Friday, September 07, 2007

Summit challenge

(photo from
If you're new to the 14er lineup, here's what Dave calls an "extra credit" credit climb:

Oh, and beware if you're planning to head out this weekend. Some folks are predicting snow above treeline. Take appropriate gear, and let someone know where you're hiking and when you should return.

Extra Credit: Challenger and Kit Carson peaks

A personal favorite, two great peaks with that offer an astounding amount of exposure. This hike requires airy scrambling and route finding. Additional route information and photos are available at

TO GET THERE: From the town of Crestone in the San Luis Valley, turn right onto Galena Street. Road climbs into dry, shrubby hills for just over 2 miles. There is a parking area at the National Forest boundary. After that, the road requires an SUV.

THE HIKE: From the trailhead, go a few yards up and take a right across 2 small streams on the Willow Creek Trail. Follow the clear trail 1.25 miles through a series of switchbacks. The trail climbs into the stunning Willow Creek basin and gradually climbs east 2.5 miles to Willow Lakes.

There are many social trails near the lake. From the west end of the lake, the main trail skirts the north side, then climbs up through a talus slope to the top of a prominent waterfall.

Follow Challenger Point - Route #1 to the summit of Challenger.
From Challenger, you can't miss Kit Carson. Hike east down to the saddle (more of a notch) between Challenger and Kit Carson (13,790'). When you reach the saddle, climb up onto a large ledge that runs south along the side of the peak. This Class 2 ledge system that traverses around Kit Carson is often called "Kit Carson Avenue."

Continue up the ledge to reach a small saddle between Kit Carson and a large fin called The Prow. The elevation here is about 13,950'.

From here you can see the next part of the hike - a longer section of KC Avenue that descends east. This ledge is much longer than the one that came up from the Challenger side. Follow this easy ledge down to about 13,700' near its end.

Look left for a large, shallow gully up to the left (northwest). From the ledge, you may see cairns up on the rocks that show the way into the gully before you reach the lower portion of the ledge. From here, it's about 450' to the summit.

Climb onto the rocks to enter the gully. If the terrain seems steep, you may have left the ledge too early. The gully is not difficult or technical if you stay on the standard route near the middle. It requires occasional easy Class 3 scrambling and a bit of route-finding, but mostly it’s just difficult Class 2 hiking.

Look for brief trail sections and small cairns as you take the easiest path up through the center. Near 14,000', the gully opens up and the summit is up to the left. Continue up the gully to reach the north end of the summit ridge (near 14,090') or angle left to hit the ridge closer to the summit.

Once you reach the summit ridge, turn left and hike south to the summit.

Among the notes: You'll need a couple of hours to climb to the Kit Carson summit and return to Challenger. Plan accordingly. Some recommend camping below Willow Lake.

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