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.
For a single day trip, start hiking EARLY! From the Willow Creek Trailhead follow the well-worn trail east toward Willow Lake. There are numerous switchbacks as the trail winds up through the valley, crosses over the creek and eventually arrives at the scenic Willow Lake. This is a great place to camp.
Find the easiest route around Willow Lake on its left (north) side and be sure to stay above the nasty cliffs and waterfalls. From here the North Ridge of Kit Carson Peak is fully visible, as is the remainder of the one-mile approach through the valley (Photo #1). As the photo shows, the key is to aim between large boulders (left) and the huge cliff bands (right) guarding the north face of Kit Carson. Photo #2 shows a close-up of these obstacles and the path between them. This is all Class 2 'talus hopping' at this point. Photo #3 shows a good profile of the ridge and a couple of minor notches that will be encountered.
It is crucial to get past the base of the cliff bands before continuing much higher. When the Outward Bound Couloir comes into view (Photo #4), turn right and angle uphill. The northeast face of Kit Carson (Photo #5) comes into view. The skyline is the north ridge.
Find the easiest route toward the north ridge. Some easy class 3 scrambling will lead up grassy ledges (Photo #6) and toward the northeast face. Gaining the ridge is this route's first crux (Photo #7). The terrain on the northeast face gets steeper and the class 4 climbing begins. The exposure here can be daunting for the uninitiated. Keep angling right as much as possible until coming to the obvious spine of the north ridge.
Once on the north ridge, enjoy an aesthetic, exposed climb the rest of the way to the summit. Photo #8 shows one of the many steep class 4 sections that will be encountered. Photo #9 gives a good idea of the clumpy conglomerate rock that makes up the entire route. Photo #10 looks back down the first half of the climb, while Photo #11 gives a good idea of the slope's angle in relation to neighboring Challenger Point. Photo #12 shows the route's final crux: the steep pitch to gain the summit plateau. Note the exposure to the left. After that pitch, the angle relents and gives way to one final scramble and hike to the summit (Photo #13 and Photo #14). Enjoy the hard-earned view, a portion of which is shown in Photo #15.
For the descent, the best way to return to Willow Lake is via Kit Carson Avenue and Challenger Point. Descending the Outward Bound Couloir is another option if you are carrying appropriate gear. Going back down the north ridge would probably require a rope for at least one rappel.
This is a steep, exposed route up mostly solid rock. That being said, there is always the potential for rock-fall and a helmet should be worn at all times. A rope and climbing gear may not be a bad idea for this route, depending on the comfort level of the climber. 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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