Intro/StatsKit Carson Mtn (14165')
Via Spanish Creek/Cole's Couloir
March 31, 2012
10 miles RT, 6000' gain
Participants: Terri Horvath, Ken Nolan, Dwight Sunwall, & Kevin Baker
The dry winter in Colorado has continued into spring, and with that it means that the couloir season is going to be early and short unless things change. I posted an invite for a couloir climb, and Ken lured me into joining him for a new grid slot on Kit Carson via Cole's Couloir (south). The bad thing about this climb is you have to go up the rugged Spanish Creek drainage. I had been up it for a winter climb of Kit Carson a couple years ago, and it was no picnic! It's a tiresome battle up an ill defined trail straddling a full mile of downed trees. Surely it couldn't be too bad after a dry winter with a day pack. Guess there's only one way to find out!
Dwight and Terri sign up for the festivities, and we all car camp Friday evening at the N. Crestone campground. We consolidate into two cars Sat morning and park a bit south of the trailhead as one must navigate around the Ashram temple in the area. We set out at 5:30am in stealth mode and bushwacked n.e. to join the trail near the forest boundary. The trail is rugged from the get go, as there is fallen timber all over the place to weave around. We had 5-6 stream crossings to navigate in the dark as well, but luckily it wasn't flowing too hard.
The Road Less Traveled
Ken led the way and we made steady progress up the dry trail to the burn area at around 10500 feet. The next mile is a test of your navigation skills and balance as the deadfall is pretty tedious. It is decently cairned though, and we were able to stay on track.
The Kit Carson Massif pops into view:
The trail was dry until we entered the trees at around 11200 feet. I was tempted to cache my snowshoes after seeing how dry the south facing slopes of the drainage were, but Ken being the wise man that he is thought that we could be in for some wallowing near treeline.
In the land of the pixie sticks:
As expected, we ran into some rotten snow in the trees, but we were able to take advantage of some dry slabs and clawed our way up them in snowshoes to avoid wallowing in the snow. We eventually popped out of the trees for good at around 11700 feet and cached our snowshoes there as the rest of the approach to the couloir was dry. Hard to believe this is late March conditions. It's more like June!
I must say the views in this drainage are better than the Willow Lake side as Crestone Peak towers above on the south side while the Kit Carson massif dominates the skyline to the north.
Seldom seen perspective of Crestone Peak:
Somewhere in the middle of the south face lies a reclusive couloir that goes all the way to the Kit Carson/Columbia Point saddle. On my first trip to this drainage, we climbed the rib just left of the couloir as the couloir looked pretty loaded. This time it looked like it might be in great shape!
We made our way northeast, climbing a loose gully that brought us to the grassy flanks below the south face. We took a break at our entry point to the couloir at around 12700 feet. The couloir is not very steep and although I didn't measure it, it probably never got steeper than 40 degrees. It starts out pretty tight with a steeper section about halfway up. The walls around you make the climb very enjoyable and scenic.
The lower portion:
Terri and I went with an axe and one pole, while Ken and Dwight just went up it with trekking poles. The snow was perfect for efficient crampon work as there were small suncups to help out with kicking steps.
We soon were nearing the top of the couloir and elected to exit left a couple hundred feet below the saddle on snowfields that would lead us a good way to the northeast ridge. Exiting the couloir was probably the steepest section of the day, maybe a bit over 40 degrees. I stayed on the snow as high as I could, but after awhile it was more efficient to just take off the crampons and jump on the summer trail.
What a view!
Nearing the n.e. ridge:
I think we popped out on the ridge a bit right of the trail and had to drop back off on the left side and kick steps across the softening snow to avoid a little cornice section that didn't look too good on the ridge. As I crested the ridge again, I heard voices in the Kirk Couloir. It must be Caroline Moore and Bill Middlebrook! I knew they were planning on skiing the Kirk that day, but didn't think we would cross paths. I gave out a summit yell even though I hadn't quite made it yet to get their attention and we were able to carry on a conversation across the north face! They were just cresting the saddle when I spotted them.
We enjoyed a long break on the summit, soaking in the amazing views down to the Crestones. I never get tired of it!
This was Ken's first spring grid slot on Kit Carson, and he was pretty stoked. It's been a great year so far to knock off 14er grid slots! We stayed long enough to see Caroline and Bill top out on Challenger, but our summit hoots to them got swallowed up by the wind.
The descent turned out to be a bit problematic in the couloir as the warm day was beginning to do a number on the snow. We weren't concerned about a wet slide as the snow felt pretty consolidated, but there was enough brown snow that we started postholing miserably. The name of the game was to look for the clean snow as it was more firm! We ended up slowly glissading down some sections and finally got back down. You can always tell when Ken postholes because he lets out a big yelp! It was pretty comical to look up the couloir and see who would be the next victim of a trap door.
Nice view in the couloir:
I wasn't looking forward to the slog back down the maze of pixie sticks, but it wasn't near as bad as slogging down that with a winter pack on. I decided to head down earlier so I could get home sooner. The postholing in the trees was annoying. I tried sticking close to the slabs in the shallower snow, and it wasn't as bad as I feared. It did require a few controlled slides down slabs on snowshoes, which can be interesting! The one mile pixie stick traverse went without incident. It does test your routefinding skills as it is very easy to lose the trail. The stream crossings seemed a lot easier on the way down after all the balancing we had to do and I was back at the trailhead at around 6:15. This couloir is a nice, moderate climb that brings a lot of aesthetic charm, but one must pay the price to enjoy this reclusive beauty! Until next time, Kit Carson!
Parting shot in the land of the pixie sticks: