Challenger Point

After climbing Mt. Sneffels on 7/6/15, I made the long drive across Colorado to the Sangre de Cristo range, where I planned to spend the final three days of my trip climbing Challenger Point & Kit Carson (day 1), Ellingwood & Blanca (day 2), and Mt. Lindsey & a couple of nearby 13ers (day 3). I also planned to backpack out onto the Great Sand Dunes to camp for a night or two. As it turns out, this wasn’t in the cards. The entire area was forecast to receive a steady barrage of thunderstorms for the next 3-5 days. On top of that, the Kit Carson Avenue (a ledge-like route used to access the summit) was reportedly still blocked by a precarious ledge of snow. On top of that, the dirt road leading to the Mt. Lindsey trailhead had been completely wiped out by a landslide a few days previously.

I reached my hotel in Alamosa on the evening of 7/6 and started working on a backup plan. Since I’d already made the drive to the Sangre de Cristo’s, I figured I would at least make an attempt at Challenger Point & Kit Carson. After that, I decided I’d plan to drive north to the Sawatch Range to hopefully bag a few more 14ers.

I got a late start o0n 7/7/15, sleeping until 6:00 am and not reaching the trailhead until around 7:30 am. The cloud cover was near-complete at this point, and there were scattered showers throughout the morning, so the views were poor. On the other hand, the crumby weather meant I had the trail practically to myself.

The first creek crossing

The first creek crossing

The approach involved a ~5 mile steady climb up to Willow Lake. There were two creek crossings along the way. The first crossing had a bridge, but the second involved a thigh-deep wade through rough water.

Willow Lake

Willow Lake

After reaching Willow Lake, I faced a long, steady, 2000′ climb up the north slope of Challenger Point (14,081′). I was within the clouds by this point, so the visibility was extremely poor. Rain seemed imminent, so I ditched my trekking poles (i.e. lightning rods) at the base of the slope and started upward at an aggressive pace.

Just as I was approaching the top, I felt a raindrop on the hood of my jacket. Within 20 seconds, I was getting blasted by a downpour of pea-sized hail. This lasted about 20 minutes, and left the slopes covered in 1-2 inches of icy slush.

Taking cover under a rocky outcropping. View of Kit Carson through the storm.

Taking cover under a rocky outcropping. View of Kit Carson through the storm.

The storm brought with it several flashes of lightning, so at this point I abandoned any hope of bagging Kit Carson and began making my way down the mountain. You might say I made a beeline…for the treeline.

It was a slippery, slushy descent

It was a slippery, slushy descent.

I was pretty soggy by the time I made it back to the trailhead around 2:30 pm. Decided to drive up to Salida, CO where I grabbed some pizza & brew and crashed for the night in a Walmart parking lot.

Published in: on July 19, 2015 at 5:53 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Willow lake looks beautiful!

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