Challenger Point

Date Hiked: 10-21-16

Mileage: 13.6 mi

Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): Signs of one camper at the lake, though I never did see him.

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The explosion of the Challenger shuttle forever changed the space program, and in response, Challenger Point, a high peak on the shoulder of Kit Carson Mountain, was named and dedicated for the seven astronauts who died onboard.

In July of 1987, a local climber by the name of Alan Silverstein led an expedition to place a memorial plaque on the summit, which still remains to this day.

The Sangre de Cristo Range is a fault-block mountain range, which means it rises abruptly to its highest points, without foothills. With the surrounding plains sitting at an average of around 8,500 feet or less, it makes for a lot of elevation gain in these hikes.

The first couple miles navigate the pinon forests along Willow Creek east of the town of Crestone. Then above 10,000 feet, the woods begin to transition into a mix of conifers as it nears the rocky flanks of Kit Carson Mountain. Over the next mile, the trail eases up along a more level slope leading into Willow Lake sitting at 11,650 feet.

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Looking west across Willow Lake.

At Willow Lake, head north along the talus-lined shores to the alpine basin below Kit Carson Mountain, then wrap east along well-cairned trail segments towards the gully northwest of Challenger Point. While this is the easiest way up the mountain, it still offers very steep terrain and loose rock. And when I went, ice and snow made the route more difficult than it should have been.

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The area immediately east of the lake.

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Starting in on the long climb up.

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Leaving the tundra behind, the route enters this snowy gully.

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The terrain grows progressively more difficult with each foot of elevation gained. The snow also makes routefinding more tedious.

Nearing the top of the gully, about 13,500 feet, the slope grows steeper until you come out on the ridge. The remainder of the trail follows the mountain’s exposed ridge up to Challenger Point.

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The rock is loose and unstable towards the top of the gully, and the slope is steep enough to warrant the use of your hands. Though nothing grows more difficult than a difficult class-two.

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Looking down from the top of the gully. The route follows the shaded depression.

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Looking towards the summit. Challenger Point is to the right, while Kit Carson is to the left.

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The terrain along the ridge. Not a good mountain for those afraid of heights.

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At the peak. Kit Carson to the left, Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle centered, and Great Sand Dunes National Park in the plains off to the right.

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Colony Baldy rises in the foreground as a fire burns near Wetmore on the other side of the Wet Mountains.

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Another fire scorching the farmland west of Crestone.

Challenger Point is actually only a sub-peak to Kit Carson. But with an elevation gain of over 6,500 feet and a round trip of 14.5 miles from the trailhead to Kit Carson, I might have to tackle this one once I get the hang of camping solo, or wait for the summer solstice and take my time with it. But I’m not sure I want to make this into a twenty+ hour day with the driving.

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The name Sangre de Cristo, or “Blood of Christ” was inspired by the red peaks at alpenglow.

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Map

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Directions

(From Crestone): Drive east on Galena Avenue until it ends at the Willow Creek Trailhead, 2.2 miles from Cedar Street. The 14ers website cautions for good-clearance vehicles, but I made it with zero problems in a sedan with 5.3″ of clearance, albeit the road was bone dry. I’m not sure I would have wanted to risk this one in the mud.

2.2 miles; 9 min

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