Hiking Challenger Point | 14er Route Info, Map & Advice
Challenger Point is the most recently named 14er in the state. It was named in memory of the lost crew of the space shuttle Challenger. It’s a tough class 2 scramble to the summit of this less-traveled peak. The approach hike to Willow Lake is a 4.25-mile trek in itself, followed by the climb up the steep North Slope to the summit ridge. For those ready for Class 3 terrain, you can continue on to Kit Carson Peak to bag a second 14er. Take care, as several have died on that route. Get ready for your trip hiking Challenger Point with my route guide below.
New to 14ers? Check out my 14er Beginners Guide here to get started
Hiking Challenger Point: Fast Facts
Hiking Challenger Point - North Slope Route
Start hiking Challenger Point by taking the trail 4.25 miles from the Willow Creek trailhead up the valley until you come to Willow Lake. If making this trip overnight, there are many campsites in the area here to use. Pick up the trail near the lake’s west side. It may be hard to locate among the numerous social trails.
Take the trail along the lake’s north side and turn left to climb up and around a large ledge ahead of you. Turn right at the top and continue along the top of the hill.
Cross the stream above the waterfall and follow the trail towards the North Slope of Challenger Point. Kit Carson Peak rises just past it and above you.
Nearing the bottom of the slope, this section ahead will be the most difficult part of hiking Challenger Point. The route stays to the right of the large snow-filled gully the entire time and gets rougher as you go. Find the bottom of the trail and start to climb.
The slope is steepest between 13,400 feet and 13,700 feet. This is the crux of your trip hiking Challenger Point. Follow cairns and weave through the rock ledges to reach the summit. Be wary of loose rock here and take your time ascending the steep slope. A helmet here wouldn’t be a bad idea.
As you near the top of the slope, aim for a notch just to the right of the snow gully. This is the best way to gain the ridge.
Once you get to the top, turn to the left to begin climbing the ridge to the summit.
You have two options from the notch. The harder line is straight ahead and to your leftover steep, exposed rock. The easier line continues through the notch and to the left along the ridge before regaining it.
If you take the easier route, follow small grassy ledges around the ridge and then follow a rocky scramble back up to the summit ridge.
Once back on the ridge, ascend the final 200 feet to the summit to finish hiking Challenger Point. If you want, you can continue along the Class 3 route to Kit Carson Peak – check the weather before going on.
I hope you enjoyed my Challenger Point Route Guide. Be sure you make it back down to the treeline before noon. Good luck hiking Challenger Point, and safe travels on the trail!
If you plan on hiking Challenger Point, you will need a good map to navigate and route-find. I recommending downloading and printing out a copy and saving another digital copy on your phone so you have a backup in case anything happens.
The trailhead can usually be reached by 2WD vehicles if you drive slowly and carefully. At times, especially in the spring, you may need a high clearance vehicle to deal with potholes. If you plan on hiking Challenger Point you may want to check the trailhead conditions before your trip.
DIRECTIONS TO THE WILLOW CREEK TRAILHEAD:
Hiking Challenger Point will take you a good deal of time. There are many miles of hiking and a significant amount of scrambling at high altitudes. A good pair of hiking boots are ideal for this kind of adventure. Here are my top hiking boot recommendations.
You should always bring the ten essentials with you on your trip (see the infographic below). To carry them all, bring a backpack with 20-30 liters capacity. These are several good backpack options that won’t break the bank.
While trekking poles are not a necessity on this mountain, I use them myself as they offer many benefits and make hiking easier. If you want a pair, I share my personal favorites here.
Don’t forget to bring 2 liters of water, and a good bit of snacks and food for the trip. Learn more about packing for a 14er here.
Camping near Challenger Point:
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those hiking Challenger Point. Note that camping is not allowed at the trailhead. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.
Lodging near Challenger Point:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Alamosa and the surrounding area, ideal for those hiking Challenger Point.
Challenger Point gets a lot of traffic due to the high altitude 4WD road along its slopes. This increases the impact on the alpine tundra on this peak. Help preserve this mountain and area while hiking Challenger Point by following these Leave No Trace practices:
- Plan ahead, review the route and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
- Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
- Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
- Urinate off-trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
- Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
- Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.
Safe travels, and good luck hiking Challenger Point! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
Challenger Point was named in 1987 in honor of the lost crew of the Challenger Space Shuttle. This makes it the most recently named of all the Colorado fourteeners. It is officially a sub-peak of Kit Carson Peak because it does not meet the 300-foot minimum prominence rule. However, most people choose to continue hiking Challenger Point anyways since it is on the way to Kit Carson Peak as well.
Additional Resources for Hiking Challenger Point:
Hiking Challenger Point is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!
Hiking Challenger Point is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.
Alex is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.