September, my birthday month! Being the outdoor fanatic that I am, I excitedly began planning a birthday “party” that contained cupcakes, camping, and of course some peak bagging with a decent amount of suffering involved. Being in nature is my all-time favorite thing, and I could not imagine celebrating another year of life anywhere else.
This year is the big “quarter life” birthday, and for my 25th I wanted to challenge myself with a couple of Class 3 Peaks down in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The weekend was exhausting, challenging, but above all it was fun!
Ryan and I left after work on Friday, grabbing dinner on the road while making the 4hr drive down to Crestone, CO. We arrived at the trailhead at 10PM, threw on our backpacking packs, and hit the trail.
We packed in 5 miles with 3,000ft of vertical gain to Willow Creek Lake, arriving around 2AM where we quickly hung our food up between two trees (there were several reports of a problem bear in the area), pitched our tent, and got to sleep.
Alarms went off, and we groggily got out of bed and hit the trail with some Cliff bars in hand around 6AM. The trail begins by going around Willow Creek Lake, then up the headwall to give you a spectacular view looking back.
The trail is flat for a short while, moving through the yellows of a high alpine fall before we were met with the first major ascent of the day.
The next section of trail contains around 2,000ft of vertical gain in just under one mile. There are no switchbacks.. only a steep, unrelenting trail straight up the gully. The trail became hard to follow and we found our own route which ended up switching from loose Class 2 terrain and more stable (and more difficult) Class 3 terrain. Not going to lie, this section here was not fun and there was very little conversation shared between the two of us.
Once we made it to the ridge, our spirits lifted once again as we saw that the rest of the route to Challenger Point’s summit was relatively flat and straightforward. We quickly made our way over where we took our summit photo and had a snack before carrying on.
From the summit of Challenger Point, you can’t miss Kit Carson Peak looming in the distance. We quickly descended into the saddle before joining up with Kit Carson Avenue– and exposed ledge that cuts across the south side of the peak.
Reaching another saddle, we then began descending down the other side of the Avenue which offered spectacular views of the surrounding peaks (Columbia Point, Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle, etc). This was a very exposed and narrow descent, but the rock was stable and we quickly made our way down.
From here we began to look up for a Class 3 gully which would take us up the final 500ft or so to the summit. With no obvious trail, we put our heads down and began scrambling our way up the large, stable rock. Around 14,000ft, the terrain opened up and we began to make our way left towards the summit.
We got up to the ridge and settled in on the summit to enjoy the perfectly sunny and wind-less weather (which is a rare find for 14er summits!). We took our boots off, ate my birthday cupcake, and enjoyed the views before finally heading back down to camp.
We really suffered with the relentless ascent, complete with steep terrain, loose rock, and poorly marked routes. However, we feel that the descent was even worse! It was seemingly unending and our knees were begging for mercy by the time we reached the flat trail down at Willow Creek Lake.
We got back to camp around 5PM where we made dinner (early bird special, anyone?) and FINALLY relaxed as a small family of deer grazed nearby. We ended up crawling into the tent at 6PM and going to bed shortly after… a new record! We enjoyed a night of uninterrupted sleep, rising with the sun at 6AM before packing up camp and hiking out the final 5 miles back to the car.
I wanted a challenge for my birthday, and that’s certainly what I got! While Challenger lived up to its name, making both it and Kit Carson the toughest peaks for us to date, the views were also the most beautiful and I can’t wait to return next summer to climb the surrounding mountains that caught our eye all weekend.