus).
Above the lake -and awesome falls- ascend the path of least resistance (and least willows) up the main drainage of Willow Basin past the obvious North Ridge of Kit Carson to 12,240'. Ascend right and south up the quickly steep shady and narrow couloir. The top gets very steep (my guess 50-55 degrees depending on snowpack and wind loading.) There are subtle rock/ ledges to the climbers right / north side of the upper couloir that may be used for muddy-chossy footing and quasi-sloping, not-very-solid but ice-free hand holds in late summer.
Top out the notch atop this kitty-littered couloir dividing Kit Carson and Challenger Point. Take the immediate right-hand ridge and scramble solid rock all the way to the summit. If time allows descend then traverse the airy but safe Kit Carson Avenue around to Columbia Point or gingerly descend the icy ascent route. Skis or a board for would be optimal for descent depending on season and conditions.
Essential GearIce axe(s) and crampons /sturdy (but not necessarily heavy) boots are highly recommended.
Bring light backpacking gear and take the time to enjoy the gorgeous area.
A light inflatable raft / pool toy would be fun for little Hawaii / Willow Lake.