| North Ridge Is Worth The Wait
When my group climbed Kit Carson last year we had originally planned to do it via the North Ridge. However, with many distractions and other priorities last summer, by the time we (i.e. myself, Lynn, Hugh and MichiganBrian) got around to climbing Kit Carson, it was too late. On the morning of the hike (September 25, 2011) we were presented with this view:
Not having done the North Ridge route before (or any route on Kit Carson for that matter), we made the unanimous decision to be conservative and climb Kit Carson via the standard route (Challenger) that day. We did just that and enjoyed the stellar day (except for the Brian's knee injury on the descent – blame the Challenger’s scree) but the hint of disappointment lingered. Thankfully, I was not the only one feeling that way and was constantly pestered by Hugh in the recent months about "redoing" the route. Additionally, I remembered that day on KC/C as one of the most physically demanding days in the mountains I've ever had (2nd probably only to Little Bear's SW Ridge), and I was too tired to really enjoy the magnificent route. Finally, the Willow Lake struck me as one of the most beautiful of any 14er basin and I wanted to spend more time there. All these considerations have pushed Kit Carson to the top of my “wish list” this summer season - I was ready for a rematch, but being fully aware of the difficulties and challenges of the peak, I was waiting for the three things to come together: partners, weather and high level of physical conditioning.
In addition to Hugh, Brian Thomas expressed interest and the wait began. Our plans to go in August were nipped in the bud a couple of times by the inclement monsoonal weather forecast. Only one weekend turned out to be ok, but the forecast had changed too late for us to set plans in motion. We rescheduled for the weekend of 09/08-09 and the wait continued. One benefit of the wait soon became apparent – this would be the next weekend after the Rainier trip, so barring an injury, I should be in a decent physical shape. In order to maximize my time in the basin, I’ve also decided to add a few Centennials into the mix – and Brian was fully supportive of the plan. In addition to Adams, I’ve set my eyes on Columbia Point and Kitty Kat (and possibly the “Obstruction Point” – but only if I felt exceptionally strong) as getting them all the way from the South Colony Lakes basin seemed like a painfully long and hard thing to do. By taking the North Ridge, theoretically, we should be deposited on the KC summit faster than if we were to take the standard route. Unfortunately, Hugh had to drop from the trip at the last minute, but Brian and I decided to go along with the plan, as pushing it any further into September seemed unfeasible.
Kit Carson/Columbia Point (aka Kat Carson)/Kitty Kat, Challenger/hike out
Date: September 9, 2012
Partners: Brian Thomas, Michael (Boggy B), Kylie
Special guest appearances: Adam (awilbur77) and Greg (farcedude)
Stats: ~11 miles, 4,100 feet elevation gain/7,000 elevation loss (from the campsite near Willow Lake), time - just over 14 hours (includes packing the camp and lots of rest stops - only 6 hours of moving time).
After hiking Mt. Adams the previous day (my TR is here), Brian and I woke up around 5am and started getting ready. I made sure I ate a big breakfast, since we had a big day in front of us. By 6.30am we were moving, and my legs were screaming. I waited until we approached the talus field below the North ridge to eat the "gu", but after that I regained strength and felt much better.
First look at KC - no snow this time!
Approaching the Outbound couloir. And - it is going to be a beautiful day!
As a warm up, I decide to scramble up a mellow Class 3 gully (optional)
Gaining the ledges. Mt. Adams in the background
Walking over to the beginning of the ridge
The meeting spot
It was about 8.20am and near 13K feet. Just as Brian and I were chilling out, enjoying the great weather, and getting ready to take on the ridge, here come Michael (Boggy B) and Kylie (kghocke). Which was pretty funny, since we were on neighboring volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest last weekend and now meet on the same ridge. I had to tell him where I planned to be next weekend, so he would stop guessing. We spent more time chilling out, but then it was time to start the ridge.
Beginning of the ridge
Brian T on the ridge - not sure why my camera was tilted
Boggy B & Kylie charging uphill - those guys are fast!
Carefully picking your holds (Brian)
Columbia Point (aka Kat Carson) to the left
We stayed pretty much on the crest of the ridge, which was surprisingly narrow.
The summit ridge
The route took a little bit longer than we expected (and we stopped to chat frequently and simply were in no rush due to the great weather), so we topped on the summit around 10.40am. With all the excitement of the North ridge I totally forgot to take any summit photos. Kylie did it for us.
Brian & me approaching the summit of Kit Carson as seen from Challenger ~10.30am (photo courtesy of Kylie)
Feeling delirious from the performance-enhancing drugs (a.k.a. GU and ShotBlocks), I felt strong, the weather looked as good as it ever gets, so I decided to continue with my original plan - onward to the Columbia Point. My only regret was that Brian was not going to accompany me, as he decided to stay on the summit of Kit Carson and wait for me there. I suspected that the route finding on Columbia Point was far from simple, so would have preferred a good company. Immediately below the summit of Kit Carson, I ran into Adam (awilbur77) who was also enjoying a stellar day. Adam, it was great seeing you again and I am so happy to hear that your knee is doing much better.
Descending to the saddle with Columbia Point requires traversing several rock ribs, but there are a few cairns here and there.
Traversing the distance to the saddle with Columbia Point.
Expecting to find Class 3 terrain (as billed by Roach) I spent some time looking for an "easy" entry point to Columbia. I found none! I am sure glad I warmed up on North Ridge, and not on the standard route, otherwise I would still be going up and down the South couloir looking for a "Class 3" start.
Looking back at the saddle - the top of Outbound couloir.
Beginning the ascent - there are cairns once you gain the first ledge
Just as I was pondering my next route options, here run Kylie and Michael. Not only they topped on North Ridge much quicker than Brian & I did, but they also ran over to tag the Challenger Point while we were still on Kit Carson. Animals They graciously allowed me to tag along with their party and the route finding commenced.
Looking down the same gully
As we were scrambling up, my only concern became about getting down this route (and the answer for me was: slowly). I thought the route up Columbia Point, although shorter, was more intense than the North Ridge on KC. The angle felt steeper - although maybe it is because I did not have to descend the North Ridge, but had to downclimb the Columbia Point.
Me, Kylie and Michael scrambling up the first gully - photo courtesy of Adam (awilbur77)
Following the crack system with great holds, but there is big exposure.
Scrambling up a gully (nkan02) - photo courtesy of Boggy B
Reaching the crux that required some Class 4 up, over and down moves
Here is Michael navigating the crux (he probably picked the more aggressive line though)
The summit of Columbia Point shortly after 12pm
From our great observation deck we saw the summit group on Kit Carson.
And they took a photo of us - Michael, Kylie, myself - on the summit of Columbia Point (photo courtesy of Greg/farcedude)
Obstruction Point, Humboldt, Needle & Peak from the Kitty Kat
Three of us spent a long time on Columbia Point, admiring the views and having snacks (I discovered my new favorite summit food - pistachios. Thank you, Kylie!). From Columbia Point, we quickly wandered over to the Kitty Kat summit, which had the group's best views of Crestone Needle & Peak. The ridge to the Obstruction Point looked too long (for me), and besides I was still hoping to catch up with Brian as I am sure he was getting tired of waiting. So here our paths split. Michael & Kylie (aka the "Animals") kept going to the Obstruction Point, planning to descend yet unspecified loose gully back into the Willow Lake basin, and I went back.
Downclimbing Columbia Point proved to be far from mundane. I was solo in Class 3/4 territory and the fate of poor Chris Gray was squarely on my mind. This was the knobby Crestones rock, which seems solid, until it isn't. R.I.P. Chris. I took extra care and extra time, particularly since I find Class 4 terrain harder to downclimb than upclimb.
Admiring the V shape of the saddle
Yes, there are cairns and more than one traverse path to choose from
Looking back at the downclimbed terrain
I finally got back to the saddle with KC just before 2pm. Since I've done the standard route before, I was not too worried about finding the entrance to the Avenue. I did a reasonably good job aiming for the big cairn that marks the turn-off and, after scrambling one last bit of the rock rib, was soon on familiar terrain.
One last look at Columbia/Kat Carson from the Avenue
Avenue and the ridge to Challenger
I ran into two climbers who came up the Prow and continued up the ridge to Kit Carson. Aww, there are so many great ways to climb this mountain!
I enjoyed the great views from Challenger and was also observing the progress of the climbers
Summit of Challenger just before 3pm.
Views of Blanca group and Sand Dunes from Challenger
"Designer" cairn marks the descent from Challenger. Adams is in the background
I knew the descent from Challenger was going to be unpleasant, but I did not find it too difficult or too loose (I've seen worse) - it is just long! My knees were sore when I got down to the lake almost 2 hours later. I kept wondering if Brian, Michael and Kylie were ok and made it back into the basin - but it turns out they all beat me by hours!
Still a gorgeous, windless, blue-bird day
I made it back to the campsite shortly after 5pm, packed the backpack and was off around 6pm (late, but surprisingly, I was still feeling ok). Almost 2.5 hours and 4 miles later, I made it back to the car for a 4 hour long drive back to Denver.
This guy wandered right into the campsite just as I was getting ready to leave
My only regret as I departed the campsite around 6pm that I would be missing yet another spectacular sunset on the Willow Lake
Sunset on Willow Lake (Saturday)
So what’s for next year? Once again, Kit Carson goes right back on top of my “wish list”. The Prow with the Spanish Creek approach would be really sweet - and the wait has already begun.
Adam's (awilbur77) TR is here.
The rest of the (too numerous!) photos are here. Thank you for reading!
Time splits: Depart camp ~6.30am, base of the North Ridge by 8.30am (30-40 min break), North ridge proper 9am to 10.40am (15 min break on Kit Carson), summit of Columbia Point 12pm (long break on the summit), Kitty Kat around 1pm (short break), back to the saddle with Kit Carson at 2pm, Challenger summit at 3pm, back at Willow Lake 4.30pm, camp ~5pm, depart camp 6.20 pm, car 8.40pm - roughly 14 hour day (6 hr moving/8 hr stopped time).
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):