A new range to explore

So far since I have moved here, I had done 28 of the highest hundred peaks in the state, but all of them were within about a two hour drive of where I live. In fact living where I do is pretty convenient, as I could probably climb at least half of them within that same two hour radius. Of course that leaves about half that are farther away, and rather than being left with having to drive four plus hours every weekend to finish the list, I thought it was time to start getting out and exploring some new areas. This idea sounded good to a few of my friends, and we all set up a trip for this past weekend to head down to the Sangre de Cristo range in the south central part of the state. We chose the closest peak in the range, 14,081’ Challenger Point as our introduction. The drive was about 3 1/2 hours and as we approached the peak we quickly began to realize that this range is one of the state’s most dramatic. The peaks rise abruptly above a wide flat valley, and as you get closer the view becomes neck-bending. We parked at the trailhead and started the ascent to our campsite on Saturday. This was a 4 mile hike with about 2800 feet of elevation gain, almost like climbing a peak in and of itself. The higher and higher into the basin we got the more dramatic the views became, both of the rugged peaks as they got closer and the valley floor and is got further below. We arrived at camp which is just below Willow Lake. The lake itself has a 200 foot cliff across the east end with a large waterfall pouring directly into it. In the morning we had to hike around the lake and above this waterfall. The view from the top was stunning, you could see the valley in the distance and the lake straight down. Behind us the north slopes of Challenger Point and Kit Carson Mountain were rising abruptly and we realized that the majority of the 2500 feet of altitude we needed to gain to make the summit was going to occur in the next mile of hiking. The slopes are steep; there is not doubt about that, and in several places required us to do some scrambling. We did not follow the standard route, instead opted to follow a little more back to the west and ascend directly up the peak’s northwest ridge. This turned out to be a good idea, because we descended the standard route later and it was a steep trail of loose dirt near the top that was not fun to climb. The rock on our route was much more solid, and the range has some of the most interesting rock to climb on. It is basically a conglomerate rock that has smaller knobs of rock imbedded into the main body. Almost as if a lava flow at one point in history poured over smaller rocks and hardened. As time eroded the lava “cement” holding it together, these knobs of rock became exposed and are a joy to climb. As we neared the top, I chose to directly ascend the face, which was class 4 at the base and eased up into a wonderful class 3 climb on these knobs of rock. My friends ended up traversing around and re-joined the ridge at a notch to the east of what was a false summit. From the notch the ridge flattened out for a bit, and we were able to hop directly along the ridge crest from knob to knob. We reached the summit around noon, which has a plaque dedicated to the astronauts of the Challenger Shuttle, for which the peak was named. From here the view of the surrounding peaks is inspiring and I look forward to coming back to climb more knobby rock on Crestone and Kit Carson peaks in the future. The view back to the valley, 5 miles away and 6000 feet below, was spectacular, and we were even able to see to the valley on the east side of the range as well. We descended the loose dirt trail back to the lake and back to camp where we had a quick snack and hiked out. It took about 2 hours from camp back to the car, and on the drive back we stopped for Filet Mignon’s at Quincy’s. Quincy’s is a steakhouse that serves only one cut a day; Filet Sunday through Thursday and Prime Rib on Friday and Saturday. This allows them to have very reasonable prices and my 9 oz Filet was only $10 including a salad and baked potato! What a great meal to end a spectacular trip to a new mountain range with. We all thoroughly enjoyed the scenery, and look forward to coming back for more hikes. I’ll try and load an image from this hike tomorrow, but I need to try and reduce the size of one first to get it to upload. Keep checking!