Thursday, May 3, 2012

Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak 4/24/2012

Total Mileage: about 13 miles
Total Elevation Gained: about 6300 feet
Starting Point: Willow Creek Trailhead
Party: solo
Time: 12.5 hours

Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak right before sunset from the road out.
I started this trip with the intention of spending two days hiking while my wife and daughter were out of town and I had work off. I left Colorado Springs around 3:15am and was making great time to the first trailhead on my list. At around 5:00 am I was about 2 miles west of Salida, CO when a deer decided to jump in front of my car. I will tell you that the deer was pregnant. I will not tell you how I know that. Suffice it to say that my car sustained some significant damage that would limit my adventure to one day only. I would need to use my extra day off to report the claim to my insurance and deliver my vehicle to begin repairing it.

Not the best photo but this was at the trailhead as I started off.
Once I discovered my car to be operable I thought it senseless to not continue with my plans for the day. The only internal damage done was a leak to the power steering fluid. It was a beautiful morning contrasted by a very rough start. I arrived at the trailhead and made my preparations to begin.

First light on the mountains. The red dot indicates my first destination. The headwall that leads to Willow Lake.
So pensive!

A clearer view of the headwall with the red dot marking the same place as the previous picture

In light of the early morning's events I found it eery that I have never seen more deer on a hike than this day.

Getting closer to the headwall which is at about 11,300 feet and a mile and a half or so from where this was taken. 
I didn't really encounter any snow until I reached the headwall. And even then it was not significant until well above 12,000 feet. I had my snowshoes with me but never used them. I never found it necessary. I felt like I was pretty speedy up until this point. My tendency is to go too fast initially I think. I find myself hiking about 2 miles per hour under 12,000 feet and slowing to about 1 mile per hour above.

I finally reached the headwall and started to get some the sun that was previously blocked.

My car is parked about 1.5 miles past the clearing you see. This was taken at the headwall previously shown. 

Just above the headwall where snow began to be more significant. Looking back.
The snow covered the exact trail for a bit but I quickly picked it up again. Willow Lake is about 3/4 mile from the top of the headwall and I felt like it went quickly. If you like waterfalls then this hike is for you. There were a lot of them.

Willow Lake is just above this waterfall.

First glimpse of the Lake through the trees. Frozen waterfalls trying their best to stay that way.

Coolest lake I've ever been to in the alpine. The route takes you on top of the cliffs you see bordering the far end of the lake. 

So awesome.

From the top of the cliffs I was able to take a long break. I ditched my snowshoes and found the stream dumping into Willow Lake. I purified 2 liters of water and began to think about the next part of this hike. I decided to leave my pack behind to make it easier on myself. I brought a liter of water and filled my cargo pockets with fruit snacks, energy gu, and my cell phone and wallet. I put on my microspikes and some gloves and headed up. A parting shot of the lake.

I threw a rock. The ice didn't break.

Kit Carson Peak 14,165 feet.
All I will say is that the hike up to Challenger (not visible above) was very tough. The snow was a bit unstable and good traction was hard to come by. It took me 3.5 hours to get to where I dropped my pack. It would be 5.5 hours until I would be back at my pack. I took frequent breaks and began to realize I needed to ration my water. I reached the top of a notch which was about 13,900 feet and could finally see Challenger and Kit Carson together.

Challenger on the right and Kit Carson on left.

Taken from the summit of Challenger.

Challenger Point 14,081 feet! Crestone Peak in the distance.
The above picture was taken in the only direction where blue sky was visible. It seemed to be raining in every direction and location except where I was. So I didn't stay on Challenger very long. I stayed on top for maybe 5 minutes and I was off to get Kit Carson Peak next. I would need to drop 200 feet, climb 100, drop another 200 and finally climb the final 400 feet to get to the top. The route follows a ledge system that is commonly referred to as Kit Carson Avenue. At this time of year that ledge system retains a bit of snow and ice on it. Makes it a little more technical but I never felt unsafe in the least bit.

Coming down Challenger this is the beginning portion of The Avenue.
From the Avenue looking back on Challenger. A human can be seen on top of Challenger. 

The snow got steep in some places and sometimes I had to travel just below the Avenue to find solid rock. About 90 minutes after topping out on Challenger I reached the top of Kit Carson Peak.

2nd summit of the day!

Humboldt Peak on far left and Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle on far right. 

Looking back down on Challenger Point

Looking way down to Willow Lake and figuring out how to get back down there. The frozen waterfalls are barely visible.
 The way down turned out to be quick and easy. I didn't have my ice axe with me so I didn't feel good about glissading without a way to self arrest. From the saddle between Challenger and Kit Carson I plunged stepped through the snow down the Kirk Couloir. This a narrow chute that would lead me back to Willow Lake. It was pretty steep but the snow was perfect for it. At times the plunge stepping would evolve to short glissades that I would stand up from pretty quickly to resume the plunge stepping once again.

Before I knew it I was back at Willow Lake and reunited with my backpack and stashed snowshoes. I took some time to filter some water from the stream and packed up to head on out. The way out was pretty clear with the trail disappearing at moments from the remaining snow. I always picked it up again shortly. I ran into some campers just below Willow Lake. Chatted with them for about 5 minutes and I wouldn't stop again until the car about 4 miles down trail from the lake.

My prayers were answered when my car started up just fine and was mechanically sound. Minus the power steering which was an annoyance but an acceptable loss all in all. The damage to my car would be about 6K and 1 week in the shop to repair. Luckily, insurance companies consider this like an act-of-God and all I had to pay was my $500 deductible plus the cost of a rental for a week (about $100). Given the days events, a second day of hiking would have to be passed up. Still a great hike and a beautiful area to have explored.

No comments:

Post a Comment