Challenger Point 14,081 & Kit Carson Peak 14,165

Today I wanted elevation gain.  This is most likely the last change I’ll get
to hike a 14er this year (I promised my mom no more hiking alone between
Nov-May) so I wanted to go out with a bang.
Weather was pretty stable across Colorado today, but there was a
prescribed burn scheduled in the Shav/Tab area that was affecting air quality
in the Colligate Peak area, so that excluded a bunch of 14ers.  I couldn’t find any recent trip reports (etc.
) on Challenger Point and Kit Carson, but I’d attempted them a few weeks ago
and hadn’t heard of any snow in the area since, so I decided to attempt them
again, knowing if I failed (again) at least I’d get in some elevation gain.

I remembered thinking last time I hiked Willow Creek trail I’d
wished I’d started at 3 or 4am, instead of 6am.
It really is an early trail.  So I
woke up at midnight and made it to the trailhead at 4am.  I’m not going to post info about the Willow Creek
trail because I’ve done it before (TH and Trail info here:  

No one had signed the trail register for days, but the last
entry (10-24-2017) stated Kit Carson was socked in.  I mentally prepared myself not to summit Kit
Carson, but I’d take a look at it just in case (a lot could happen in 5 days!)

I was on the trail at 4:15am, and made it to the lake at
6:00am:  It was still dark!  Oh no!
I’d hiked 4.25 miles in less than 2 hours!  Lat time it took me longer, and I couldn’t
help but think maybe it was due to route finding?  Either that or I wanted to get a jump start
on that elevation gain.   In any event, I
circled the lake in the dark.  About
halfway up the ridge I heard a loud TWANG!
It startled me, as it echoed throughout the canyon.   The
sound was unique, but I’d heard it before when my cousins and I used to throw
rocks on a frozen pond.  The lake must be
frozen!  I bet a pretty big rock/icicle
fell and hit the ice!

I continued on in the darkness, hiking slow to allow the sun
to rise.  Just after I passed the willows
I was able to turn off my flashlight.  I’d
timed this perfectly!  Oh, and the
weather was great!  MUCH BETTER than the
last time I was in the area.  No wind to
speak of this time, but unfortunately, it looked like it had snowed

Take a look at the mountain before me:

In any event, there was no wind, and I could see a lot of
snow-free area, so I decided to make a go for it.  I couldn’t help but think to myself, as I was
halfway up Challenger Point, what a great decision it had been to hike this
mountain today!  The trail was pretty
much free of snow, it was warm, and there wasn’t any wind.  Very cool!

Unfortunately, I spoke too soon.  When I’d made it about three quarters of the
way up the mountain I ran into trouble.  The
snow up here was covering every single avenue I had to make it to the
summit!  I could totally see where I had
to go, but the path was covered in 5-6 feet of snow and there were no
footprints/tracks from pervious hikers to follow.  I kept trying to find a snow-free route to
make it to the ridge, but it just wasn’t happening.  I had microspikes, but they were no good:  I’d hike out about 8 steps or so on snow that
gave me traction, then all of the sudden, ice skates.  Of course I backtracked when this happened.

There were a few boulders I felt I could safely climb up and
over, but I did not feel comfortable climbing back down those boulders.  I need an exit strategy when I climb, and I
wasn’t getting one with these rocks (so I didn’t even attempt it).  

I was seriously getting frustrated, traversing in circles
trying to find a safe way around these boulders/snow.  Have I mentioned I hate gullies?  However, I didn’t have evening plans tonight
and it was a really nice day.  I had
plenty of time to figure this problem out.
I obviously didn’t have the gear I needed for this climb (Crampons and
an Ice Pick/Axe), but I really wanted to summit (safely).  The snow wasn’t really that bad, I just
couldn’t get traction anywhere.  I looked
around and thought for a bit.  Most of
the soft snow was by the boulders.  How
could I use this to my advantage?

I decided to hug the boulders, and make stairs with the soft
snow at their base and around their sides.
I’d be able to hold onto the grips in the rock on my way up and down,
giving me stability.  This took quite a
bit of effort, but I needed to make sure I’d be able to climb back down after
climbing up.  Several times I stopped to
make sure these stairs “worked” in steep areas.
Success!  It was slow going, but
eventually I made it to the ridge!

I was so glad there wasn’t much wind today!  The ridge wasn’t very wide, but only half
covered with snow, so it was easily navigable.

I made it to Challenger Point at 9:15am.  Here’s proof of summit:

And a 360 degree video.

Challenger Point was named in memory of the Challenger Space
shuttle, and there’s a plaque there to commemorate it.

OK, now I looked over at Kit Carson Peak.  It did indeed look like The Avenue was full
of snow, but if I’ve learned anything from Mountaineering, everything looks
different up close.  I decided to hike
over and take a look.  The worse that
could happen would be I’d have to come back for Kit Carson another day, but re-summit
Challenger Point today (which would give me more elevation gain!  Woot!).

I couldn’t take the traditional route down Challenger to Kit
Carson because of that darn snow.  It was
really hard packed and slippery there.
Luckily however, the ridge was pretty dry, so I just followed that

When I reached the small saddle between Challenger and Kit
Carson I could see the Avenue was indeed full of snow, but navigable.  And, an added plus:  The snow as soft!  I’d be able to get traction!  I was on my way.  

All I have to say about Kit Carson Peak, even with the snow,
was that it was SO MUCH EASIER than Challenger Point!  It was very straightforward, had lots of
cairns, and was easy to follow.  

I made it up Kit Carson at 10:15am.  Here’s picture proof I summited

And a 360 degree view

I was fully aware at this point I was only halfway done with
my hike.  I now had to hike back over Challenger
point and back down the mountain.  

Oh, this sign says:  Danger:  Lose Rocks.
Many people have died

Hiking back down proved a challenge, but I’m proud to say my
stairs worked!  A few times I needed to
glissade a very short distance (less than 10 feet) to make it to a safe area,
but otherwise it was a success!  Very
slow going, as I didn’t want to slip and fall, but a success nonetheless.  The entire hike down to the basin seemed to
take forever!  Have I mentioned I hate

I made it back down and crossed the lake, this time in the
daylight. I could see where a piece of ice had broken off in the lake, and
heard another large rock drop!  The lake
was indeed iced over, but not completely frozen.

On the way back down to the TH I thought about how
Challenger Point is a Difficult Class 2, but Kit Carson Peak is an Easy Class
3.  But that was totally reversed when
snow was added into the mix!  Challenger
Point was much, much harder for me today than Kit Carson Peak. In fact, it was
the hardest 14er I’ve done so far, even though it technically shouldn’t
be.  It’s amazing what ice and snow will
do to a climb!  But I got in that
elevation gain, so I’m happy!

Side note:  I didn’t see anyone else on the mountain at all today?  I was the only vehicle at the trailhead when I got there and when I left…

Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

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