Kit Carson, Prow Attempt

15-17 Jul 1998 - by Chris Long

Sitting in the hot city gave me dreams of higher cooler places. Corey and I decided a technical route up a fourteener would be fun and challenging. We were both sport climbing at the 5.10 level and decided it shouldnt be too hard to do a 5.8 trad route. We decided on Kit Carson Peak, The Prow. The first pitch was 5.8, and then it eased off to 5.5 or so.

We packed up our stuff and drove down to the Sangre de Cristo range. This is a beautiful mountain range with jagged looking peaks. Sangre de Cristo means blood of Christ. Apparently they were named by a Spanish conquistador who when viewing the sunrise on the mountains, proclaimed "Sangre de Cristo." The color of the peaks during sunrise must have been red.

We drove down to Westcliffe, then south for a few miles to Colfax Rd. Colfax is dirt and we followed this to another dirt road, then headed west. There was a parking area here for non four wheel drive vehicles as the road ahead was extremely rough. I wasnt too concerned about it though with my built up Jeep Wrangler and having spent the last five years with four wheeling as my major hobby.

The road up was rough, but I did it in 2WD. There was even a short stream crossing. At the end of the road, we parked and got out our packs. We were traveling light, but with the climbing hardware, our packs were still somewhat heavy.

We started up the trail making it to South Colony Lakes in no time. We didnt have much light left so we set up camp. We didnt bring any sleeping bags or tents so we could go light. I put all my clothes on and laid my poncho over me. I had a Clif Bar for dinner and went to sleep.

It was a little chilly that night, but not too bad. When morning came, I had another Clif Bar, which was the only food I brought. I stuffed my poncho in the pack and we were off again.

We couldnt really see the view last night when we got in because it was too dark, but the views now were amazing. Crestone Needle and Peak were on our left side as we hiked up the valley and Humboldt was on the right. The Crestones are awesome, jagged looking peaks. I tried to spy the line for the Ellingwood Arte on Crestone Needle for a later climb.

When we came to the saddle below Humboldt we adjusted our clothes and had another Clif Bar. The route would now go across a ridge for a while to the Bears Playground. This is a big flat area at 13,200 feet right below Crestone Peak.

The ridge was fun. There was some exposure on both sides and I liked hopping around on the different shaped rocks. The views all over were awe-inspiring. I wish I would have brought my camera, but again, I was trying to go light. Corey told me that this was the most beautiful place he had ever been.

The Bears Playground was a cool area. It looked big enough for a football field. We wondered how the football players would play at 13,200 feet. I also wondered if there were any hungry bears around.

We took another little break, enjoying the views all around. If we were going the easy way, we would continue up the ridge and follow it all the way to the summit. For the Prow, we drop down and hike across talus for a while to the base of the climbing.

We dropped down to the talus and the hiking became slower. Some of the talus was a little loose and required more balance and concentration. Corey is missing some of the tendons in one of his ankles, so he has difficulty with stuff like this. After not too long he was getting pissed off, complaining and cussing. I would get tired of listening to him and hike quickly ahead out of earshot. When I thought I could take a little more, I would let him catch up, then repeat the process.

We came to a flat spot with a stream and took another break. We filled our water bottles and had another Clif Bar. I was starting to tire of Clif Bars, but it was all I had. I didnt like them that much in the first place.

We could now see the base of the prow, and it still looked far away. Some clouds started moving in.

We continued our hike, coming to a steep portion just below the beginning of the route. I soloed this part and took a break to wait for Corey on a big ledge. After a bit, Corey called up and wanted a belay. I set up an anchor and tossed down the rope. He tied in and climbed up. Turns out he went further left than I did and was on a steeper part of the rock.

It started hailing on us, but was short lived. At the base of the prow was a big ledge and we got ready for the climbing portion of our trip. We spent a lot of time just to get to this part and had to move quickly if we didnt want to be stuck out in the dark.

I would lead the first pitch, and then Corey would follow with both packs. Then we would exchange packs/rack and he would lead the next pitch. I tied in and racked up. The first move of this pitch was the 5.8, and then it eased off to 5.6 for the rest of the pitch. The first move was really cool. I got to do a heel hook with my mountain boots and pulled over the overhang.

This is the first time I had done any climbing in my boots and I didnt like the sensation too much. I couldnt feel the rock through the stiff, thick boots and friction moves seemed none too secure. The climbing itself was easy, but seemed scary anyway. There were vertical drop-offs to the left and to the right that seemed like thousands of feet. The protection was few and far between. If I fell off in several areas, I would splat on the ledge we started on. I reached a small crack with two nuts that someone else had left there. I clipped into those and breathed a small sigh of relief.

I continued on, sometimes 20 or 30 feet above my last manky piece. I hoped it would at least slow me down before I hit the ground. I searched left and then right for somewhere to put gear in. No luck. Finally I went up some more and then way right. There was a big crack over there and I put in a bomber hex. There was a small ledge there so I sat down and rested. I set up an anchor and put Corey on belay.

Corey started climbing with two packs on his back. I knew the crux was at the beginning so I kept the rope tight. I felt him come off and weight the rope. He tried again and yelled take. I pulled the rope with all my might and locked it off. He yelled take again. I told him I couldnt take anymore. He tried several different things and was not able to get himself and the packs over the crux. I told him to forget it. I didnt want to lead any more pitches. This first one was too scary. I obviously needed to practice more trad climbing before I tackled something like this.

He agreed and I decided to come down. I sat there for ten minutes trying to figure out how to get down. I was more than half the rope length up and could not be lowered. After awhile, Corey asked me what I was doing. I told him I was trying to figure out how to get down. I guess some kind of training would have been good in this situation.

I asked if he had any extra slings. I figured I would rappel down on one rope and use the slings to pull the rope. He didnt have enough. Eventually I took out all the gear at the anchor except the hex. I had Corey lower me to the two nuts. I hooked up the rope for a rappel from there and came down. Now I had my turn cussing. That little situation scared the crap out of me. I never wanted to do something like that again.

We now faced the long hike back to the Jeep. We had to go back up the talus again to the Bears Playground, across the ridge and back down again. Neither of us wanted to do that. Instead we decided that we would go down the valley on the opposite side of where we were parked. We checked the map and it looked like there was a trail that wasnt too far down that would lead us to the town of Crestone. From there we would call Coreys brother to pick us up and drive us to my Jeep.

We started hiking down expecting to hit the trail at anytime. We seemed to be past the section where it began, but still there was no trail. A little further down we hit a section that appeared to have had a fire a couple of years ago. There were downed trees everywhere. We had to climb over, go under and around the trees. We were exhausted and making terrible time. Darkness was not far away.

At one point, we sat down to rest on a steep side slope resting against a fallen tree. We asked each other what we wanted to do, but had no answer. We fell asleep right there for about an hour. When we awoke, it was dark. We took out our headlamps and continued down.

We got off the hill onto flatter terrain and decided to stop for the night. Of course we didnt have any sleeping bags or tent, so we started building a shelter out of branches and our ponchos. We put all our clothes on again and lay down to go to sleep.

I stayed relatively warm during the night and didnt sleep too bad. In the morning we got up, had some more Clif Bars and started hiking again.

We hiked for quite awhile coming to more open terrain. I was excited when I saw an area with some kind of man-made equipment and a dirt road. I knew we werent too far now. After a little while on the road, we passed by some strange, square, vent type things sticking out of the ground.

Not too far after that, we saw someone on the dirt road walking by a truck. We were excited. Maybe we could use their phone to call Coreys brother. Corey is more adept than me at negotiations, so I told him he had to talk to her.

He did and she invited us in to make our call. The house was partially underground and had large windows on one side. There was a picture on the wall of some guy in robe type clothing who had a red dot on his forehead. Hmm, some kind of religious cult maybe. We saw a couple of other people also dressed in robes. I hoped they didnt need us for a sacrifice or anything. They turned out to be very friendly.

I called my friend Curtis on his 800 number and asked him to call Scott to come and get us.

The people asked if we were hungry and I said, "Yes!" They gave me a banana and some kind of hot cereal that seemed to be made of rice or something. I had some honey on it and it was delicious. All I had eaten the day before were Clif Bars.

After eating, they offered us a ride into town since they were going there anyway. We graciously accepted their hospitality.

In town, we didnt have our wallets, so we couldnt buy any snacks or anything. We didnt specify where Scott should meet us, but the town was pretty small. We sat down outside of the only convenience store in town to wait.

It was kind of fun watching the people come and go. It seemed like everyone in town had a beard and a dog. Several people approached us and asked us if we came from up in the mountains. One guy came over and gave us some kind of coin with a saint on it. It was a friendly town. We slept a little, but mostly watched everyone.

After a few hours, I saw Scott drive by and head up the road. I tried to head him off, but he was already gone. After 5 minutes or so, he came back and we loaded up.

Now we had to drive all the way around the Sangres to Westcliffe, and then back up the dirt road to my Jeep. Scott wasnt too happy that he had to come pick us up. Today he was going to go fishing and said he still was. Every 20 minutes or so he would stop and fish for a little while, then get back in and move up the road some more.

We finally made it around to the other side to the rough 4WD road. Scott has a 4runner, but no experience four wheeling. He wasnt too happy going up the road. On one part I heard something in the back scrape the rock. It was his bumper and it got bent up. We finally made it back to my Jeep and Corey decided to ride back with his brother.

I started the drive home and was glad to get to my bed later that night.

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