|Peak:||Challenger Point (Unranked 14er)|
|Range:||Sangre de Cristo|
|Date of Info:||08/07/2021|
Summited Challenger Point on Saturday, August 7. Left the Willow Creek Trailhead at 4am and made it to the waterfall above the lake by 6:30am. This is probably the best water source to refill from for the remainder of the route under normal conditions, but given the recent rain there was a few small flows in the upper gully on Challenger which could have been used in a pinch (my assumption is these will dry up quickly if there is no recent rain so I would not count on them.)
Trail from TH to the rock rib is well defined. Once you hit the rock rib following the trail becomes quite difficult and we found ourselves losing the trail in multiple places. Trail conditions become super loose and the elevation gains very quickly. IMO, this is the most difficult portion of the hike and could be considered class 3 in some areas given the steepness and rockfall potential (wear a helmet and be very aware of the people climbing near you) as once you gain the ridge its pretty smooth sailing to the summit.
It took us 1 hr to go from Challenger to KC and found that the optional route listed on the 14ers.com description was the best bet for 2 reasons - 1. more direct and 2. super solid rock vs. the standard route and nothing exceeded an easy class 3; we summited KC at 11am which shows how long it takes to go up Challenger. A couple of groups we met at the summit of KC followed us back down this route after mentioning the looser conditions coming up the standard path. One note, you will get to the avenue very quickly (within 15 minutes of leaving the summit) so keep your eyes pealed for the trail. We had to call out to the group behind us to turn right onto the avenue after they initially overshot the trail and were continuing down.
Back to the water ”Â on the summit on KC there were a number of people who were running very low on water. One group had come up the north ridge and arrived shortly before us after leaving the upper waterfall at roughly the same time were all running pretty low, as was my climbing partner. Even with 3.5 liters leaving the waterfall, I was down to about 1.25 liters by this point and knew that we had a good 3+ hours before getting back to the waterfall to resupply. Thankfully we were able to scrounge up a bit a water to share it around and everyone got down without incident, but if you are someone that consumes water faster than others you should consider bringing extra.
Coming back, going up the avenue is a bit of a slog with some tired legs but not too bad. once back to the start of the avenue we followed a couple of other groups heading back up towards the Challenger summit. While we didn't resummit, we were only about 100ft below the summit and skirted around on the class 2 talus to regain the ridge heading down. Once you reach the gully and start the decent the slog really begins. What we thought was bad coming up was worse going down. Tough route finding and loose conditions made for a pretty tiring decent before finally reaching the established trail. We managed to not kick down any rocks, but the group following us sent down a decent sized boulder at one point, serving as a good reminder to bring/wear your helmet in this section. Hopefully there are some future trail projects in the plans because I think a good rain could really wash out a lot of the looser terrain. After discussing with the other groups that had summited KC via the ridge, both parties were in agreement that the section from the ridge of Challenger down to the trail at the start of the rock rib is some of the worst extended conditions on a peak across our collective experiences.
Refilled water at the waterfall and made the final 4.5 mile trek back to the TH on tired legs. Final time was 13hrs total with some breaks on top of Challenger and KC, and again at the waterfall coming down.
Last note ” I've been reading other reports on the smoke conditions impacting breathing, and both my climbing partner and I will confirm that it felt more difficult to breath than normal and we needed more frequent breaks. If you're someone with any type of breathing issue, it might be worth waiting on this one (or any peaks right now) until the conditions improved.
Overall, a gorgeous place. It's a shame the smog/smoke was so bad that it impacted the visibility, especially with the beautiful Crestones right there. TH was easy to access, although we did need to help a fellow hiker who got a flat in her 2WD sedan on the way up (also good reminder to have a spare!)
Photos (click for slideshow):
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