Kit Carson Peak
Descent Route: Southeast Face To O.b. Couloir
Kit Carson Peak
Sangre De Cristo Range
Ski Descent #47
December 13, 2006
With the New Year approaching, I?m feeling a certain self-imposed pressure and motivation to finish off my remaining eight fourteeners. With very little in the way of good recon or information on the Sangre de Cristo Range, Ted Mahon and I left Aspen Tuesday morning intent on visually scouting the peaks of this great southern range. Independence Pass is, of course, closed this time of year, so a long drive took us east to Minturn, over Tennessee Pass to Leadville, south to Salida, and then up into the Wet Mountain Valley on the east side of the Range. With binoculars we had a look at Humboldt Peak, but that large heap of scree only had a little bit of snow on its? south-east flanks, so we faced a dilemma. We could call it all off and head home, or continue our drive south and circumvent the central part of the range and have a look at the west side. Since we had plenty of time on our hands, we continued south over Pass Creek Pass, to the towns of Ft. Garland and Alamosa. We got a great view of Little Bear Peak, which looks to have nice coverage on its? south face. I?m not sure if this awesome face has ever been skied, but it doesn?t go from the summit anyway. We turned north in Alamosa and headed to the town of Crestone, at the base of the Crestone Group of peaks, and pulled into he Willow Creek trailhead at 6:00 p.m., intent on doing o recon mission into the Willow Lake basin and the base of Kit Carson Peak.
Ted and I slept out under the stars on a cold and dry night. At 5:15 a.m. the alarm rang and we hopped back into the truck for some warmth and breakfast. By 6:30 we were skinning under the light of the half moon. The approach to Kit Carson from the west is long and has a lot of vertical relief, 6 miles and over 5000 feet to be precise. We made the gorgeous setting of Willow Lake, with its huge ice flows falling over the cliffs, at 9:00 a.m., and continued up into the upper basin. Our plan was to check out the O.B. (Outward Bound) Couloir, and if it was in condition, climb it to get a view if the southeast face of Kit Carson. As we rounded the corner below Challenger Peak and got our first glimpse of the couloir, our spirits rose. It was filled with solid coverage and looked like a fun climb. The wind was whipping off the north face of Kit Carson as we ascended this perfect notch couloir. Ted topped out first, and as I came across the saddle, he was beaming that familiar smile that leads one to believe that fortunes are looking up. I stared up at the summit of Kit Carson and the southeast face in agreement. The face was caked with new snow, bright white and soft looking.
We began the final portion of our climb to the summit, crossing several gullies on a diagonal ascent to the summit. The air was cold but not painful, as one might expect on a clear December day at 14,000 feet. Last spring this climb would have been easy and fast for me, but today I was feeling fatigued. I need a few more big days like this under my belt this winter I guess. We made the summit at 1:00 p.m. feeling certain that we could check another fourteener ski descent off our lists (Ted has skied almost as many as me, just not in a year) The wind was howling from the north-west, but we comfortably sat five feet below the summit on the lee side out of the gale. From the summit the views are incredible, as they are on most fourteeners. To the north the Sangres looked caked with snow, and to the south the sand dunes gave way to the Blanca group forty miles away. Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle stood less than 8 miles to the east, with the north couloir of Crestone Peak staring us in the face. Humboldt Peak (14,064?) and Colony Baldy (13,705?) lay east and north of the Crestones, bald and bare as usual. Ted and I soaked up the views, discussed future ski lines, and proceeded to gear up for our descent.
Kit Carson was the last fourteener in ski pioneer Lou Dawson?s quest to become the first person to ski all the Colorado fourteeners. I think it took him more than four or five tries to get Kit Carson done, and when he finally he skied from the summit of the peak, he skied into history. I will be the first to admit that I have had a certain amount of good luck on my project, and as Ted and I dropped in, this fact was not lost on me. The snow on the southeast face was so good we spent more time than usual taking photos and watching each other ski ?epic? powder at 14,000 feet. The last time I skied snow this good on a fourteener was on North Maroon Peak back in April. We made our way down the southeast face, towards the top of Cole?s Couloir, where our route dropped down to the north, between, Kit Carson and Kat Carson (13,980?) into the dark and narrow O.B. couloir. As we descended into the O.B. the snow turned from powder to wind effected soft slab, yet even with the hardest jump turns, everything stayed in place. From the summit to the basin above Willow Lake, we had skied more than two thousand feet of really fantastic snow, on steep and airy terrain. After a short break above the lake, we continued down our descent route, finally throwing the skis on our packs at 10,800? for the remaining four-mile hike back to the truck.
We arrived back at the trailhead at 5:15 p.m. exhausted and with sore feet. Both Ted and I were elated to have knocked off a fairly difficult and fickle peak I great style. We loaded up and hit the road, a four-hour drive ahead of us back to the Roaring Fork Valley. I now have seven fourteeners left: Blanca, Little Bear, Humboldt, Crestone Needle, Shavano, Princeton, and Longs Peak. With more snow I am hopeful to finish them off in the next month. Remember, I started my project last January 22nd, so although I?d like to finish by December 31st, if I can pull it off by January 21st that will still be in a year period. Beyond that, Mother Nature willing, I?ll finish them as soon as possible.
Thanks again for all your support and many, many emails this summer and fall.
See you in the mountains!
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