Take Colorado 17 to the town of Moffat. On the south side of town, look for a sign for the turn to Crestone. Turn east on the "RD T" road. You will soon see a Forest Service sign that says 15 miles to the South Crestone trailhead. Drive 11.4 miles to a road junction. Keep left and follow the main road into Crestone. In Crestone, turn right (east) onto Galena Street and the road will turn to 2WD dirt, with approx. 2 miles to go. When the road enters National Forest, it is labeled as the "South Crestone Road 949" and becomes more difficult but good-clearance vehicles should be able to make it to the end.
From Challenger, you can‘t miss Kit Carson - Photo #1 and Photo #2. Hike east down to the 13,800-foot saddle (more of a notch) between Challenger and Kit Carson - Photo #3. When you reach the saddle, climb up onto a large ledge that runs south along the side of the peak - Photo #4. This Class 2 ledge system that traverses around Kit Carson is often called "Kit Carson Avenue." Continue up the ledge (Photo #5) to reach a small saddle between Kit Carson (left) and a large fin called The Prow (right) - Photo #6. The elevation here is approximately 13,960‘.
From here you can see the next part of the hike - a longer section of the Avenue that descends east - Photo #7. This side of the ledge is much longer than the one coming up from the Challenger side. Hike down the ledge and pass through a wide notch - Photo #8. Photo #9 looks back on the upper half of the Avenue. Past the notch, Columbia Point (13,980‘) is in view to the east - Photo #10. Your next goal is to locate the entry point into a broad gully which leads toward the summit ridge. It’s near 13,650’, before a rock rib and far before the saddle between Kit Carson and Columbia Point - Photo #11, Photo #12 and Photo #13. Turn left into the wide, shallow gully - Photo #14 and Photo #15. STOP! Before you start up the gully, look around and become familiar with the area so you know how to return to the Avenue on your descent.
From here, it‘s approximately 450‘ to the summit. Hike up the center of the gully on fairly easy terrain. There is some loose rock, but the lower gully does not require much scrambling. If the terrain seems very steep, you may have left Kit Carson Avenue too early. Photo #16 and Photo #17 show the gully after climbing up from the Avenue. As you climb higher in the gully, it may require occasional easy Class 3 scrambling and a bit of route-finding, but mostly it‘s just difficult Class 2 hiking. Look for brief trail sections and small cairns as you take the easiest path up through the center.
About 1/2 way up the gully, stay left of a rock rib seen in Photo #18 and then pass a rock point seen in Photo #19. Photo #20 looks down from just below 13,900‘ and Photo #21 looks down after passing the rock point in the center of the gully. Near 14,000‘, the gully opens up (Photo #22) and the summit is up to the left - Photo #23. Continue to the summit ridge (near 14,100‘) and turn left for the final pitch below the top - Photo #24. Photo #25 and Photo #26 look back down on the upper route. Continue up to the summit - Photo #27. Photo #28 looks east and Photo #29 looks west to Challenger Point. Taken from Crestone Peak, Photo #30 shows the entire route from The Prow.
This is the easiest way to climb Kit Carson, but it's a lot of elevation gain in one day. Consider a camp just below Willow Lake. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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