Kit Carson Peak (14,165) via
North Couloir, Colorado
Participants: Steve Doorn, Gina Pasquale, Mark Vaneeckhout
Kit Carson Peak is one of the more imposing and difficult mountains in the Sangre de Cristos. It has a number of interesting routes on it, including the steep snow climb of the north couloir, which is the route we climbed. We left White Rock early on the morning of the 19th and were on the Willow Lake trail 4 hours later. The hike along this trail is fairly steep, but also very beautiful; with a number of waterfalls to pass along the way and gorgeous rock walls everywhere you look. The largest fall along the trail still had a ribbon of blue ice coating one of the adjacent walls. 2500 feet of climbing brought us to our camp just below Willow Lake, where we would later meet up with Jim Dennis and friends who had come up the day before to do the same route. While waiting for them to return to camp we were treated to watching the antics of a large herd of bighorn sheep that wandered into the meadow around our camp. We also spent time along the shores of Willow Lake. With a 100 foot water fall spilling into the lake and a smaller fall draining it, Willow is one of the prettiest locations in Colorado. We later joined Jim and gang for dinner and happy hour and were informed that conditions in the couloir were good (and were promised good steps kicked in the snow waiting for us).
The following morning we headed up the trail at 5AM. The route takes you around the lake and up the headwall into its namesake grove of willows (how fun!). Once above the headwall we essentially followed the waterfalls feeder stream to a point where we could cut right onto the snowfields leading up into the couloir. Along the way we were treated to a large camp of people with Colorado Outward Bound that was located annoyingly close to the trail. Once we hit the snow it was time for lots of fun cramponing. The north couloir takes you to the deep notch between Kit Carson Peak and its lower neighbor to the south (often called Kat Carson). We found most of the route to be 35-40 degrees with the last 50-100 feet of climbing steepening to 50 degrees. Lower down the snow hadnt completely frozen overnight and we were doing the posthole dance in a few places. Higher up the snow was consolidated enough to make for easy and fun climbing (especially with the steps kicked in by Jim the day before). It was not yet, however, consolidated enough to make for a firm surface. At about 13,000 feet the couloir narrows down dramatically and is flanked by vertical walls of the interesting conglomerate rock of the Crestones. Once at the notch (around 13,600) we dropped all the heavy metal and proceeded to scramble on the fun knobby 3rd and 4th class terrain along the ridgeline to the summit, arriving there by 9AM. (The remaining climbing to the summit can be kept to 2nd or 3rd class by following a cairn trail through gullies to the summit.) The summit views of the Crestones and the sand dunes were fantastic. The Red Gully on Crestone Peak looked amazing.
After a nice long rest on the summit we headed back down to the couloir. Halfway down the couloir we cruised on a steep and long glissade to the bottom of the snowfields. On our hike back to camp we enjoyed thoroughly the views of the cirque behind the long line of Outward Bound laundry being hung out to dry along the trail. The hike back out to the car ended in a pleasant rain that helped keep us cool for the final 500 feet of descent to the beer and greasy chips that waited for us at the car. It was another great trip to the Willow Lake basin with a very satisfying and interesting route on Kit Carson behind us.