It was my girlfriend Emily’s 25th birthday, and we decided that we would go do a small backpack trip in the Sangre de Cristo range over the weekend, to celebrate and give summer one last high five before snow possibly started to fly. With bags packed, we sneaked out a smidge early on Friday afternoon and started the 4 hour drive to Crestone, CO.

Always up for adventure, we hiked in at night and set up camp at Willow Lake, tackling our first 5 miles and close to 3,000 feet of elevation. As we approached the lake, we started scanning for potential campsites (which is a fun exercise at night if you’ve never done it). Thankfully, we were in a relatively flat area and had bright headlamps. We found a nice flat site, set up the Sweet Suite 2 in no time, hung our food between 2 trees, and passed out almost immediately.

Alarms went off at 6am, and we hit the trail soon thereafter. Kit Carson and Challenger peak were on the hit list for the weekend, and combined, they’re a total of 14.5 miles with 6,700 feet of elevation gain, starting at 8,850 feet and ending at 14,165. The trail started by going around and up over Willow Lake, which was beautiful right as the sun was rising. Fall colors were abundant in the Colorado high country, with bushes and grasses trading their summer green for the reds and tans of fall.

As we neared the approach to Challenger, things started getting steeper, and after reading the route once more, we were getting a bit less stoked about the trail ahead. The next mile of trail had 2,000 feet of elevation, straight up the face of Challenger, with no switchbacks. I’ll spare the details, but the next 90 minutes of my life sucked – but once we hit the top of the gully below Challenger, the final steps to the top were simple and relatively pain free compared to what we’d already done. Summit #1, check! On to Kit Carson…

Dropping down from Challenger had us in the middle of a large sloping scree field on the left, and pretty sheer cliffs on the right. We hooked up with “Kit Carson Avenue”, a straight cut across the face of Kit Carson, where we then dropped down the back side to find a relatively steep gully. A quick scramble later, and we found ourselves on the top of Kit Carson. We typically pack summit doughnuts, but this occasion meant we packed birthday summit cupcakes!

My job as Marketing Coordinator here at Sierra Designs keeps my weeks pretty busy, so most of my mountain time needs to be squeezed out on weekends. This reality calls for long drives, late nights, and tired Mondays. So why do I prioritize making it happen? Because getting out over the weekend allows me to completely disconnect and shift my focus to one thing: making real memories and enjoying my time outside. Emily’s 25th birthday party could have happened anywhere, but we made it happen on a 14,000 foot mountain top.

And that, more than anything, is what it means to Think Outside.