Kit Carson Peak, South Prow

By: Jason Halladay | Climbers: Jason Halladay, Bill Geist |Trip Dates: July 17, 2004

Photo: Gary Clark

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Friday, July 16th:

The approach of 5.2 miles and 6100 ft of elevation gain began at the Spanish Creek trailhead on the west side of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains at 8260 ft. This trailhead is some informal parking areas just off the road and is on private land. We were a bit upset to see a single truck parked right in the middle of a two-car parking area forcing us to do some creative parking. Camping is not allowed here so please respect the locals (and maintain our access privileges) and park well off the road. If you need to camp, we've had great success camping at a large pull-off 1.8 miles further up the road near the Cottonwood Creek trailhead.

We were a group of eight: myself, Allison Fritz, Roger Rumsey, Dan Hadlich, Bill Geist, and the dogs Cuba, Nova and Angie. Bill and I would climb the Prow as a team, with Roger and Dan in pursuit. Allison was planning on taking the dogs over to Humbolt Peak, another one of the Colorado '14ers' in the area.

Before departing the trailhead, Dan and I pulled out his rack and started to pare it down. (Gear suggestions are included at the end of this report.) We shouldered our packs at 11:40am and began hiking up the trail labeled the "Hua Temple Footpath" on the north side of the Spanish Creek. The hike in to our camp at 11,500 feet went smoothly and included a great view of the very intimidating-looking Prow for the final portion of the hike.

Saturday, July 17th:

We awoke at 5:45am to a cloudy morning. Dark clouds across the San Luis Valley appeared to be releasing rain that almost washed away our hope of climbing The Prow that day. However, we were there and ready and the National Weather Service's comforting voice on the radio informing us of mostly clear skies until 2pm with a 40 percent chance of rain in the afternoon egged us on. We figured we'd hike to the base of the Prow and hope for the clouds to burn off. We left camp at 6:50am heading up the talus gully to the east of the Prow to an obvious avenue that takes one directly to the base of the route. We reached the base of the Prow, a tough-looking 5.8 overhang, at 7:40am and, wonderfully, the sky had cleared and the weather looked very promising. However, it was still very chilly and the Prow had just begun to get some sun, so the rock was still very cold. I arrived at the base first giving me enough time to flake the 60m rope and practice the first move on the overhang. I was itching to lead this first pitch and could barely wait for the others to arrive! When they did arrive, Roger and Dan decided the weather was too cold and windy (with the potential to get worse later in the morning) and opted to bow out of the climb.

At 8:00am Bill and I were ready to climb. We were able to set a good belay anchor with a number 2 Camalot and another cam right at the base of the overhang. I started up and left-ish on the overhang and decided it would not go that way. I backed down to the ground and then went for the right-ish start. Two very large, positive pockets offered good hand holds and I swung my right foot high up on top of the overhang. I was committed now. Reaching for more hands I found just what I wanted and was on top of the roof. I immediately found a great .75 Camalot placement and clipped that. Up another couple of feet was another good number 1 Camalot placement. Two pieces within 5 feet of each other and they say there's no pro on this route!

Heading up on the shaded rock my hands were now quite cold but I could see sun hitting the rock up and right about 30 feet. Heading right to avoid a bulge in the ridge proper, I entered the sunlight and found not only glorious warmth but another very positive medium-sized nut placement next to some old webbing that had obviously been used as a rappel anchor. Once out on the right side of the Prow the climbing steepened and became slightly less featured. However, at times when it looked a bit scary I needed only to search around a bit more and I would find a good hold. I continued on up a full 60 meters of very enjoyable 5.6 climbing to an excellent ledge with a great crack system for a belay anchor. For the anchor I used a large nut sideways and a number 1 Camalot; only two pieces but the ledge was also very positive allowing me a great sitting stance. At 8:37am I radioed to Bill that I was off belay. This ledge was wonderful as it sloped towards the east serving as a natural wind block and was in the full sun so it was warm!

Bill started climbing and obviously had no difficulty with the first move as I never felt any tugging on the rope. I was pulling in rope as fast as I could as he was making great time. Bill joined me on the comfortable ledge within 10 minutes time and scoped out his lead on the next pitch - an airy step to a steep section of rock that leads to just below the summit of the major gendarme on the Prow. Bill made the step over and up and soon found a good pro placement, a 0.5 Camalot, about 20 feet up.

Bill led up about 190 feet to another comfortable ledge with a small dihedral just below the summit of the large gendarme. The dihedral had an excellent crack that offered another great opportunity for two good placements a .75 Camalot and a medium-sized nut. I followed up to him making a couple of thin yet comfortable moves reaching his ledge at 9:25am. The weather was looking great still, the air and rock had warmed up and we were officially having an awesome time!

I set off on the third pitch which involved about 30 feet of climbing before summiting the large gendarme on the ridge. From here I did some airy but easy down climbing to get down off the gendarme and head back up the ridge. This was fun as I was essentially on top rope dragging the rope over the top of the gendarme. I began heading back up the ridge and placed my first, and only piece of protection on this pitch, a 0.5 Camalot. There were other opportunities for protection on the pitch but the climbing was quite comfortable at about the 5.4 range. I stretched the rope again to gain another very obvious and comfortable belay ledge. I used a single number 1 cam here and slung a block with a double runner for a belay anchor. Bill began to climb and soon topped out on top of the large gendarme. Looking at the rope spanning the gap between him and me was awesome. Allison radioed from the valley below that she could see us and the rope and it looked like a giant spider web spanning the gap.

Bill again made quick work and was soon on the ledge with me. From here the climbing looked steeper again but not too difficult. We opted to still climb it roped and I belayed Bill as he set off on the pitch. The weather still looked great but some low clouds were starting to build in the San Luis Valley. Bill was obviously comfortable and was enjoying the climbing up this fourth roped pitch. Bill placed about four pieces of pro on this fourth pitch not because it was hard or scary climbing but that the opportunities for pro were fairly frequent and it's always better to make the second carry the gear rather than the leader! On this pitch Bill needed about 210 feet of rope to make it to the next comfortable ledge so when we ran out of rope I broke down the anchor and we simul-climbed for thirty feet or so. He reached the top of a smaller tower on the ridge and belayed me up. From here the angle of the ridge decreased and the climbing looked to be easier so we coiled the rope and soloed up the rest of the ridge to the summit of the Prow. The climbing was in the 5.0 to 5.2 range and, while exposed, was super fun and very enjoyable.

The clouds were rolling by intermittently but were quite benign. We could still see across the valley and nothing major was forming the sky. Making this positive assessment of the weather we opted to continue our soloing and climb the direct finish from the Kit Carson Avenue to the summit of Kit Carson. Roach's book talks about descending the Kit Carson Avenue to the Challenger/Kit Carson saddle and taking a 5.5 line to the summit. I cannot discourage one from taking that route but I can highly recommend this direct finish straight to the summit. The climbing is about a pitch of 5.4 on more enjoyable, solid rock with a fourth class stretch of ridgeline to the summit. We reached the summit around 10:45am and chatted with a few older men from Pagosa Springs, then descended the South Couloir on Kit Carson to our camp. However, rather than battling the soft snow patches and scree in the couloir we descended on much more solid rock on a solid rib just west of the couloir which was much more enjoyable.

Back at camp by 12:15pm we packed up and began the hike out. We were back at the vehicles around 2:30pm and enjoyed a dip in the Spanish Creek as well as some wild raspberries growing next to the creek before driving into the Great Sand Dunes National Monument for some dune sliding and camping.

Additional Notes (for those who want mega beta):

  • Climb with a 60 meter rope. With a 60m rope fully stretched out you can reach great belay ledges on each pitch.
  • We placed the .5 BD Camalot the most. I would recommend two 0.5 BD Camalots, two .75 BD Camalots, a 1 BD Camalot and two 2 BD Camalots for cams, plus a small assortment of small/medium/large wired stoppers.
  • We had six single-length runners and two double length runners. That was perfect.
  • The climbing is relaxed and very fun. If you lead 5.8 trad, do yourself a favor and go climb this route! It is by far my favorite route on a Colorado 14er.