Peak(s):  Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Challenger Point  -  14,081 feet
"Prow, The"  -  13,980 feet
Date Posted:  03/17/2017
Date Climbed:   03/14/2016
Author:  Furthermore
 A Winter Prow  

Kit Carson Mountain 14,165'
Challenger Point 14,081'
"The Prow" 13,980

March 14th, 2017
~11.5 Miles, ~6,700 Gain
TH: Spanish Creek
Max difficulty: 5.8R
Route: The Prow (South/Cole Couloir descent)


I've been eying The Prow for quite some time for a winter assault. I've never had the conditions, partners, weather or all three to completely cooperate. This year I got lucky. Mr. Marsters had texted me about a friend of a friend needing a potential partner for rock climbing during the week as he was visiting from out of state for a few weeks. I'm always in a need of a solid weekday partner. Anyone?

I texted Leo and we did a day of cragging at Clear Creek. With such a good snow free stretch, I was becoming desperate for a partner for The Prow. Winter was nearing the end. I was a bit hesitant to invite Leo since we only climbed one day together. I suggested the idea of The Prow to Leo and he was interested and committed.

Arriving at the Spanish Creek Trailhead just before sunset on the 13th, the drive seemed to be a little less painful. Having someone to talk to on the drive is a novelty. After a short scout to make sure we could locate the Spanish Creek Trail in the dark, I started arranging the back of the car to accommodate our sleeping quarters in the back of the car. It's quite cozy for two in the back of an Xterra. This is when I discovered that I had forgotten my snowshoes. Pretty n00b on my part and I was thoroughly frustrated with myself. A pleasant string of explicatives followed. I'm sure Leo was wondering WTF.

Sunset at Spanish Creek (Photo by Leo)

"Well, we should at least try, we'll make something work." I agreed since we already had invested in the drive and had pretty ideal conditions. As I was trying to fall asleep, I was pondering snowshoe alternatives. That makes for a short, fairly sleepless night. The 2:10 AM alarm was rough. To solve the lack of snowshoes, I decided to cut up my plastic clothing crate and take two large, flat planks of the plastic crate and if needed, finagle some contraption with crampons and parachute chord.

A quick oatmeal scarfed, some water chugged, we started up the Spanish Creek Trail around 2:45 AM. The trail was easy to follow and well-packed. Unfortunately, once the trail wandered to the south side (shady) side of the creek, the snow was abundant but well-packed. With so much snow accumulation at a low altitude, I was beginning to get a bit nervous about the potential postholing nightmare I was going to endure.

With our heavy packs and plenty hours of darkness until sunrise, we took the approach slow. The teams over the weekend did a phenomenal job of packing down the trail. Thank you. Fortunately, the trail wandered back to the north (sunny) side of the creek and the snow pack/depth was manageable. Around ~10,800, the reputable horror of the downed timber of Spanish Creek started. We both expected worse but it still wasn't enjoyable or easy.

The horrible downed timber seemed to cease a little above 11,000. At this point, the valley and the trail covered a thick blanket of snow. I knew this was going to be a struggle on our return during the heat of the day when the snow turns into soft mashed potato snow.

Near 12,000 feet, Leo stashed his snowshoes under a large boulder while I stashed my styling plastic crate planks; I'll be saving those for the descent. We started up the boot-tracked south couloir and at ~12,600 veered our way toward the darkened prow; the first light started lighten the sky on the eastern horizon.

Hiking to the base of The Prow (Photo by Leo)

Sunrise over Crestone Peak.

Sunrise over Crestone Peak (Photo by Leo)

At the base of The Prow, we watched a fantastic sunrise over Crestone Peak as we donned our gear around 7:10 AM. The temps were still quite cold, and we decided to keep our boots on for the approach pitch. Since we didn't exactly know the difficulty of the pitch, we roped up and simuled our way to the base of the crux. At first we stayed on the east side of the ridge and then switched to the west side of the ridge eventually returning to the ridge crest at the base of the crux pitch.

Base of The Prow

Sunrise over Crestone Peak.

Sunrise over the San Luis Valley (Photo by Leo)

Base of The Prow (Photo by Leo)

Via our path, our approach pitch was probably in the 5.4 range with the most difficult moves just before returning to the ridge crest. I took a quick belay on lead for this short section. We peered up at the crux and waited for the temperatures to rise. Putting on cold rock shoes wasn't inspiring. Even with the boots, I couldn't feel some of my toes in my right foot. Maybe it's time to invest in those fancy lightweight Phantom Scarpas.

Approach pitch.

Approach pitch.

I built a quick anchor and Leo took the lead. He made quick work of the opening crux moves, 5.8 with definite deck potential and a lethal bounce off our belay ledge. Good gear for the first portion of the pitch led to a healthy 40-50 foot run-out on the second half of the pitch (5.6ish). Leo tried slinging a knob but the webbing quickly detached making for an exciting finish. He built an anchor at the first place that accepted more than one piece. Our first pitch was ~180 feet.

Crux buttress.

Leading the crux.

Since I was the following the first pitch, I had carried both pairs of mountaineering boots in the pack which made for an unbalanced pig. The opening moves weren't too difficult but the awkward mantle before easier terrain proved to be somewhat exciting with the large pack. Once I reached the belay, I wasn't too keen on leading after seeing his 50 foot runout. I hate slab. I'll take a nasty OW any day over slab. Leo agreed to take the second pitch.

First belay.

Narrow Prow

High on the second pitch.

Looking down from the second pitch.

The climbing was easier on the second pitch but still had another healthy 40 foot run out on moderate terrain. At this point, I finally got my head together and we swapped leads for the remaining pitches. The rest of the pitches consisted of sustained 5.4 climbing with a section of short-lived 5.6 along with a few decent run outs. As we climbed higher on The Prow, the climbing became easier. Once we reached Kit Carson Avenue around 12:40 PM, we had climbed 7 pitches which included some simuling.

Leo on the first gendarme on The Prow

Third pitch.

Starting the 4th pitch (Photo by Leo)

Fifth pitch.

Fifth pitch.

The Prow (Photo by Leo)

Crestone Peak from high on The Prow (Photo by Leo)

Sixth pitch.

Challenger high on The Prow.

Finishing The Prow (Photo by Leo)

Challenger from The Prow (Photo by Leo)

Final push on The Prow.

Finishing The Prow.

We de-harnessed, ditched our packs and headed towards the Kit Carson-Challenger saddle where we ran into illusion7il who was returning back from Challenger. A short jaunt led us to the summit of Challenger where we arrived at 1:20 PM. We didn't stay long as softening snow along Kit Carson Avenue was starting to become a concern - I knew I was already going to be in trouble on the posthole out.

Kit Carson and Crestone Peak from Challenger (Photo by Leo)

Profile of the upper Prow (Photo by Leo)

Profile of the Prow (Photo by Leo)

Descending Kit Carson Avenue (Photo by Leo)

Kit Carson Avenue

Climbing Kit Carson.

Climbing Kit Carson.

Luckily, the snow hadn't softened too much and we made quick progress of a snowy Kit Carson Avenue and arrived on the summit of Kit Carson at 2:20 PM. A quick bucket step descent of the South Couloir led us back to Leo's stashed snowshoes and my stashed plastic crate pieces.

The Prow on our descent.

The Prow.

Descending the Cole Couloir (Photo by Leo)

Folks were too fast Saturday and had extra time (Photo by Leo)

Today was my lucky day. Fortunately, the trench was well enough packed that I didn't have a complete posthole nightmare on the descent. While Leo and illusion7il wore their snowshoes on the descent, I was able to minimize my postholing - only about every 5 steps was problematic. Once we reached the downed timber section, everyone went snowshoe free and the rest of the descent was uneventful. We arrived back at the car at 5:50 PM. The only thing preventing a near perfect day was the lack of a beer upon our arrival back at the car.

Spanish Creek Approach downed timber area.

Profile of the Prow.

MP has the beta covered on this one -

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42

 Comments or Questions

03/17/2017 10:39
That is an impressive route in winter! Glad the snow didn't end up being too much of a problem. I really want to see a picture of these 'plastic crate pieces'.


03/17/2017 13:14
...I wanna see these patchwork snowshoes. Maybe I can fashion my own so I never have to buy them


Nice Work !
03/17/2017 17:31
I will admit that I was a little shocked when I was near tree line and heard "ON BELAY!" It's a real problem we have in Colorado. Just when I thought I was out doing something awesome, I run into you guys who are doing it better.


The shoes
03/17/2017 18:36
Post em up!


Be Prowd!
03/17/2017 21:57
Very impressive! Thanks for the great pix and description of the climb. Congrats.


03/19/2017 13:08
Great report, and very inspiring! Thanks for sharing!


03/20/2017 15:40
You forgot your snowshoes (marginally excusable) AND you forgot the beer (unforgivable!)???

The horror...

Great, great report.

Nice writeup :)
03/20/2017 17:22
Thanks for the detailed trip report! And even more thanks for being an awesome partner. It was definitely a blast, numb fingers with 40ft runouts notwithstanding



I don't know
03/21/2017 08:34
if I am more impressed that you climbed the Prow in winter or climbed Kit Carson without snowshoes via Spanish Creek? Either way, good stuff, and you've been really nailing those sunrises.


03/23/2017 18:53
we don't need no stinking snowshoes

great stuff, you, then Ryan, then you and then Ryan, you and Ryan, more winter reading than the normal winter climbs

Very Impressed
03/31/2017 14:13
That would be a difficult route in summer. Great report.

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