Via the “Ditch Trail”
Saturday August 21, 2010
After working all day Friday I readied my S-10 and was on the road by 3:47PM. I drove out of Louisville and south on Route 93 took a right on Route 6 through the canyon to I-70 to Glenwood Sprgs where I exited and took Route 82 to the Snowmass exit right and proceeded up Snowmass Creek Rd. After a short distance I then turned right on Capitol Creek Rd. and drove through some nice country as I made my way to the dirt portion of this good road and up to the trailhead at about 7:50PM. The moon was 2/3 full in the sky and Capitol Peak is most prominent in the distance over pinewood/aspen forests. This is a large trailhead and offer lots of parking and there were several others making ready to spend the night; as was I.
Darkness came slowly as the moon cast such a bright glow as to fore go any degree of true nightfall. I took my time and laid-out a most comfortable “sack” in the back of my truck and took a 2mg Lunesta to help me to sleep as my watch alarm was set for 2:00AM. I was sound asleep by 8:30PM and was awaken suddenly about 10:00PM by a car that pulled along side with what I presumed to be “enthusiastic” people. However, I soon found this group of 3-4 guys to not be able to make more noise if they’d shot a gun but proceeded instead to shoot-off their obnoxious mouths with loudness (yelps & howls) and just plain nonsense as though they were the only ones there. These Bozos carried-on for about 40 mins and my old New England ways came to mind as I thought to myself……….No matter where you go there’s always an a**hole or 2, 3 perhaps 4. I lay in my drug induced state until coma/sleep soon welcomely returned.
I awoke right at 2:00AM as my watch alarm sounded right on time and the moon was now heading down to the West and the brightly glow gave way to darkness. Breakfast consisted of two pop tarts, a banana and a quart of Gatorade as my gut was a bit edgy from either the Lunesta or the a-holes from the night before. But I soon readied my daypack, pulled myself together, donned my newly acquired headlamp and headed up the “ditch trail” right at 2:45AM with many stars above; with Orion seemingly right above Capitol Peak……no one else around.
My headlamp performed remarkably with its full-blown high beam feature and seeing the trail for once wasn’t a big problem in these dark hours. I’d studied the 14er.com printout completely and felt as though I had things memorized as I made my way along this black, mostly level trail to where I soon found the right turn at the “logged” block and then proceeded to the creek crossing and into the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness sign. This trail has several levels, gradual up/downs, many cow “plops” to avoid and I found this to be a solid trail through pine, aspen and meadow and across a couple of creeks before heading left at about the 3 mile mark and across Capitol Creek via a stump, stony sandbar and a log “bridge” where it was plenty apparent that this area has been getting plenty of rainfall.
Directly across the creek and ahead I found the Capitol Creek/Lake trail and took a right turn along another well traveled trail with the creek rushing hard on the right in the darkness. Staying on the trail wasn’t an issue as the cattle had made many peculiar trails that all appeared to end up at the same place as following along the creek and then up into the forest was an easy hike.
I was surprised when I arrived at a forest service cattle gate to be opened and closed upon entry and into another of many short meadows, creek crossings and gradual elevation gains as the hike to Capitol Lake is a downright pleasure even in the dark. This trail has been well maintained for a long time as I saw plenty of gigantic downed trees cut clean with saws to allow passage on the beautiful/unique trail. People have worked hard to keep this trail for cattle and hikers and I for one was appreciative of such efforts………………Well done!!!
Arriving near the lake I soon saw the line of perhaps a dozen headlamps heading up to the saddle between the Capitol Peak ridge and Mt Daly; a looming shadow up to the left. Here I went a rye and ended up at a lone campsite. I soon corrected my wrong and was climbing steadily up through meadow via switchbacks and on up to the saddle at 5:52AM where I paused for a brief rest before heading down the North side where I met-up with three young guys and we moved-along together through the two gullies and into the heavily talused trail following sporadic cairns where I asked to hike together up to the summit……….Affirmative response.
North through the saddle and down onto the “dark” side of Capitol Peak with a rising sun is what I would imagine as being on another planet or perhaps the moon; all vegetation seems to stop and huge rocks and boulders make for a barren and most rugged landscape. We stowed-away our headlamps and donned our helmets and cut a stumbling, jumping, crawling traverse below the sheer cliffs on our right with some dirty/frozen areas to be avoided as they were way slick and offered only injury. Following several others I found some cairns and tried to stay a course of sorts up through and then on to the right and up a bowled section heading up to K2.
The sun was now coming through hard and shined on the surrounding peaks with Snowmass Peak most dominate over our left shoulder as we stayed the course and soon arrived at a massive boulder/talus field heading up to K2 with several people on top and others off to the right side taking a rest. Heading-up (straight) through this section was a matter of hopping onto the most stable stone and moving up in the best possible passage while avoiding frozen spots and finding a line to the right of K2. We managed a fairly direct route free from pitfalls, pausing often yet briefly to catch our breathe and before long came to a group of 4 guys on the right resting before heading up to K2 which was now fairly crowded with the morning rush.
K2 is mostly a profound “bump” and scrambling to its top only took a few minutes as we all headed up to find an awesome view of Capitol Peak and only a few people well out along the connecting ridge with two people negotiating the “knife edge” as we viewed……….Cool!!
K2 also offered a large crowd gathered to observe those making their way across the ridge and also those choosing to descend to the approach to the ridge; this was becoming somewhat reminiscence of the “keyhole” on Longs Peak where some go forward and some turn back. I could see indecision with many and decided now was the time to MOVE. With so many waiting and more arriving by the minute I pretty much did the descent to the ridge and out onto the ridge post haste, passing a few and simply moving forward with the summit in mind and clearing some congestion as I went.
My thought process was those that could would and those that can’t would turn and go back; I saw no further sense in observing I was now going and it didn’t take long before I reached the “knife edge” and the 3 young guys followed too as I somehow knew they would as we showed no signs of not going and had the same goal before us. The “knife edge” is all its cracked up to be regardless of what others may say; there is positively no disregarding the exposure and this is a fatal fall; thus, most understandably resulting in many turning back at K2. My personal advice: know yourself and proceed or turn back; my wife said it best when she stated that someone could possibly enter this arena and suddenly panic, shiver, freeze and call for and create a very dangerous situation for themselves and many others.
“Straddling” was my best way for my bones with a foot holding tight on each side my butt in the air and both hands on the solid rock as I scurried along with the distance passing quickly and my nerves not really playing into things as concentration became the most leading/penetrating sense for me. I then crossed a short section and found yet another short knife edge of sorts and went across the same as before. I was following four other guys and making a pretty good advance over the very top of the ridge then down slightly to the right before getting back on the top again.
The rock was good with hand and footholds wherever I needed them and we all now started down a bit off the ridge on the left side and continued the task on seeking-out the cairns and finding the best possible passage with Capitol Peak looming ever closer directly ahead.
I soon caught up to one of the four and he seemed to really be running on empty as he stopped outright and allowed me to pass. We conversed briefly and he wasn’t actually with the other three guys but actually with another guy who had gone well ahead. We wished each other good luck and I looked back to see the three young guys coming-on quickly as I too continued following the other three guys who were now a bit ahead as I felt it was best to observe and keep a safe distance. Meanwhile, Zach (one of the three young guys) caught-up and passed as we were negotiating through a dirty/stony section before we then climbed across a ledge system traverse heading back up closer to the ridge. Rounding a right turn corner I now met first one then another heading back from the summit and they assured me that I was getting close as I turned further right and then was back on top of the ridge with the summit now in view with several people on top.
Scrambling along the very top of the ridge was a bit strenuous and I was in need of a good rest as I finally covered the last 30 yards in fairly short order and arrived at the summit right at 9:03AM…….I’d made it!! Zach and about 5 others were on this small summit perch and were removing their gear and starting the usual ritual of greetings and congrats. Soon the other two younger guys arrived and two others shortly after them as this summit was now starting to get way crowded. Views were spectacular with the weather absolutely perfect; plenty of sun, scattered clouds, slight cooling breeze and the temp around 65 degrees.
Photo opportunities were everywhere and I took many shots of the surrounding peaks with many 14’ers amongst the countless peaks all around this beautiful summit with sheer drop-offs on three sides and very little space with all these people and more heading up.
Summit Ridge & K2
Capitol Lake & Mt Daly
Maroon Bells & Pyramid Pk
I posed for some shots with the three young guys (Zach, RC and Mike)
Myself, Mike, RC & Zach (the three young guys)
and also a couple with the tattered American flag
in return I took several shots of others with their cameras. Now the guy we’d passed earlier arrived and reunited with his buddy; I now counted no less than 13 people on this summit and space was becoming a bit of an issue with the need to put-and-take for people to pose for their summit photos. A carnival atmosphere was at hand and everybody was in “high” spirits and glad to have some time to rest, take in some food & drink and just try to relax for a while.
Turns-out I was the only one on top who had come up from the trailhead and one other guy from Oklahoma had reached his 54th 14’er and was now finished as we all congratulated this guy with hand shakes and back slapping………..Fun stuff! I had been on top now for about 30 minutes and felt the need to get-to-going as the top was very confining with so many bodies and it was to time go anyway as I loaded-up and started on down at 9:35AM with one other guy leaving just ahead of me. This guy stayed high on the ridge were I went back the way I’d come with about eight others now close behind me including the three young guys and the three I followed up to the summit as I spoke briefly to the one guy and thanked him for leading the way up. I soon realized that in all the chaos on the summit I had totally forgotten to sign the summit registry........Oh well.
My route finding was quite good and others continued to follow as I proceeded down following cairns as I went and we all spaced ourselves out to avoid crowding and possible rock fall problems. Before long I found myself and the one guy who had lead the way up out in front of all the others as I found the route to be solid and was assured when I came to a spot where an Aspen Expeditions guide was taking his client up the very way I was going down……..Cool!
Soon I was back on top of the ridge with the “knife edges” right ahead and paused as a guy and gal who had left the summit before me were taking their photos here of each other I looked back and saw no one now as I then crawled across the “knife edge” the very same way I had on the way to the top. The guy and gal stopped and we wished each other well as I now caught-up to the guy who had left just before I did; he seemed a bit surprised to see me and we climbed back to K2 together where he stayed low and to the left and I went back to the top of K2 as no one was there.
I took a brief break and a self-portrait with the connecting ridge and Capitol Peak in the background as the weather remained very favorable with intermittent shade from time to time with the scattered clouds becoming more gathered and a cooling breeze most welcomed.
Now I was heading back down onto the short ridge and then back onto the heavy talus. The guy who’d left ahead of me was a ways ahead now and I took his lead and followed well behind as bounding back down through this area was taking its toll on my knees as I paused to take in a couple of aspirin. Staying pretty much straight down and slightly to the left as I followed well behind but since he was wearing red it was fairly easy to spot him ahead.
Traversing through the talus was a bit of a chore but I’ll take going down any time especially after reaching the summit as the way down and back to the saddle went OK and uneventfully as I found the dirt trail up and back around and up to the saddle proper where the guy ahead was sitting-down and taking a rest.
We wished each other well as I passed and continued on down back through the switchbacks
and down to where others were breaking camp and getting ready to hit the trail back to the trailhead. Here I again met the two guys I’d seen heading down from the summit just as I was getting close; we congratulated each other and I followed behind them as they were a bit fresher than I was at this point.
I stopped at one of the creek crossings in the shade and peeled down into short clothes for the final push back down along the Capitol Creek trail, I took in some more food & drink and would not stop again for the next 6 miles as the descent back through the forest was very pleasant as the day couldn’t have been any nicer than it was……..Thank God for this good fortune. Back down along the creek and across and over to the “Ditch Trail” went well and fatigue was most definitely catching up with me as I ate Skittles as I went for a bit of a sugar charge. Many other people where along this long trail; most heading up to the lake and others simply were hiking along enjoying this marvelous day as was I. My pace was slowing as I went and I welcomed the shade provide by the pine and aspen as I went and dipped my hat into the last creek crossing and placed it back on my head for a quick cool-off………..Nice!!
Ditch Trail was somewhat of a blur the remainder of the route back down as I was way tired and just wanted to get back to the TH and I was day-dreaming of a cool drink at my truck and plowed-down through the horse/cow “plops” and back to my truck at 2:55PM. With my marathon now complete, time for one last photo of Capitol Peak from the TH on this beautiful day.
"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world."
--Oscar Wilde on Absinthe