Kit Carson Mountain and Challenger Point

Marla and me goofing off on Challenger Point (14,081′) for a free Which Wich sandwich.

Part one of a three part Sangre De Cristo series.

With some miles and vertical feet under our belts this season, we ventured into the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness last week. The goal was to combine backpacking and climbing, while adding a few fourteener summits. We started out in the town of Crestone, hard against the Sangre De Cristo Range in the San Luis Valley. The Willow Lake Trail gains 2,800 feet in five miles and is basecamp for the standard climbing route to Challenger Point (14,081′) and Kit Carson Mountain (14,163′). I wish I could say it was a piece of cake (that would be a load of crap) but it was a lot of fun and it’s gratifying to reach new heights in the Sangres. My photo essay follows, just click here:

Marla gearing up at the Willow Creek Trailhead.

A weathered sign marking the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness Area.

Marla digs in on a steep section of the Willow Creek hike.

willow creek waterfall, willow lake

Willow Falls Reflection : Prints Available

 Rare in the Colorado Rockies, the Willow Creek waterfall flows into Willow Lake high in the Sangre De Cristo Range. Willow Lake can be accessed by backpacking a steep trail that begins near the town of Crestone. The trail gains 2,800 vertical feet in five miles.

Early Light on Kit Carson Mountain (14,163′) as we ascended the vertical grassy slopes.

kit carson mountain, mountain thistle, challenger point

Kit Carson Slope : Prints Available

 Mountain thistle nod to Kit Carson's (14,163') summit block on the grassy slope leading to the Challenger Point (14,081') summit ridge. Challenger, named for the astronauts who gave their lives on the doomed space mission, is actually part of the Kit Carson massif.

Marla considers the challenge of reaching Challenger Point (14,081′), painted in golden sunlight.

Crestone Peak (14,294′) and Crestone Needle (14,191″) look unclimbable in this view from the Challenger Point (14,081′) summit. The foreground rock is the prow on Kit Carson Mountain.

From Challenger Point (14,081′) the town of Crestone appears to be directly below our feet, an indication of just how vertical the Sangres really are.

Marla ascends “Kit Carson Avenue.”

challenger point, kit carson

Challenger Summit Block : Prints Available

 Challenger Point (14,081') as viewed from "Kit Carson Avenue" high in the Sangre De Cristo Range. Climbers look like matchsticks in the larger version of this image.

A pair of ravens at nearly 14,000 feet on the “prow” of Kit Carson Mountain.

crestone peak, crestone needle, kit carson mountain

Kit Carson Summit View : Prints Available

 Low clouds envelop the summits of Crestone Peak (14,294') and Crestone Needle (14,191') in this view from Kit Carson Mountain's (14,163') airy summit. Along with several other climbers, we decided to spend little time on top in case a thunderstorm would develop. 

We had been talking about Kit Carson for the last decade and neither of us can believe that we finally summitted this magnificent peak, our 42nd 14’er together. After getting down safely, we hiked down to Crestone the next day and ate well at Shambala Cafe, with a full-on hippy vibe. From there, we drove down-valley to Zapata Ranch, which will be the next post in this three part Sangre De Cristo journey. Stop back for parts two and three 🙂

6 thoughts on “Kit Carson Mountain and Challenger Point

  1. Yeah, the Colorado Sangres are amazing! I summited Challenger a few years ago, but impending weather turned me back from KC. Though I can’t see myself ever being a major 14-er chaser, I’m going back for Kit Carson some day, that area is too beautiful to stay out of.

    1. Thanks Jackson. Yep, Kit Carson is a big commitment once you leave Challenger, knowing that you’ll have to re-climb Challenger after KC. I was feeling pretty toasted going back up that talus slope. It’s not such a bad place to “have to” go back is it?

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