For a single day trip, start hiking EARLY! From the Willow Creek Trailhead follow the well-worn trail east toward Willow Lake. There are numerous switchbacks as the trail winds up through the valley, crosses over the creek and eventually arrives at the scenic Willow Lake. This is a great place to camp.
Find the easiest route around Willow Lake on its left (north) side and be sure to stay above the cliffs and waterfalls. From here the North Ridge of Kit Carson Peak is fully visible, as is the remainder of the one-mile approach through the valley - 1
shows a profile of the ridge. Continue southeast and pass below the boulders and cliffs seen in 2
. It is crucial to get past the cliff bands before continuing much higher. By either staying lower in the valley or passing between the boulders and cliff bands, hike all the way to the Outward Bound (OB) Couloir. When you hit the base of the OB couloir, turn right and ascend the rocks on the west side of OB - 4
. The northeast face of Kit Carson ( 5
) comes into view and the skyline is the north ridge.
Find the easiest route toward the north ridge. Some easy class 3 scrambling will lead up grassy ledges ( 6
) and toward the northeast face. Gaining the ridge is this route's first crux ( 7
). The terrain on the northeast face gets steeper and the class 4 climbing begins. The exposure here can be daunting for the uninitiated. Keep angling right as much as possible until coming to the obvious spine of the north ridge.
Once on the north ridge, enjoy an aesthetic, exposed climb the rest of the way to the summit. 8
shows one of the many steep class 4 sections that will be encountered. 9
gives a good idea of the clumpy conglomerate rock that makes up the entire route. 10
looks back down the first half of the climb, while 11
gives a good idea of the slope's angle in relation to neighboring Challenger Point. 12
shows the route's final crux: the steep pitch to gain the summit plateau. Note the exposure to the left. After that pitch, the angle relents and gives way to one final scramble and hike to the summit ( 13
). Enjoy the hard-earned view, a portion of which is shown in 15
For the descent, the best way to return to Willow Lake is via Kit Carson Avenue and over Challenger Point. Descending the Outward Bound Couloir is another option if you are carrying the appropriate gear. Going back down the north ridge would probably require a rope for at least one rappel.