Legendary Indian fighter Kit Carson remains a controversial figure to this day, so much so that a group of Crestone locals recently tried unsuccessfully to rename the mountain that towers over their town in the San Luis Valley. The 14,165-foot peak itself is a beast, with a long, steep approach just to reach Willow Lake (where many set up campsites) and an often hair-raising ascent to the summit itself. One section in particular, a ledge known as Kit Carson Avenue, is particularly unforgiving to a misstep. Hikers start so low that, with 5,400 feet of climbing to the summit, this is one of the tougher 14er ascents in Colorado.
I set out to climb this peak but was completely unprepared for how grueling it would be. On the endless climb to Willow Lake I met a young man descending. He’d made it to within a couple hundred feet of the summit but lost his nerve on Kit Carson Avenue and retreated. Surely I would make it, I thought. But after a night of camping at the stunning lake, I overslept the next morning, storm clouds were forming by 9 a.m. and I too lost my nerve. As they say, the mountain will be there next time.
Recommended season(s): Summer – early fall.
—R. Scott Rappold