Kit Carson Peak

  • Kit Carson Peak
  • 4317 m.
  • Primary factor 312 m.
  • 23rd in Colorado
  • Location North 37:58.78, West 105:36.15
  • Climbed July 3, 2001


How to get there: We approached this peak via the Willow Lake trailhead. This trailhead is about 3.7 km from the small town of Crestone. When entering Crestone go two blocks north and make a right on Galena street. Crestone is 22.5 km east of Moffat, the turnoff is about one kilometer south of Moffat on Hwy 17. One reaches Moffat by going north on Hwy. 17 from Alamosa or by going south from Poncha Springs on Hwy 285, then taking Hwy 17 (forks of 285 to the left).
Route description:
First, from the trailhead to Willow Lake:

This trail leaves the trailhead, crosses the creek and enters some open grassland. There is a trail going straight here, do not take this, but hike the trail that heads up the hill. There is a trail register partway up this initial slope. The trail then makes 12 switchbacks to the top of the hillside. As the trail crosses this crest it enters the Willow Lake drainage, but stays well above the valley floor on the north side. The trail continues its climb and crosses the Willow Creek before climbing a distinct step in the valley on the south (right) side of the creek. After reaching more level terrain, the trail again crosses the creek and climbs more gently about a 100 m (vertical) to Willow Lake.

Second, from Willow Lake to the summit:

The natural way to climb Kit Carson Peak from Willow Lake is via the summit of Challenger Point. An alternative that looked quite OK, is a snow climb to the saddle between Challenger Point and Kit Carson, this route would require crampons and ice axe, but might be nicer overall. From this saddle one could then proceed to climb both peaks if desired.
See the description under Challenger Point for the first part of our route, this description will cover the route from the summit of Challenger Point and back.
From the summit of Challenger point, an easy descent to the saddle between the two peaks starts the route. As one approaches the saddle, the first part of Kit Carson Avenue is clearly visible. This is a large ledge that starts in the saddle and proceeds to the Kit Carson south ridge (called The Prow), while climbing gently. This ledge is very wide and completely straightforward to walk on. From the south ridge, the avenue (ledge) proceeds, this time gently descending all the way to the saddle between Kat Carson and Kit Carson on the east side of the mountain. One should follow this ledge quite far down until an easy traverse to the left brings you into a large gully that heads up the mountain. This gully is not class 3 (as described in some guide books), rather class 2, one can walk all the way up without the use of hands. This climb is easy and brings you to Kit Carson's ridge, shortly thereafter (going left) to the true summit. The return hike should just reverse the approach, that is down the gully, across to Kit Carson Avenue, up to the Prow, then down to the Challenger Carson saddle. Finally, back up to the summit of Challenger and then the Willow Lake to Challenger trail, back to Willow Lake.
Comments: I did this climb with Pål Jørgen, age 12. Several observations may be in order. When returning from Kit Carson Peak, we traversed onto the north-east slope of Challenger Point and then angled downwards. This route cannot be recommended, we ran into cliffs and had to use a rope for safety a couple of times. One should definitely climb back over Challenger Point and follow the route of ascent back down. The climb of Kit Carson Peak from Challenger Point is, in my opinion, clearly of class 2 difficulty, no more. However, the climb of Challenger Point involves a traverse (on the south-west side of the ridge) that I would rate class 3, so the overall route from Willow Lake to Kit Carson Peak would still justify a class 3 rating. See the description of the Challenger Point climb for additional details. We started at 0600, hit Challenger Point at 1000, Kit Carson Peak at 1100, spent 30 minutes there and returned to Willow Lake at 1430, 8.5 hours, but at least one hour should be allocated to our poor choice of route from Challenger Point.
We met two guys, a girl and a dog! climbing up the south-east face of the Prow, directly to the top of Kit Carson Avenue. They free climbed and admitted to being scared a couple of times. I would not have done this, the climbing talent shown by the dog being perhaps the most impressive.