I hadn't been above 12,500 feet in Colorado since running the Leadville 100 in mid-August and was seriously itching to get out and up. It had also been way too long since I made a solo trip anywhere and I was excited to get out alone once again. With a perfect weather forecast for the day after Thanksgiving, the guilt of eating too much on Thanksgiving weighing heavily on me :), and very low snow conditions in the Sangres, I decided on Mount Adams as my goal for the day.
Friday, November 25th
I had seen numerous recent reports on 14erWorld reporting ideal conditions in the Sangre de Cristos and the Sangres happen to be a relatively short drive from Northern New Mexico so I departed Los Alamos at 5:00am. The drive north was very smooth with very little traffic on the roads as I assumed everyone was at the 5am Wal-Mart shopping sprees likely getting trampled in the process. This thought made my solo trip to the mountains even more satisfying. I stopped at Sonic in Alamosa at 7:15am for a breakfast sandwich and continued my drive north to the town of Crestone and further to the South Crestone Trailhead (8,840') at 8:15am. I was the only one there. The temperature was 34F and the sky completely clear. I started up the numerous switchbacks on the Willow Lake approach that are encountered within the first mile of the trail and ascend smoothly but steeply up to a ridge. These switchbacks allow you to gain 1,000 vertical rather quickly. From there the trail cruised along a nice valley above a impressive meadow and then returns to switchbacks up to Willow Lake.
Looking up valley towards Willow Lake from about 9,900 feet.
I first encountered measurable snow around 10,400 feet but a few others had ventured through these 6 to 8 inches of snow previously so the trail was good to the lake. Passing through a few sections the temperature dropped to about 20F The lake looked awesome partially frozen over with the waterfalls at the eastern end completely frozen.
The frozen waterfalls flowing into Willow Lake.
Sitting on a rock outcropping above the lake, I warmed up in the sunlight and listened to the interesting creaking and sloshing sounds of the water and ice in the lake. It was a little after 11am and I was hungry. I figured it was high time to eat my turkey sandwich! The best part of Thanksgiving is the left over turkey for turkey sandwiches! The air was completely still and quiet and the sun warm--I was enjoying this snack break entirely too much. Alas, I needed to motivate so I got going again and starting my way north up the steep grassy slope. The slope was completely dry as it is south-facing. Once in the small basin south of Adams' west ridge, I encountered some more snow but nothing more than 8 inches with occasional drifts of 14 inches or so. From here I had a great view of Mount Adams' southwest face and the west ridge and it looked very dry. (Too dry for late November!)
Mount Adams' southwest face from the basin at 12,400'.
It was a quick cruise across the basin and up to the small saddle on Adams' west ridge at 12,900'. This saddle gave me a great view north down into the South Crestone Lake basin and it was a great view. On the ridge I marveled at just how gorgeous a day it was. There was no wind, no clouds and it was surprisingly warm. I could not believe how awesome a day it was! I hadn't had weather like this on a Colorado summit in so long I couldn't recall the last time. I couldn't wait to reach the summit and take a nap in these conditions. I ascended the west ridge staying on the south side for the most part and avoiding the rock scrambling on the ridge direct as I moved up. Near the top I skirted around the south side of the summit block to the southeast side (as per Roach) to find easy scrambling to the summit at 1:20pm. I was blown away by how clear the sky was and how calm the air was. Sitting still on the summit I listened to the silence of the calm air as I found a comfortable spot to lounge and eat a Hershey's chocolate bar. The north-facing aspects of the Crestones and Kit Carson/Challenger looked very rugged covered in a light blanket of snow yet looking north at the south-facing aspects, things looked dry and inviting.
(Left to right) 14ers Humboldt Peak, Crestone Needle, Crestone Peaks, Kit Carson Mountain and Challenger Point. (Click image for larger version)
I managed to actually nap for about 15 minutes before deciding to head over to Point 13,580 at 2:00pm. A short and mostly dry down scramble along the ridge to the southeast saw me to the summit of Pt. 13,580 at 2:40pm. The north face of Kit Carson Mountain seemed to be right in my face from this point! It was time to descend so I walked down the west face of Pt. 13,580 on decent-sized talus blocks protruding through the 8-10 inches of snow which went fairly well. I did find a nice snow-filled, wind-loaded and wind-packed gully where I could make good time plunge stepping for about 700 feet down to the small basin at 12,600' again. From the basin it was a steep but fast descent down the grassy slope to Willow Lake and then down on the good trail towards the vehicle again. A nice sunset unfolded as I neared the trailhead.
Sunset over the San Luis valley.
I arrived back at the trailhead at 5:00pm just as the sunset was wrapping up. On the 3.5 hour drive back home that night I thought about how well timed it was to have gotten out today. A good-sized storm was forecast to start making its way into the state the next day with snow favoring the southern mountains of Colorado. It was a perfect day.