Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An Artistic Adventure - Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point

Last year someone gave me the idea to do a trip report using only artwork for the visuals. I thought that would be kind of a fun and different take on a couple peaks that are otherwise pretty popular. Some of these drawings/paintings are quick sketches, and others have been in the making for months. All are from one of the most entertaining and beautiful trips I've ever taken. Hope you guys enjoy!

The Sangre de Cristo Mountain range is quickly becoming my favorite. The peaks are dramatic and interesting. They offer more solitude than what we are used to in the front range. My folks also own a little lot of land down near the foot hills of the Spanish Peaks south of Walsenburg where we go camping from time to time to get away from civilization. Earlier in the summer on a fishing/hiking trip, I caught a 16 lb. tiger musky from Horseshoe lake at Lathrop State Park from the shore. It was all luck, but for sure the biggest fish I've ever caught or probably will ever catch. The next day, Brad (Mt. Ninja), Daniel (Daniel-Sahn), Kenton and I climbed Mt. Lindsey's Northwest ridge as my first class 4 route which was very exciting.

East Spanish Peak from Lathrop State Park - B&W Watercolor

Two weeks later my friends James (enjoi_14ers) and Zach accompanied me on a hike up KC and Challenger. We drove down Thursday afternoon to do the 4-5 mile hike up to willow lake with perfect weather. The year before, Zach, my wife and I did this same hike in a downpour and had a very wet, cold night which ruined our plans to hike the following day. We were happy to have good weather this time. The hike up to the lake was pleasant with fantastic views the whole way up. There were a few waterfalls you pass on the way.

Waterfall near Willow Lake - Graphite Drawing

And lots of wildflowers!

Columbines - Acrylic
 prints available

As we approached the lake we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Cliffs across the lake with a 200ft. waterfall. No pictures or paintings can ever do these sights justice. God is the great artist indeed! It was a great area to camp. A worthy destination even if you were not looking for peaks to climb. We set up our tents and discussed the climb for the next day.

Willow Lake - Pen and Ink

Before dawn the next morning we woke up and James' knees were bothering him from the hike the previous day. He decided to stay at camp. Zach also had been planning on just going to the was solo. I started up and around the lake in the crisp morning air. As the sun rose, it painted the top half of Kit Carson Peak and Challenger point in warm hues.

Willow Lake and Kit Carson - Oil Pastel

Climbing up the north slope of Challenger point was exactly as described by members in other reports - loose, steep, and crappy. This was not the most fun part of the hike. I actually found this to be more difficult than anything on Kit Carson Peak though it is rated as easier climbing. This sketch is the best way I could visually describe what it was like to climb the slope:

Challenger slope

 There was one section on the way up where it was necessary to cross snow. I looked for another way around, but this was the best option. The snow in this section was hard and steep. I had little experience with it, but I'm glad I brought my ice axe along with me. I plunged my axe into the snow and held on to it as I kicked steps for my feet to cross. Had I not brought the axe, the trip would have been over for me at this point. No way would I have crossed this section without this handy tool.

On the return trip I tried to glissade down the gully near the top of the slope. This was a bad idea. The snow was getting very soft from the sun in the middle of the day. As I started sliding down, my axe was not catching the snow very well at all even when I plunged it in as hard as I could. I quickly and carefully (with much fear) made my way back to solid rock.

Ice Axe

Once I reached the top of Challenger's slope, it was a gentle stroll to the summit with dramatic exposure on the right side.

Challenger Point - Watercolor

At this point it was turning out to be a perfect blue bird day with almost no wind or clouds in the sky. I felt confident to take on Kit Carson. Kit Carson Peak has this cool natural feature carved into the side of it called "Kit Carson Avenue". It's basically a wide, sidewalk like ledge along vertical cliffs that you walk on to go to the back side of the mountain to reach easier climbing. I could see a little bit of snow still on the avenue, but as I approuched it, I found that most of it was avoidable. The views of the Crestones along the avenue were fantastic!

Kit Carson Peak and Avenue - Graphite Drawing

Crestone Peak along Kit Carson Avenue - Charcoal Drawing

I hiked up, down and around on the avenue until I found the final class 3 pitch to reach KC's summit. The rest of the climb here was pretty fun and straightforward. I think I was able to keep the difficulty to a very low class 3 or even class 2. I was the only person to summit KC that day. In fact, I only saw one other guy the whole time on my way down. He was heading up to Challenger and was running a little late and had decided to just go for only Challenger today.

The trip down was uneventful. When I got back to the tent my buddies were taking pictures of some big horn sheep that were hanging out near the camp. There was a salt lick block on the ground and about 10-15 of these sheep were licking it obsessively. They would not leave that block. We even tried to shoo them off and they would run away, stop, then turn around and come right back to it. They were either not very scared of people, or they wanted some salt really bad. After a while, this big daddy sheep with huge horns came down the hill strutting his stuff and started ramming all the other littler sheep like he wanted the block all for his own. Big bully! Zach got some good shots of him.

Bully Sheep - Colored Pencil Drawing
Prints Available

Finally, before we packed up to leave, James wanted to jump in the lake. He dared us to jump in with him, but we didn't fall for it. So he did it on his own. Being higher than 11,000 ft. I'm sure the water was not very comfortable. James jumped in anyway. The exact instant he hit the water he was already on his way swimming back to shore. I've never seen that guy move so fast! When he got out of the water, his skin had turned purple and he exclaimed loudly, "It's Cold!"  

Leap of ..... Something - Graphite Sketch

All in all, it was a great trip and a great place.

Thanks for reading!

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