14er Peak Rank #34/53 and Rank #23/53

Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak – featured on Colorado 14ers Map 12 of 16 – are the two northernmost 14ers of the Sangre de Cristo Range. Usually climbed together as their summits are very close to one another (0.6 mile hike apart), Challenger Point is really a subpeak of Kit Carson Mountain, which itself is part of the Crestone Group of peaks west of the town of Westcliffe and east of the town of Crestone.

Challenger Point from Kit Carson Peak

Challenger Point by Fredlyfish4 – Own workCC BY-SA 3.0Link

Kit Carson Peak was named for Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson, a fur trapper, wilderness guide, war veteran and indian fighter who lived in the mid-1800s. Though he spent most of his time in the frontier of the western US leading various expeditions, he rose to considerable fame in America – and across the world – as his exploits made it into (usually-exaggerated) dime novels and newspaper accounts. He apparently discovered his own fame during a failed rescue of an indian captive (Mrs. Ann White) when he found a book near the murdered captive where he later gloomily recounted: “in camp was found a book, the first of the kind I had ever seen, in which I was made a great hero, slaying indians by the hundreds… I have often thought that Mrs. White read the same … and prayed for my appearance that she might be saved.”

Kit Carson around 1860
Kit Carson around 1860

Kit Carson, circa 1860

Kit Carson’s fame led many places to be named after him, such as Carson City, Nevada, Fort Carson near Colorado Springs, Carson National Forest in New Mexico, Kit Carson County Colorado and, of course, Kit Carson Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Challenger Point – a subpeak of Kit Carson Mountain – was only named 31 years ago in 1986 in honor of the Challenger space shuttle disaster that same year. Climber Alan Silverstein led a group to place a plaque on the summit as shown below: 

Challenger Point Plaque

Plaque on Challenger Point honoring the astronauts who died aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1986

A nearby 13er peak, Columbia Point (13,980′) was similarly named in 2003 to honor another space shuttle disaster – this one of the Columbia shuttle that year – and a similar plaque honoring the seven astronauts who died on that mission.

These peaks are generally accessed from the west side of the Northwest-Southeast running spine of the Sangre de Cristo range in southern Colorado. The trailhead that most hikers will use is the South Crestone / Willow Trailhead (8,900′ elevation) which allows access to a trail to South Crestone Lake to the north or due east 4.1 miles towards Willow Lake. It is from Willow Lake (11,576′) that the route up to Challenger Point and Kit Carson Begins. The climbing trail skirts around the north end of the lake before heading back to the southwest up towards the northwest ridge of Challenger, reaching the summit after 1.6 miles (and 2,500′ elevation gain from Willow Lake) of Class 2 (more difficult hiking) trail.

Challenger and Kit Carson

Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point from Willow Lake, by Fredlyfish4 – CC BY-SA 3.0Link

From Challenger Point, the route to Kit Carson Peak leads further east and then down around to an interesting feature of the route called ‘Kit Carson Avenue’ – a Class 2 ledge on the south side of the peak that leads to a gully that provides access to the summit (Class 3, scrambling). It’s about 0.6 miles of hiking/scrambling to the summit of Kit Carson from Challenger Point.

Kit Carson Avenue

Kit Carson Avenue, by Adam Ginsburg – Own workCC BY-SA 2.5Link

The Sangre de Cristo Range is one of Colorado’s most prominent and scenic ranges, rising dramatically from the flatlands around it. Often hiked/climbed by those with some experience on Class 1 or 2 routes, the Sangres can be just as dangerous and challenging as any high alpine peaks of Colorado, and preparation and vigilance are key to successful climbs in the area. Always respect the high mountains by knowing your limitations, staying fueled and hydrated, being ready to turn around if weather conditions begin to deteriorate and don’t forget your backcountry navigational gear – including your 14ers maps. Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak are two of the five fourteeners featured on Outdoor Trail Maps Colorado 14ers Map 12 of 16.

Directions to Trailhead:

The South Crestone / Willow trailhead can be accessed just east of the small town of Crestone, CO.  From CO Hwy 17 (that runs along the western edge of the Sangre de Cristo Range) at Moffat, CO, turn east towards the town of Crestone on County Road T (Russell St.). After 12 miles, the road splits; head left/north on Birch Street into the center of Crestone and, after 0.7 miles, turn right/east on E Galena Avenue and follow for 2.25 miles to the trailhead.