Peak(s):  "Prow, The"  -  13,980 feet
Kit Carson Peak  -  14,165 feet
Date Posted:  08/28/2019
Date Climbed:   08/25/2019
Author:  Boggy B
Additional Members:   Kylie
 The Prow for Gumbies  

There are already several great and valuable trip reports for The Prow, including this one, which is unfortunately not tagged. MP has the usual preponderance of conflicting beta and opinions. None of which answers the question "Can or should you climb The Prow if you're not a solid 5.8 leader?" As a professional bushwhacker and mosquito magnet, I feel I'm qualified to offer an answer. And that answer is "yes."

Twice in years past I walked right by the top of The Prow along Kit Carson Avenue and avoided tagging it, hoping to force myself to some day become a rock climber and take the proper climbing route to its summit. I never did become a rock climber, but with a perfect forecast on an August weekend, some day had come. I tried to put together a trip with Monster5 but it wasn't working out (sorry Ryan!), so Kylie and I packed up Saturday morning and drove to the ever strange (even the US Forest Service calls it "interesting") town of Crestone, where we spent the afternoon touring grocery stores, yoga studios, and a hokey BnB. Paying to pitch a tent feels dirty, but it was well worth $7. The North Crestone Creek Campground is gorgeous, and the creek doubles as a beer cooler and white noise machine. After occupying our site, we headed back to town and relaxed at the Crestone Brewery, which offers decent brews and refuge from the weirdness outside.

N Crestone Creek CG #13

After a decent night’s rest, we awoke at 3:30 am, packed up the tent, and drove to the trailhead, where the path starts from a pullout on the east side of the road. A hundred yards up the trail we saw a light bobbing ahead. I thought we might encounter another hiking party, but it was just a robe-clad Charles Manson-looking hippie and his "girlfriend" who were going to "take a bath." I suppose they were similarly puzzled by our choice to hoof up Spanish Creek at four o'clock.

We passed the "Hua Temple Footpath" sign, which I think used to be located at the trailhead, and continued up the trail. It led to a road on the north side of Spanish Creek and soon the first crossing on a small bridge with a white footboard. Here we made our only route-finding mistake on the approach: immediately after the bridge, the obvious trail goes right (downstream), and I stupidly went left to continue upstream. This cost us about five minutes of thrashing around in the thorns. The obvious and correct trail quickly connects to a road south of the creek where it turns back to the east.

After the second or third crossing, we encountered a sign posted by the Crestone Mountain Zen Monastery that says something like "PRIVATE PROPERTY. NO ACCESS. NO CAMPING." This sign is on the boundary between the first 0.4 mi of private land owned by the Something-or-other Ashram and the remaining 0.4 mi owned by the Monastery. While it doesn't seem very Zen to close an unobtrusive trail that serves only as an access path to public lands, we knew (and would confirm later in the day) that the locals respectfully disregard this notice.

There were a total of six obvious creek crossings on decent bridges, the last of which crosses south-to-north, and thereafter the trail remains on the north side of Spanish Creek. After a stiff climb we entered the deadfall zone. If this trail were in the Weminuche no one would even mention the deadfall. It must be a lot easier now than it used to be; although it is still usefully cairned, there is none of the sanity-sapping, anaerobic deadfall thrashing we've come to know and love in the beetled San Juans. In short, we stepped over some downed trees en route to the upper basin.

We had come prepared for mosquitoes, which seem to home in on me like sharks to chum, often to the great relief and entertainment of my hiking partners; I still have nightmares about the Willow Creek approach years ago. But despite warm overnight temps, we saw only a few lethargic mosquitoes, and the bug spray stayed in the pack.

The trees thinned out, and we passed under the ridge that extends beneath The Prow before grinding up 1,400 feet of talus to the base of the route. Since we planned to descend the Cole Couloir, we ditched my pack with all nonessential gear a couple hundred feet below the start. For extra marmot resistance, I stuffed my pack into a large stuff sack and hung it from a boulder.

Upon reaching the base of P1, we switched to rock shoes and soloed the easy ramp/gully recommended in several reports, then traversed left on a ledge and climbed straight up the west side to the P2 start, because I had read somewhere that this is 5.0 and we were trying to be expedient. However, it was at least 5.4 and very exposed, so I dropped the rope and gave Kylie a quick belay to the platform below the crux.

At the base of the prow. The initial P1 ramp/gully is obvious to the left.

I had expected the crux boulder problem to get in my head, and it delivered. I quickly tried to convince Kylie, who is the better climber, to take the lead, but she's not psyched on heinous runouts. After three attempts to locate a bomber jug above the overhang, I again tried to cop out and convince Kylie that we should call it off. She wasn't having it. On my fourth attempt, as she yelled at me to get my feet higher, I committed and pulled through onto what appears from the ground to be a nice platform but is, in reality, a downward-sloping ledge, to which I clung awkwardly for a few minutes getting my pulse under control before moving up to an actual stance.

Trying to protect the crux


The rest of the climbing on P2 is at least a full grade easier than the opening moves. I went left of the huge white cobble above the crux and managed to get a few cams in down low, then followed the path of least resistance more or less straight up the nose. The easiest climbing seems to coincide with the least available protection; at one point I was well over 70 feet above my last piece. But the rock is solid, and there is an abundance of good holds. Type 2 fun was had throughout the pitch. I anchored at the slanting ledge just shy of 60 meters and belayed Kylie up. After an awkward start due to my 20 lb belay (our means of communication due to the strong breeze), Kylie thought the climbing solid but found the runout uninspiring, so the next pitch fell to me.

The start of P3 looks hard but isn’t, and overall the climbing was decidedly easier than on P2. Our 60 meter rope maxed out just past the top of the crazy gendarme. After a body-length step down, there is a cozy, sheltered place to sit and belay. From here I was able to spot Kylie downclimbing the step as well as belay her down the 4th class chimney on the east side of the gendarme to a ledge, from which she walked to a comfortable spot to belay the next pitch and re-flaked the rope. By now we had warmed up to the route, but after another significant runout, Kylie wasn’t quite ready to take the lead.

Starting up P3

Gendarme belay at the top of P3

P4 starts with a shallow ramp. Looking up the ridge, two bulges are seen and it appears the upper one can be reached in a single rope length. This is not the case. Even after Kylie hiked the ramp, I was out of rope 50 - 60 feet above the first bulge. I should have stopped at that ledge, but I hadn’t, so I set up an uncomfortable belay on the arete and brought Kylie up. My misjudgment of the pitch length posed only a brief interruption to the fun as Kylie quickly dispatched P5 to the top of the second bulge we had seen from the base of P4, and sewed it up relatively speaking. Both P4 and P5 were reasonably well protected and, in keeping with the trend, climbed easier than the preceding pitches. To maintain visual contact, Kylie anchored just before cresting the bulge. I followed, and we moved the belay 30 feet along a short, exposed ridge to a flat spot at the base of the next pitch.

Looking up P4 and P5

Kylie leading P5


Following P5

Rising before us was a huge, casual-looking ramp, so we decided to simul. I led out the full rope length and then continued another rope length until the ridge eased back and the terrain ahead looked reasonable to solo. Here I stopped and belayed Kylie, who must have been running up the ramp; my arms were burning just trying to keep up with the slack. We were making fast progress now, having put away P6 and P7 in one go. From the belay ledge, we unroped and scrambled up, which proved to be a good choice as the remainder of the exposed ridge was mostly 3rd class with maybe a few 4th class moves. We reached the summit of The Prow at 13,980' around 2 pm, and after a short break, we hiked down to Kit Carson Avenue and roped up again.

Starting up P6


Challenger from The Prow

I launched up the worthwhile final pitch up the spine to Kit Carson, which though easy and well-protected harbors a fair amount of loose rock. The difficulty of this pitch is similar to P4/5 on The Prow. 60 meters leads to low-angle terrain, but I found scarce anchor options and had to poke around some to get at least one bomber piece, so it probably would have been more efficient to simul. The climb is positioned such that any rockfall lands square on the Avenue below, and Kylie accidentally dislodged a rock while seconding, coincidentally just as a party was passing below. She called it out and it missed. From the anchor, we unroped and scrambled the narrow catwalk to the summit of Kit Carson, which we had to ourselves, remarkably, since we had been seeing parties crisscrossing the Avenue for hours.

KC Avenue Pitch

Willow Lake

Columbia, Kitty Kat, Humboldt, Crestones

Our feet were relieved to change back into trail shoes, and we backpacked the rope and gear. We had brought a set of BD cams to #2, doubles in #0.5 - #1, and nuts to 1”. Nearly all the cams and probably half the nuts were used. After a healthy break to enjoy the sunshine and a snack, we followed the well-cairned path east off the summit of Kit Carson all the way down to where it meets the Avenue and then continued down, as I had read about a reasonable descent staying west of the Cole Couloir. This worked out nicely. Although we stayed a little too far west and had to make a few 3rd class moves, it could be kept to class 2 by staying very close to (but not in) the couloir until near the bottom, where a rocky, inset gully to the west offers easy passage through slabs to the talus below.

After retrieving our stashed gear, which we were happy to find unmarmoted, we descended loose talus to the meadows along Spanish Creek. The 2 liters of water we had carried up the route were now a distant memory, and we were in desperate need of a refill. I dashed over to the creek and filled 3 liters before starting the hike down.

View from below the meadows


Blue = solo, Red/Yellow = pitches, Green = simul

Just below the meadows we encountered two gentlemen searching for a member of their party who had gotten separated. They had planned to rendezvous in the upper basin and missed each other. We promised to keep an eye out and continued down. Five or ten minutes later, we heard someone yell out the name of the person we'd just spoken to. We yelled back and spotted this young man on the other side of the creek. After shouting him back to the trail, we learned that he had met up with the others for a hike but didn't realize they were planning to climb a fourteener, was not prepared, and suffers from arthritic hips. At some point it seems they made a decision to split up. Then, apparently, the others made some hand signals from afar that he interpreted to mean he needed to cross the creek. He said he had waited two hours, and when they didn't show up, he started to search and had been bushwhacking around for hours, eventually calling 911 to mobilize a rescue because he was disoriented and unfamiliar with the terrain. We gave him some water and advised him to wait for his party there, since when we left them they were headed down the trail and probably not more than ten minutes away. Hopefully they met up and sorted things out.

We had a long day ourselves; moving briskly, we reached the car at sunset at 7:45, clocking in around 15 hours and 45 minutes.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

Roses are red
08/28/2019 21:04
Violets are blue
there's nowhere I'd rather be
than in the Sangres with you


08/28/2019 21:14
This doesn't answer my question of whether or not I can get Zion up the Prow.

Boggy B

08/29/2019 07:49

and you can tell they enjoy it, too.

08/29/2019 10:38
Nice climb and beautiful pics. Thanks!


The real, REAL gumby beta
08/31/2019 17:38
You can scramble to the top of the Prow from Kit Carson Avenue. It's like 20 feet off the Avenue and goes at mayyyyybe Class 3 and that's in a winter thundersnow volcanic eruption with rabid zombie marmots attacking you. Best yet, you already have 3,000 vert to call it officially tagged. Bam, everyone go pick off the Prow!

Broken Knee

09/25/2019 14:43
"unmarmoted" - LOL.

Thanks for the TR

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