The Prow (Kit Carson)
Trad, Alpine, Grade III,
Avg: 3.7 from 55
FA: ?Paul Spanjer & Jody Schoberlein, July, 1980? [Alan Haverfeld and Dave Mazel, early 1980s]
> Alpine Rock
The Prow is the prominent "Fin" that rises along the southwest ridge of Kit Carson Mountain. The rock is beautiful "Crestone conglomerate", basically smooth, consolidated lava and granite with big jugs all over the place. They look like they could just break off in your hand, but when you grab them they are very solid.
Ascend up to the base of The Prow on 3rd class terrain. The climb starts with a hard to protect, 5.8 move up a bulge with a few loose blocks. After that, the route finding and climbing is easy - just stay on the Prow. The remainder of the climbing never exceeds 5.6. However, you are climbing on the conglomerate knobs that sometimes break off. There are a few false summits along the way. Eventually, you will arrive at a large ledge that will allow you to ascend Challenger Point (to the west) or Kit Carson (to the east by 3rd class climbing). The best option is to continue straight up for another low 5th class pitch to the summit of Kit Carson.
Keep in mind that protection can be hard to find.
For the descent, head east for about a mile (climbing over another peak) to a broad valley (lowpoint between Kit Carson and Ellingwood) that will allow you to return back to your camp. Do not try to cut back too early or you will be descending some scary looking slabs.
Scramble 3rd class to the base of the fin. This route is very committing, and there are very little options for retreat. Once you're on, you're on.
P1 of the route is about a 60 foot, 5.6 ridge that can be simul-climbed. It ends at an obvious, overhanging headwall. This is where the second pitch, and the crux, starts.
P2 climbs up this head wall, one or two 5.8 moves. Some guidebooks say to go right once above this headwall to avoid a bulge. As long as you don't go too far right for too long, this might be OK. I think it would be best to just stick to the ridge. I went too far right and ended up on some of the scariest 5.11 unprotected face climbing I've ever seen. 60' run-out on sloping holds with 1000 feet of air below you = not too fun (unless you are sick in the head).
The rest of the pitches follow the ridge to the summit, mostly 5.6 to 5.7 moves all the way. The rock is solid and the exposure is real. Towards the top the climbing eases off to a 4th class, knife edge ridge and meets with the trail to Challenger Point. From here, belay from next to the trail and take the headwall directly in front of you to the summit (easy 5.6).
This is a GREAT, fun climb.
There are various approaches to this climb that have been used, including the Spanish Creek, Willow Lakes, and South Colony Lakes trailheads. Spanish Creek Trailhead
- recommended for The Prow and possibly South Couloir
Per Tim Stich
Going south on US 285 in the San Luis Valley, turn left on CO 17 (near Mineral Hot Springs) and drive 11.8 miles to the entrance of Baca Grande Chalets Grants. This is Camino Baca Grande Road. Turn right and follow this paved road until it turns into a dirt road (3.6 miles to the trailhead). You will cross Crestone Creek at 0.8 miles and Willow Creek at 2.2 miles. The next creek you get to is Spanish Creek. Keep an eye out on the left for a sign for the Buddhist Monastery. The pink dome is clearly visible from the parking area. Stop just before going over Spanish Creek.
There is a pullout on the left and on the right several hundred feet after the road into the monastery (~8300'). A small sign reads "Hua Foot Path" going uphill at the left pullout. There is a Buddhist Monastery here, so please pass by quietly and respectfully.
The trail follows the creek, crossing back and forth six times. Your first crossing is a wooden plank. Cross then go back to the right and up the embankment. Pass a steel pipeline and a half-buried structure. Walk along the creek and keep an eye out for cairns and more foot bridges made from logs. BRING BUG SPRAY!
You will cross left and right over the creek five more times with the final crossing leaving you on the left side of the creek. At this last crossing, you will see a feeder creek coming down a slope and a path going back the way you came. Take this path, and it will turn back uphill in the right direction. If you miss it, climb uphill until you find the main trail again.
Anytime you find yourself bushwhacking, zig-zag back and forth uphill until you find the path. Cairns will occur frequently along the trail. It is best to hike it during the light, as the subtle trail is difficult to see in poor light.
You will start to leave the creek and be up high to the left of it. Eventually you will come to a brighter area and get your first glimpse of The Prow. This is the start of the blow down area where hundreds of trees were felled in a strong wind event years ago. Rocks sitting on the trees show where to cross the easiest.
When you get almost directly below The Prow's lower buttress, you will see cairns leading steeply uphill and also continuing to follow Spanish Creek. Camp in this area if you intend to bivy. There are many nice, grassy meadows within the pines here. From treeline, it's a simple line to the base of the Prow. Willow Creek Trailhead
- not recommended for The (South) Prow, only for The North Ridge or Outward Bound Couloir
Per Todd Bauck
: The approach may be the crux. South of Salida and North of Monte Vista, along US 285, head south on CO 17. Go east on 1 Rd to the town of Crestone. From the town of Crestone, drive south for 3.5 miles on Camino Baca Granda. Park close to the ashram (solar powered, ~9100') which is just north of Willow Creek. The approach follows Willow Creek on a trail that is faint at times. Start on the south side of the creek for the first 1/4 mile. Plan on fording the creek a few times. It would be hard to do this climb in a day from the road due to the approach (5+ miles). Basically, the trail follows the creek for a few miles until the trail leaves the creek and follows an old road (North of the creek). Camp near treeline at approximately 11,000' directly below The Prow. Note: Some of the approach is on private property. Please be a courteous visitor.
Single set of nuts and cams up to a #3 Friend. Narrow profile cams like Aliens work best.
The Prow, February 3, 2013.
Heading up pitch one, above the crux. George is going right after the roof which is a bit steeper. I've always gone left at the huge, white cobble above the roof. July, 2010.
Kit Carson, seen from Challenger Point, February 3, 2013.
Road to Crestone.
Looking back at the large "Dr. Seuss" gendarme on our third pitch of the route. July, 2010.
The second pitch, which begins with a short boulder problem. Warren only placed one RP between where he is now and the fixed piece, about 40' higher.
Near head on view of The Prow from the south.
Listen to the warnings regarding bug-spray!!!
I believe this is the 'bulge' that is mentioned in several comments. This belay was the end of our third pitch.
The top of our 3rd pitch, with the top of the first step visible below.
The Avenue in winter.
South Couloir, Kit Carson, winter 2013.