My number one goal for winter 2006 was to summit Kit Carson. Anyone wonder when my brain is returning from its Hawaiian vacation?
December 22nd, I made an attempt via the South Couloir. Right before taking off, Ken and Jean pull up to the trailhead. Even though they were taking a leisurely stroll up to their high camp, company sounded really appealing. Around 11:30am, I forged ahead but the shorter winter day required a turnaround at 13,560’. A vertical mile and no summit! Does that not seem fair to anyone else?
The sixteen days in between attempts became a slow, agonizing torture. Numerous events from the day were played over and over in my head like a personal carousel of nightmares. I finally caught a break after the New Year when Mike expressed interest in a trip. In short order, he decided to join me on Saturday.
Another long Friday drive to the San Luis Valley and a surprisingly comfortable night of sleep in the back of the truck brought me to 5:30am Saturday morning. At 6:16am, we were ready to go. The now familiar approach quickly brought us to the path into the canyon. Multiple stream crossings intermixed with log hopping(a warm-up) brought up to the burn area. This maze of fallen steeplechase barriers was easily crossed by a series of well-placed balance beams. All the while, the Prow held our eyes.
After a short break, we forged ahead into the final grouping of pines before treeline. Here we discovered some deeper snow and quickly became frustrated. The route between Kit Carson and Challenger Point started to draw our attention. Could it be climbed? From here it looked doable. Aware of the possible consequences, we trekked upwards towards the Prow’s west face.
The approach was enjoyable with mild scrambling and lessening snow levels. Soon, we reached the base of Kit Carson’s Southwest Face. Here we were tucked between the Prow and Challenger’s South Face and it was an awesome sight to behold. The wall started easily. We climbed class 3 conglomerate a couple hundred feet before traversing left. The increasing angle and exposure was exhilarating. All the while, we kept traversing towards the couloir between Challenger and Kit Carson.
The base of the couloir was reached at 13,000 feet. It looked like a mirror image of the South Couloir on Kit Carson’s opposite side. We discovered expected sugar snow and were left with no option but to continue up the steepening wall. Mike was a beast and started flying upwards, up the now class four rock. Unlike him, I was tiring and picked my way slowly through this rock maze, staying 100-150 feet below him. My spirits were lifted when he raised his arms in triumph to signal his arrival at 13,800 feet and Kit Carson Avenue. Quickening my pace, I arrived soon after.
Kit Carson Avenue was my major concern while climbing the Southwest Face. Despite my doubts, the southern aspects of snow free rock told me that is should be a passable route…..or we were adding 15 miles to the trip heading out via Willow Lake.
The avenue was all I had hoped for. A light covering of foot deep soft snow allowed us easy travel to the top of the Prow. Here I used my axe to break through a snowdrift to allow us a safe route forward. Then the Avenue started to descend…..........excuse me mountain gods, what is this nasty trick? Well, we’ve come too far for turning around and without ropes this technical rock to our lefts isn’t going to climb itself. Moving forward, the Avenue narrowed considerably but the snow conditions negated any major worries.
Not soon enough, the base of the final couloir was reached and we regained our upward progress. Only a few minor obstacles remained and soon Mike reappeared from around the corner with “Are you still planning to summit?”. Am I? Hell yeah! Rounding the corner myself, open air and light appeared just above me. Quickly scampering, I arrived on the summit of Kit Carson at 2:55pm. It was a lot later than expected, but that was just fine by me. The view of the Crestones is breathtaking.
Fifty minutes later, we began our descent towards the South Couloir. Light was now an issue and the Spanish Creek Drainage had to be obtained before sunset. Patches of rock were mixed with short snow crossings and soon we decided to don crampons. This proved to be the easiest method of travel and a speedy descent of the South Couloir soon followed.
We made it just in time as sunset occurred upon our arrival at treeline. The dark didn’t make travel through the burn area that enjoyable but it was nowhere near as bad as I would have imagined. After that, hiking out the dark canyon was swift and the vehicles were reached at 8:39pm.
It was a long day, 14 hours and 23 minutes to cover 12 miles, but it was well worth it. A winter summit of Kit Carson……that’s all I wanted.
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