Peaks: Kit Carson and Columbia Point, Sangre de Cristos
Date Climbed: August 7, 2007
Group: Me and Stu
Route: East Ridge from South Colony Lakes TH
My Dad, his girlfriend Janet, Stu and I headed to Westcliffe the night of August 6 and stayed at the Mountain View Inn, our “basecamp” for climbing the Crestones, Kit Carson, and Humboldt (my final four fourteeners) on the 7th and the 8th. I would highly recommend this place, it was extremely well kept and relatively cheap. Stu and I woke up at 2:30am and piled our gear into our rental Jeep which we picked up in Salida the night before (I would also highly recommend a rental for the South Colony Lakes road if you have the money). We headed for the South Colony Lakes Jeep trail with the intention of getting as high as we could in the rental vehicle. We ended up being able to reach the upper TH and we were on the trail by 4:30am.
We had two climbing days avaliable to us to summit the four peaks. The initial plan was for T.j. and Janet to hike Humboldt (my finisher) on the second day so we could celebrate together on the summit. This meant Stu and I were going to attempt to get the hard part out of the way first and summit Kit Carson and the Crestones the first day, making for an easy finisher day entailing a walk up Humboldt. As we would soon discover, the weather had a different plan for us. We hiked under the stars for about an hour and a half and reached the Humboldt/Crestone Peak saddle at sunrise.
We intentionally passed over the easy ascent of Humboldt as we planned on it being my finisher from the beginning of the trip and therefore needed to wait for T.j. and Janet. The scramble over to Bear‘s Playground entailed suprisingly difficult routefinding. Generally we stayed high on the ridge, occasionally dropping below on either side. We strolled onto the playground at 6:40am and considered our options.
The logistics of getting all four peaks in the correct order (landing T.j. and Janet on the top of Humboldt at the same time as Stu and I) were suprisingly difficult to agree upon. Do we get the Crestones today and then go for Kit Carson tomorrow (while T.j. and Janet head up Humboldt) and hopefully hike fast enough to backtrack and meet them on the summit? Do we hit Kit Carson and the Crestones today and hike with them the whole way tomorrow? For whatever reason we decided to try for Kit Carson and the Crestones in one day which definately seemed possible given that the weather held.
We began contouring underneath Pt. 13,799 towards Columbia point and gained the saddle between the two peaks in thirty minutes. From the saddle we summited Columbia and Kitty Kat Carson (I absolutely hate that name) in order to gain access to Kit Carson from the east. The trail leading up to Kat Carson is Class 2+.
We summited Kat Carson at 7:35am and contemplated the next section. Basically the route drops a few hundred feet in elevation down a Class 3 face to the saddle connecting Columbia and Kit Carson and then climbs Kit‘s east face. The route is well marked and fairly obvious.
We tediously wound our way through the rock formations and topped out on Kit Carson at 8:10am.
Already the clouds were beginning to form in every area of the sky all around us. The idea of getting back to Bear‘s Playground and then going for the Crestones seemed like wishful thinking, we were still going to at least give it a try though. We completed our habitual summit checklist and began the long trek back to the playground.
We descended, ascended, and descended again, reaching the playground at 9:45am. Unfortunately Kit Carson took much more time than we anticipated, we found ourselves with one of the most difficult climbs of our lives ahead of us and it was 10:00am. On top of that the clouds were gaining moisture, turning increasingly dark, and moving in our direction. At this point I felt uneasy about the whole thing and thought that pushing it was going to be a bad idea. Stu (like many of us would) was not keen on the idea of having to hike all the way out and then return to Bear‘s Playground the following day and he convinced me to give the Crestones a shot.
We wanted to go for the North Buttress route to add a little spice to the climb, we found that we were also under-aquainted with the route. We ended up traversing a fourth of a mile too far underneath the North Buttress route turnoff and wasted an hour in the process. The entire thing became even tougher as the clouds rolled in and covered the entire upper half of the mountain, restricting our view of the route we wanted to be on.
The clouds continued to thicken and the visability decreased to a couple hundred feet. We were still off route at this point trying to backtrack and figure out what we did wrong.
At 10:45am we called it off. It just wasn‘t worth the risk, we realized we were letting the pressures of the surrounding situation control our judgment rather than considering what was important. This was the first failed attempt for Stu and I in twenty six summits (for we have been very fortunate with the weather this summer). The Crestones had defeated us! (temporarily of course) We headed back to Bear‘s Playground, traversed back across the ridge to the base of Humboldt, and descended to the lakes.
We reached the Jeep at 1:15pm and headed back to Westcliffe, planning to return the following morning and get both Crestones and Humboldt. Overall we learned a good lesson about turning back and what should and shouldn‘t be considered when making a decision on these mountains.