National Forest Foundation

Challenging Work, Rewarding Results: Kit Carson Peak

NFF Grant Partners and Projects


Kellon Spencer

“The mosquitoes came in swarms.”

Kellon Spencer, a professional photographer who has partnered with the NFF to capture several of Colorado’s majestic fourteeners, shared this observation (or something like it) after returning from Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point. Mosquitoes are common in Colorado's high county in July, but this July was especially bad, as Kellon discovered.

Turns out the late 2019 snow we experienced in Colorado led to an influx of ravenous mosquitoes.

Why is the update from Kellon interesting? Because mosquitoes don't usually come to mind when you think about trail crews, youth corps and volunteers working long, hard hours to steward Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks; there's enough hardship without the bugs. You don’t hear about the bears coming around to base camp each night, sniffing tents. You don’t realize the backbreaking work that went into hauling in all of the tools, food and gear required to spend a summer working from a base camp that involves a commute of over 4,000 feet in just under 5 miles. You don’t know about the motivation required to keep young crews going on the side of a remote mountain for days on end.

There's so much that goes unheard, unrealized and unseen in the quest to build a new fourteener trail in Colorado's wilderness.

Kellon Spencer

The quest to build a sustainable trail to Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point has involved many of the elements that set fourteener trail stewardship apart from a typical trail project. Deep in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness of the Rio Grande National Forest, the landscape where these peaks reside is breathtaking, remote and expansive. The conglomerate rock of the Sangres lends itself to thousands of climbers – and mountain goats – each year, and is also exposed to harsh weather year-round. The trail season is anxiously short. The work requires technical expertise and patience to move boulders safely across severe slopes, follow detailed foot-by-foot trail construction plans - and keep the crew safe in the process.

In the midst of this landscape and the myriad natural processes, crews from NFF partners the Rocky Mountain Field Institute and Southwest Conservation Corps have spent four years, in close coordinate with the USDA Forest Service, constructing a new summit trail to protect the alpine en route to Challenger Ridge.

And the results of their work are incredible.

Kellon Spencer

In 2018 the NFF was honored to bring Kit Carson and Challenger Ridge into the Find Your Fourteener campaign as a priority peak. Though the work is and will always be remote, challenging and extreme, we are working together to bring new approaches and collaborative ideas to the multi-year project. There may be mosquitoes and other unseen challenges, but we are pleased to be doing more, together, as we near the end of this epic, multi-year endeavor.

Kellon Spencer

Photos were captured by Kellon Spencer (Kellon Spencer Photography). Find more of his work here:

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