- Date: August 21, 2022
- Partner: Ross Bricklemyer
- Height: 14,167 feet
- Range: Sangre de Cristo
- Route: Via Challenger Point (Easy Class 3)
- Overall Distance: 13 miles
- Elevation Gain: 6,250 feet (car to summit)
- 14ers climbed: 43 separate climbs
- 14ers remaining: 10
- Road Condition to Trailhead: Please see Challenger Point, 2020.
I had a late start for 14ers this year due to a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, I was able to make a trip out to Colorado and head into the mountains with my good friend Ross Bricklemyer. Ross and I hiked the Appalachian Trail together (Class of 2005) and the last several years we had talked many times about joining forces again to do a 14er. This was to be his first one. Fortunately, our calendars aligned and we decided to just do it. After going back and forth for several days about which one to do, we ultimately settled on Kit Carson Peak.
We separately flew to Denver on Friday, August 19 and met at the airport late afternoon. We rented an SUV and headed out on our drive. By the time we got groceries and had dinner, it was late into the evening before we got to our motel in Poncha Springs. The next morning, after some terrific coffee and muffins at The FlaminGo truck, we continued south to Crestone. I’d say we pulled into the Willow Creek Trailhead slightly before lunch.
This hike retraces the one I did a couple of years ago for Challenger Point. Hence, I will dispense with going over it a second time. Suffice it say that the battle plan was exactly the same; that is, get to Willow Lake via the Willow Creek approach and camp for the night. Ross and I did really well for a couple of flatlanders and arrived at the lake with plenty of daylight to spare. By then, lots of dark clouds had rolled in with a few occasional sprinkles. We chatted a bit after dinner and then I settled into my quilt in my tarp tent to get some sleep.
We were up well before dawn the next morning and followed the standard route up Challenger Point, i.e., the North Slope. Kit Carson Peak is actually only 1.5 miles across a saddle from Challenger Point. However, because I am climbing each 14er separately by the the 3,000′ rule and not shortcutting ascents, and the standard route for Kit Carson Peak goes up and over Challenger Point, I had to climb the latter a second time. It was just as steep and filled with loose rocks as I remembered it 🙂 Near the gully up toward the notch, we ran into two nice guys — Logan Brannigan and Jean Cote. So nice, in fact, that we ended up hiking with them the entire day.
What I will describe here starts from Challenger Point. From here, the trail dropped down a few hundred feet to a saddle. [Caution: it is easy to get off route in this terrain so be careful; there have been fatalities here, including an experienced climber the month before our climb. Pay attention and note your surroundings so that you can exactly retrace your steps for the return trip to Challenger Point.] The goal is to get onto a famous Class 2 ledge known as Kit Carson Avenue. The ledge wraps itself around the south side of the mountain, with a few ups and downs, before stopping at a large rock rib. At this point, you’ll make a hard left and head up the crux of the climb, steep Class 3 terrain for roughly 400-to-500 feet, before topping out on a narrow band of a summit.
I was so happy to see Ross, my “brother from another mother”, get to the top of this mountain. The views of Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak across the cloud-drenched valley, two serious 14ers I have yet to do, were world-class. The experience was made all the better enjoying the day with Logan and Jean. Ross and I were pushed and pleasantly tired, but not wiped out by the time we made it back to the car (n.b., I breathed a sigh of relief because I had promised Ross’ wife Alicia prior to the trip that her husband would return to St. Louis alive and in one piece 😀). In fact, we drove to just south of Denver (4 hours away) and got a hotel that night so that we would have an easy trip back to our homes the next morning.
Kit Carson Peak is a solid 5 on a 1-to-10 scale of 14er difficulty due to the length of the route and total vertical ascent. It will be either a long day of climbing from the trailhead or two days with a night of camping. Be sure to load up with water at Willow Lake (bring a pump) before tackling the lion’s share of the route. Safe climbing to all of you and I will hopefully see YOU out in the mountains sometime soon.