Sticking with my plan of bagging the most peaks for the mileage I selected Challenger Point and Kit Carson. These 2 were the 2nd most challenging set of peaks for me behind my 22 mile day on Ellingwood and Blanca. The 4 mile hike up to Willow Lake is quite the grind with about 3,500 ft of gain. I suggest camping at the lake if you plan on tackling both Challenger and Kit Carson, I did both in 1 day from the parking lot and it was a really long day (Almost 12 hours)! There are tons of camping spots around Willow Lake and the scenery is incredibly beautiful.
To start your trek up Challenger follow the trail up the north side of the lake, it will be well marked with cairns. The trail just above the goes through a section of thick sometimes shoulder height vegetation. Be sure to have your water proof gear on for this section as the vegetation is very soggy in the morning!
Make your way to the North end of the lake, you will cross over Willow Creek near the top of the water fall. This is where the fun begins! Follow the wide spread cairns up Challengers north face. The north face climb was the most challenging part of my day by far, its about a mile up and around 1800ft of gain. The rock was very lose and there was a lot of scree surfing on the way down later in the day. Once you gain the ridge it’s pretty easy sailing up and over Challenger Point to Kit Carson Avenue.
From the summit of Challenger Point Kit Carson is impossible to miss. You will continue past Challenger and meet up with Kit Carson Avenue, a nice wide ridge that will take you around the back side of Kit Carson. If you like exposure you can walk closer to the edge, if not hug the wall! Below is a time-lapse of my travels over Kit Carson Avenue.
When you reach the end of the avenue you will be at the bottom of another steep gully. Zigzag your way up this gully and hang a left at the top. There are multiple trails going up this gully so just follow random piles of rocks.
Once you reach the top of the gully take a left and summit is only 5-10 minutes away. I spent about 15 minutes hanging out on Kit Carson taking in the spectacular view of Crestone Peak and the surrounding Sangre de Cristo’s!
The trek back down to Kit Carson avenue was interesting to say the least. The valley had filled in with clouds and I managed to completely miss the avenue by about 600 vertical feet. This is the only way back over to Challenger unless you feel like tackling some class 5 climbing. I started to get a little worried when I started to not see cairns anymore, at one point I realized I was no where near being on the right path so I made the decision to turn around and up climb until I found a cairn or something resembling the avenue back over to Challenger Point. Eventually I found my way back to Kit Carson avenue and made my way back to north face of Challenger. The decent down Challenger is almost more challenging than the ascent, there was a lot of slipping and sliding! Over all it was a really fun day full of spectacular mountains, lakes and waterfalls! I am really starting to like the 14ers that take a little bit of route finding rather than the walk up walk down 14ers.