by Michael Tillotson
Tuesday, April 3, 2012, 12:02pm
I'm finally getting this post up several months late. We did this hike on September 16th of 2011.
Last year we had planned to do the Maroon Bells traverse. Predictions of bad weather made us change our plans and decide to climb Kit Carson in the Sangre de Cristo range where the weather was supposed to be favorable.
We spend the night in Denver, and after some last minute shopping, headed toward Crestone. We arrived at the trailhead early afternoon.
Shortly after we started it began to rain. It never rained very hard, but it was enough to get us wet.
The peak of Challenger Point shrouded in clouds
The waterfall below Willow Lake
It was a four mile hike to Willow Lake. By the time we arrived the sun was shining.
I love this lake. The waterfall at the upper end is just beautiful.
I stopped to take some photos while David and Benjamin went on ahead around the right side of the lake. They yelled something to me before they took off, but I didn't hear what they said. Due to the lack of communication I ended up wandering all over the south side of the lake trying to find them while they were heading back around to the other side. I found myself walking through wet shrubs that were as tall as me and got drenched in the process.
Here's a shot of David that I took just before I lost track of them
We pitched our tent and worked on getting a fire going. Everything was wet, so it was challenging. Thankfully, the fire starter that David brought worked amazingly well.
Our campfire died during the night, so Benjamin's getting it going again before breakfast.
We loaded up on corndogs and lasagna. David brought the dehydrated lasagna, just had to add hot water. Good stuff. :)
I slept well that night, although I woke up a dozen times. David didn't sleep as well, and was tormented by dreams of grizzlies attacking our campsite.
It had rained for a while during the night. We were doubting whether the north ridge route would be possible because there would probably be ice. The clouds were concealing the mountain tops, but we hoped the sun would break through sooner or later.
A thin fog was gliding over the lake
The fire was good for warmth and for cooking sausages
My socks were wet from the day before, so I hung them by the fire to dry. They took forever to dry out, and then suddenly they had burn holes in them. So much for that.
The clouds kept moving in and kept getting lower
The weather was not going to allow us to do the north ridge route. It would be icy, and doing class 4 climbing in such conditions without ropes and crampons would make death a likely outcome. We targeted the summit of Challenger Point instead.
At about 13,000 feet there was a layer of frost on everything
My burned socks. David offered me his extra pair, but these were working out so far. :)
Now we were seeing more snow and ice. People coming down told us it got worse ahead, and they had turned back.
About this time we decided to slow down and see how the group behind us managed. We ended up sticking together for the rest of the climb. They had brought pictures of the route, and together we managed to find the right path through the snow and fog. In the next photo you can see Gretchen, Michael and Paul ascending the slope.
For a while we stayed close to the cliff, which was somewhat sheltered from the ice and snow
David & Benjamin meet a hiker coming down. She didn't make it to the peak.
This is one of my favorite shots. It was a whole different world up there.
Interesting frost patterns
At this point it was getting more treacherous with the slabs of ice-covered rock in our path
Benjamin surveying the path ahead
This is where our new-found friends pull out their directions and maps for us to study. Thankfully, we were on the right track.
Trying to figure out the route from here
From a distance we thought this was a cairn. It's just an ice-covered plant.
Time for a break
Paul pauses to wait for the others
We came to the end of the gully and found that the sides were too steep to climb in this weather. But we saw a possible route going through a notch on the west side of the gully, so we checked it out. Sure enough...
Michael & Gretchen
We reached the notch at the ridge. It was very windy here.
From this notch in the ridge we could look down the other side, though you couldn't see much in the fog
We realized later that we climbed up to the ridge too early. It was steep, but we made it.
Ascending the ridge
More than once it looked like we had arrived at the peak, only to see another rise a little further.
For a moment we saw a gap in the clouds and a glimpse of the world beyond, but it lasted for only a few seconds.
Our group. :)
Me, David & Benjamin
Time for some push-ups. :)
It was a long drop on the north side of the ridge.
The descent was actually easier than we expected. We had thought the down-climb would be treacherous, but it wasn't bad at all.
The ice was melting already.
It started sleeting on the way down
We're out of the clouds
Looking back toward Kit Carson peak
Overlooking Willow Lake
After returning to camp, we took another canoe trip in a snow shower. But just as we packed up to head down the trail, the sun came out.
For the first time on this trip, the sun comes out!
Looking up toward Challenger Point
Time to shed the jackets. It had just been cold and snowing a few minutes before.
The cool people
It was an awesome trip. We might return in a few months and try Kit Carson again...