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The Capitol-Snowmass Traverse

The Capitol-Snowmass Traverse

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Colorado, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 39.15030°N / 107.082°W

Object Title: The Capitol-Snowmass Traverse

Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 11, 2010

Season: Summer


Page By: Kiefer

Created/Edited: Oct 2, 2010 / Mar 12, 2012

Object ID: 667177

Hits: 4765 

Page Score: 84.27%  - 18 Votes 

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"We're Climbing What?"

Capitol Peak and Point 12,715.

I’m not a stanch proponent of heading to climb hard or difficult routes/peaks with people I’ve never met or previously endeavored with. There’s simply too much that can go wrong: misinformation, personality conflicts, differences in technical and physical prowess etc. These are things better suited to resolve themselves at ones local crags as an afternoon climb or on some Sawatch 14er. There is at least in my mind, a correlation, albeit a small one between consequence and the astuteness of ones climbing partners.

Hiking groups have large concentric rings of friends and acquaintances that are dynamic and ever-changing. Accidents, when they do occur have a larger pillow of tolerance. Climbing circles tend to be tighter, well-focused and informed friends not always open or keen on new blood. Accidents, when they happen are often more serious and less forgiving. But of course as with everything, exceptions do exist.
Although, I am also a strong believer in e-mailing, PM’s, texting and phone calls when potential partners live hours away. Considering Mike, Noah and I had never climbed together, this is what I had to fall back on; plus previous trip reports and advice from friends is equally useful. With simple long hikes and scrambles, this is not a problem. The only worrying factor is whether or not the beers will still be cold back at the car. For more serious adventures, the filters become tighter, eyes narrow and every piece of dirt and lint becomes meaningful. Fortunately, the four of us never had this problem.

The Capitol-Snowmass Ridge intrigues me for reasons that most people wouldn’t initially consider without due thought. Take for instance mountains like the Maroon Bells, Little Bear Peak or Wilson Peak. Or the four great 14er traverses, more or less watermarked on 14er lore by Gerry Roach: The Wilson-El Diente traverse, The Maroon Bells Traverse, The Crestone Traverse or the hardest of the four, the Little Bear-Blanca Traverse. All the aforementioned are famous (and infamous) for a cornucopia of reasons: The rock is bad, accessibility is reasonably good, the views from these heights are some of the best Colorado has to offer and to boot, they all either access 14ers or are Colorado 14ers themselves which, automatically catapults them into peoples’ collective interest.
The Capitol-Snowmass Traverse is infamous (though NOT famous) for the complete lack of hard information. It’s an intriguing enigma.
What is known is that it entails several 5th class sections of varying difficulty, dangerously loose rock, prohibitive length and poor accessibility. The fact that the ridge only has [about] three documented attempts in roughly 45 years only adds to its reputation of being a kind of “No Man’s Land.” After all, before you read any further, ask yourself, “What do I know about this ridge and how did I come about knowing it?” I’m willing to bet most of what we know comes from a friend of a friend or from the short and vague description on Mountainproject.com. Opinions and gossip have a very active social life and they frequently drag the odd peak or ridge along with them. It’s like hanging out with the wrong crowd. Their reputation becomes your reputation. I’m sure anyone who’s climbed Little Bear, Wetterhorn or Teakettle would probably agree that these peaks were not nearly as bad as they’ve heard and I would agree.
Evening on Capitol
Capitol from the west

Colorado still has plenty of wild and open spaces. There’s still peaks out there that see more pikas and marmots than they do people. But little by little, this statement is showing its age. It’s cracking and splitting under the heavy stress of people ‘loving the 14ers to death’. In Colorado, this is a unifying cry that most folks would have no dispute standing behind. The true Colorado (or California) experience does indeed still exist, mind you but for whatever reason, people are feeling compelled to ‘tame it’, to make it ‘safe and manageable’.

Climbing the Capitol-Snowmass Traverse, inherent dangers aside represents what early exploration must have been like in Colorado. And it’s because of the [fact/opinion] that we are ‘loving them to death’, that to find something completely sublime, unknown (relatively) and cabalistic, difficulties and obstacles must be pushed (but not necessarily overcome) to glimpse and understand what lies at the heart of my/our passion(s)… a sine qua non…adventure and freedom

Keeping the Past Alive

Capitol Lake
One Capitol Peak!
The first attempt at the ridge happened in the summer of 1963 (July). Paul Petzold and Gary Neptune (Neptune Mountaineering) were part of the same Outward Bound trip out of Marble. The entire ridge was not part of the itinerary that day. Paul led a climb for some of the better students (including Gary) up the North Ridge on North Snowmass (an unranked peak).

Paul led the first pitch placing two pitons which should still be there today. Gary led the second pitch which basically took care of all the major difficulties. After having the honor of actually talking to Gary at his shop in Boulder about this climb (I wanted to pick his memory), he pointed out their summit picture which still hangs on the wall opposite the checkout counter. He echoed that the climb was probably in the 5.5 to 5.6 range on good rock with cracks leading to the summit. He also mentioned that the ridge was quite exposed.
It was hard to miss the smile on his face as he recalled the climb. Gary is a super-nice guy.
As for the ridge itself, Glen Denny and Bill Forrest set out in 1966 (Paul Petzold was the lead climber in the same camp a few years prior) with the goal to climb,

“…from the Outward Bound Camp above Marble to the summit of South Maroon, then climb Snowmass, then on to the summit of Capitol and then return to the OB Camp in less than 24 hours. Part of their monster day, then, was to traverse from Snowmass to Capitol and, says Forrest, “We didn’t stay on the ridge the whole when we traversed from Snowmass to Capitol. Staying on the ‘true ridge’ [between Snowmass and Capitol] was never part of the plan. We were pretty tired when we summited Snowmass. As I recall (and remember that this was over 40 years ago), we were just below the ridge most of the way as we headed west/northwest. We had to gain the ridge to summit Capitol and encountered a bit of 5th class as we climbed to the top of the ridge just southeast of Capitol’s summit.””

Approaching only this section of the ridge, that is, the technical climb of North Snowmass can only be done from the west side. Everything to the east is nearly vertical. In fact the East Ridge coming off North Snowmass looks like something you’d expect to see guarding the Dwarf kingdom of Moria.

“Forrest and Denny’s accomplishment in 1966 is truly remarkable, a feat if ever repeated, I’d imagine, says Forrest. “It was a long day in the hills. In short, we did the tour in under 24 hours and my knees were badly damaged in the process. It was many years before I could walk without pain again””.

"Looks Safe. You go First!"

1st Tower
The Twin Towers...shortly after the rappel off Capitol Peak.
After 15-20 minutes of enjoying the summit on Capitol Peak (it really is one of the best summits in the whole Elk Range), the four of us geared up and actually, somewhat reluctantly, started down the ridge in a southwesterly direction.
Mike was the first to go and quickly put some distance between him and rest of us. After an initial start of trepidation, the excitement level rose quickly between Noah and myself, like boiling water. I turned around and high-fived him smiling like I’d just gotten off a wild roller-coaster. True to description, almost immediately after leaving Capitol’s summit, the ridgeline turns into a knife-edge with poor rock…but manageable. The ridgeline is short lived because it does cliff out onto a jut.
The only reasonable option was to descend southeast down an open but steep rubble gully. It was loose enough that we had to descend one at a time until ‘safe’ areas were reached. Mike wrapped around down to the left on a small ledge that deposited him into a cave-like hole in the cliff face.
I followed Mike into this shallow cavern and stayed put while he descended another 10 feet or so and concluded that it also cliffed out. Steve and Noah stayed put in the gully at the small ledge. While scouting the rock for something stable to build an anchor, Noah spied an old piton! It took a good 10 minutes but Mike and Noah backed the piton up with a chock. This is also when, by no fault of his own, Steve let loose a miniature calvacade of some sizeable rock that fell down the cliff face. The smell of granite and dirt met our huge and silent stares.

“Please tell me that was intentional!?” I said loudly. I was in the small alcove and couldn’t see what had set it off. I was still intent on free-climbing down this pitch but after a solid 10-15 minutes, I just couldn’t find anything that I trusted. The guys had the rappel ready to go anyway. Noah went first and rappelled the 40 feet down to the scree slope. Mike went second, followed by myself and Steve disassembled the sling/chock and rappelled off the piton. I wonder if that piton was placed by Bill Forrest and Glen Denny back in 1966…probably.

Once we were down safely, Noah took off first down the short scree slope to keep the distance between us. This slope doesn’t last long. After maybe five minutes, the slope continued to fall away at a significantly steeper pitch off to the west. The ridge materializes again out of this chossy mess and wastes no time going right back into a knife edge. In my opinion, it’s fairly similar to the knife ridge in between K2 and Capitol but noticeably looser. Sections of this portion of the ridge consist of inverted flakes of rock that are wobbly, similar to stacked dinner plates in the drying rack.

This lasts for perhaps 30’ to 40’ before shooting straight up into two features we dubbed, ‘The Twin Towers’. It wasn’t necessary to climb the first or even the second of these two small towers. But following some broken ledges on the west side that required easy mantling, the option was definitely there as the terrain was much easier on the south side of the towers. At least it made for some killer shots. Steve and I followed Mike & Noah across the ridge which had gone back into knife status but slightly easier, more like a dull butter knife. Past the ‘Twin Towers’, the ridge is looser, dirtier and generally more chossy but it does flatten out more at the apex. It basically lasted like this until a prominent sub-peak of Capitol is reached. I believe either Bill Forrest or Glen Denny dubbed this point, ‘Ridge Peak’, seems fitting. We took the opportunity to have a shortened break at the top.

I wasn’t feeling my ‘A’-game today. I hadn’t eaten or drank nearly enough all morning and I slept poorly the previous night back at Capitol Lake. Since we were doing a carry over, we had all our provisions with us. So camping the previous night meant going without a lot of normal gear and creature comforts. The air still retained a chill but the sun was definitely hot. It was hard to find a clothing system that worked and I ended up changing top-layers all day.

The Slabs- "Or how to psyche yourself out"

The Slabs
The Slabs
Roughly a quarter of the way across the traverse, pretty much as we dropped off ‘Ridge Peak’, we encountered a phenomenally large area of gray slabs. I’d say this particular area was maybe .4 mile long. I had fallen behind due to pictures and constantly changing my shirt/jacket. Plus while descending, I cornered myself into a dead-end pocket that turned featureless. So I had to backtrack and find another way across.
The complete change in scrambling/climbing technique really threw me off. Not to mention, slab climbing has never been my strong suit. I honestly had a hard time with it. My downfall was not sticking to the spine of the ridge. The exposure combined with the relatively featureless granite slabs spooked me enough to drop off the ridge. I thought I’d be fine traversing maybe 15-20 feet below, this turned out to be more difficult. I climbed to the ridge crest and descended perhaps three separate times and each time, I grew more impatient, restless and nervous. By now, I was alone and couldn’t see the other guys. Now I was getting frustrated and angry. Falling behind like I was certainly didn’t help the situation.

“Fuck it.” I said quietly. I turned in and climbed down from the fin I was perched on to the slabs below. I aimlessly picked the easiest thing I saw and started traversing across a slab by finger-crimping. There was a vertical crack roughly eight feet away I angled towards and locked my hand in by bending my fingers. These provided good resting areas in between crimping and pressuring.
On occasion, a good lip would present itself to step on. This continued for maybe 40-50 feet until I regained the ridge crest on an ascending traverse. I ended up climbing over two of four ‘teeth’ that are located directly on the ridge crest. The second tooth is actually where I performed my first ever overhang move. The rock was solid and large. I reached up over my head and grabbed an open hold with my left hand and fist-jammed my right into a 45˚ crack. I pulled up swinging out and planted my left toe on a lip about stomach level. I maneuvered my left hand higher into a two-knuckle crack (actually quite good) and little by little, slid my right fist further up the crack pulling down every few inches. At least now I was standing on my left foot instead of crouching. I put my right leg flush with the rock and basically ‘walked’ myself up the last 3’-4’ to a decent ledge. From here, it was all gravy to the top. I saw Mike and Noah sitting on the side of the forth tooth waiting for me. I turned back in and made some easy low 5th moves to get off the third tooth and back to the ridge. I kept a high traverse until I was in good company again.

I was angry. I can’t deny that. I was angry that no one waited and I was downright pissed with myself that I let the rock/terrain get the better of me. I apologized to everyone later on, individually, for holding them up and for electing to take the ‘silent’ approach for a while. It was my issue. I needed to work through it. I had to remind myself of my own advice that not everyone’s scrambling styles and techniques will always mesh. Though it's not lost on me that if I'd been given a small hand across this difficult section, not only would 'things' have been safer but we could have saved a lot of time with me struggling through it.
Gladly, there were no more issues to contend with until we hit the, ‘Land of the Scary Gendarmes’ hours later.
This was a learning experience.

“Ah, this must be some strange usage of the word, ‘safe’ I wasn’t previously aware of”.

Point 13,451 well guarded by gray sentinals and spires

The four teeth (as I refer to them as) were now behind us. Climbing wise, Mike & Noah agreed they were similar in difficulty to the Flatirons (Boulder). Most of the slabs were starting to disappear and roughly half way across, the choss once again entered stage right. I’ve been up in the Elk Mountains enough times throughout the years that I‘ve grown rather proficient on loose terrain. However, ‘proficient’ is a bit of a misnomer; comfortable would be more accurate.
I was back in my element, so to speak. Loose terrain like this doesn’t give a shit whether you’re Steve House or Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, Washington. We stopped on some large [basketball] backboard sized rocks and took a much needed break. Even the plate rock I was sitting on, easily five feet in diameter was wobbly.
“At least the going looks more safe and reasonable for a while”, I casually mentioned in between bites of my ‘delicious’ Powerbar. The look on Steve’s face indicated he wasn’t so sure. Noah bobbed his head in silent agreement.
“We need to keep this high traverse. It seems and looks like it’ll be easier.” Mike noted.
“Hey, when in doubt, go higher!” I said with deadpan reflection. We packed it all up and moved on. It was only a few minutes later that my usage of the safe was warped into something else. The ridge and slope in front of us contained two rather good sized couloirs and notches along it. There was a third we could see but it was too far away to discern anything tangible. Well, probably not TOO far away. It blended into the confusing terrain, essentially disguising itself into the peaceful chaos of the slope. The four of us slowed down to a hobble respectable of an old horse and voiced our opinions and thoughts. Steve elected to scramble down to the bottom. I looked up at Mike who was roughly eight feet above me. I wanted to stay high but I could be persuaded either way. I believe Noah felt the same.
“Doesn’t he see the cliff bands at the bottom? Shit. They cut across the whole of the slope!” Mike just shrugged his shoulders while still in thought. I yelled down at Steve but he couldn’t hear me.
“I’m sticking to the ridge crest.” Mike said. He then turned around and started up the slope on an ascending traverse. I turned back around and yelled down at Steve who was by now, well out of earshot. Damn, that guy can move. Somewhat reluctantly, I also turned uphill and started scrambling after the guys. It was what my gut was telling me anyway.

In my opinion, the ridge from just after the slabs to the saddle (lowest point) is basically loose Elk rock on top of bad San Juan [Range] rock. It would be like throwing South Maroon Peak and El Diente in a blender, hit puree and climb whatever came out of that colorful mess. This entire section is probably a half mile long (roughly) and lies just past the half-way point. Sticking to the ridge crest directly will yield a challengingly narrow apex of stacked boilerplate columns, gray monoliths and palisades interspersed with sharp detritus.

We lasted all of 10-15 minutes on this stuff before Mike started a slight descending traverse aiming for the saddle. We would have made better time running up the Sand Dunes down by Moffat (Colorado). The ridge, though stiffly more technical, I thought was less dangerous then traversing the slope in some aspects. Granted, the consequences of a fall from the slope might not prove to be fatal (might), but I’m sure getting scrubbed raw by talus, scree and small cliff bands wouldn’t be the most enjoyable thing. We kept close together on the traverses and took turns descending to ‘safe’ areas. The broken ledges, which most seemed to be between 6” and 12” in width seemed enormous. In hindsight, our pace across this ridge/slope section was rather quick considering the terrain. Steve on the other hand, was racing across the talus below like a marmot after a used trekking pole.
Vicious & Daunting
Capitol Peak's South Side. As viewed from "Siberia Peak"

The ridge bottomed out at a huge pyramid-shaped pile of rock. The saddle was just on the other side. Mike was the first to reach this feature. Noah and I watched him contour around it and meet up with Steve somewhere on the other side. Since Noah and I were already high on the ridge, we elected to stay high and just scramble to the top of this small rocky point. This wasn’t the best of ideas. The rock was an absolute nightmare. Twice, I almost pinned my lower leg by shifting rocks. I could tell Noah was getting frustrated and fed up. He choose to turn in and climb down a sketchy low 5th chimney. I watched him for a few minutes…”Fuck that” I whispered.
I traversed about 15 feet to my right and linked some small ledges and an odd chalk white gully to get down. I caught up with everyone at the saddle. They had stopped inside a small col. I plopped down on a rock and looked up at the ridge. I was speechless for a minute or so. The whole ridge crest was nothing but tightly packed spires, pinnacles and broken palisades. “There’s no way in hell that can be climbed directly. You’d need an entire pack full of slings just to anchor for rappels. It would take you 2-3 days to do this.” I said in awe. But I was just echoing what the others were already thinking.

The moment kind of hit home for me. I was tired and thirsty (I’d been conserving as much water as I could) but the views around us were staggering, fierce and humbling. “We’ll probably be the only people to ever sit here and witness this”. I said quietly to myself. The drop to our right, only a matter of a few feet was sheer and free. Sitting there on that small throne of granite, I was as comfortable as I could ever be.

Sailing the seas of Cheese

Ridge Peak
Steve Gladbach and 'Ridge Peak'
This one vantage point of everything: “Siberia Peak”, ‘The Palisades’, Avalanche Creek Basin, the views north towards Clark Peak and Pierre Lakes Basin was worth the price of admission alone. If only I had a better camera. Although as with everything, it was not meant to last. We had to keep moving. This was the only moment I had to actually stop and appreciate the ridge for what it was.
The altitude at this small col was roughly 12,900ft. It ascends about 500-540ft to a prominent sub-peak of Snowmass at about 13,420ft. I’m actually kind of surprised it’s not ranked. From this summit, the ridge flattened out for a while with the whole of Snowmass beautifully perched in front of us. The good thing about this section is that it’s all cheese from here on out, at least it looked that way.

We slogged it up the easy 3rd class ridge which, seemed to take forever (but don’t they all?). We didn’t stay long at the top, maybe a few minutes at most before we sailed on. I caught glimpses of Siberia Lake on occasion, which did more to amp my energy level than the Powerbars did. What we didn’t expect was the deep notch in the ridge! It wasn’t visible until we were almost right up on it.
“Jesus! This crap just doesn’t let up!” I exclaimed. Noah had already started to down climb the jut and was at the bottom of the notch when we got there. He suggested that everybody climb down a gully just to the south instead. That’s what we did.
From the dirt col, we scrambled back up the ridge on rock that had noticeably changed in both style and consistency. Everything had turned into this old, weathered ‘system’ of loose flakes and small slabs punctuated by deep holes and pockets. It wasn’t hard by any means but it definitely made scrambling a bit awkward.
I took the rope back from Steve at this point.
Steve was tired and like myself, he wasn’t eating or drinking enough most of the day. Although, I have a bad habit of going without, so I’m used to it. We were falling behind again. I could see Mike and Noah well ahead of us perched on a small cropping, waiting. After we had something to eat and drink, Steve kept moving and I stayed behind to flake out the rope and recoil it. It was a mess. While doing this, I looked up and glanced around. It was quiet. Too quiet actually for being in the low 13,000ft. range on talus.
"Where are the marmots?" I asked myself. Then I noticed that for this whole ridge run, not once had I heard or seen a marmot or even a pika. Even the usual large spider webs that are formed in between the rocks were absent. This made me laugh. "Even the locals are smart enough to leave this shit alone." It put me in a good mood.
Eventually, I caught up with Steve exactly where Mike & Noah were sitting. They motioned for us to start dropping a little bit and head towards a broken notch where they were sitting.

“We’re in a pickle!” Mike yelled. “We can’t find a way through”. I was amazed because up until now, Mike’s aplomb leadership had forded everything on the ridge. He was genuinely stumped. This broken notch was part of a long and skinny buttress. I couldn’t see past it and I wasn’t too keen on needlessly moving anyway. The slope I was standing on seemed ready to explode down the mountain. Not that it mattered anyway. I knew we had reached the ‘Land of the Scary Gendarmes’.

Making the Call

Rappeling off Capitol
Steve rappeling off Capitol.

The description on Mountainproject.com reads thus:

“Just before North Snowmass Mountain, after you’ve negotiated a prominent sub-peak, the ridge becomes an absolute nightmare, with car-sized teetering gendarmes and huge scalloping flakes on the walls below them. Drop down west via a nasty down climb (you could rappel I think) to the talus below and walk south 50 yards until you’re beneath a huge, rotten overhanging bowl in the ridge. Climb up a diagnolling ramp/cracks to the right of the bowl on the north facing wall (5.5, very exposed) to gain a faint rib. Follow dirt, loose blocks etc. back to the ridge proper, then a nice pitch of solid rock (5.5/5.6; pass an old piton) on white stone takes you straight up the ridge to the summit of North Snowmass.”

Mike and Noah searched for a way through roughly half-way up this buttress and again, lower down near the notch they were now resting in. The only alternative was to rappel down into the gully on the other side. Mike asked me if I could climb to the ridge crest and take a look. The slope that Steve and I were waiting patiently on was pretty much as the MP description states…nasty! I spider-walked up the slope (mostly dirt and scree on broken flakes of granite) to some large boulders (indeed, about the size of small cars) that seemed to form some kind of small wall. I found a small but short chimney and wriggled my way up it to some larger and more stable rocks. I dropped my pack. I was just shy of the ridge. I breached the zenith and took a few steps further south towards the gendarmes on large but stable blocks.
“What do you see”? Steve asked.
“Anything”? Mike echoed. I didn’t answer immediately. I was making judgments and comparisons. I was weighing the decision as whether or not this would be a good idea with our packs, meaning the bulk and relative weight. It actually looked doable but very deliberate movements would be warranted. The spine was a mix of jagged knife points, broken and flattened pinnacles and small pockets of scree. The east side fell away into Pierre Lakes Basin.
The west side dropped down into the gully at maybe 40 feet or so. However, looking down the ridge crest, I couldn’t any further then maybe, 50 feet, give or take. After another minute or so, I decided under the circumstances that this probably wasn’t going to be the best idea.
The objective dangers were just too high and the possible consequences pretty much devoured anything that resembled ‘safe’. Not to mention, I couldn’t see anything in the ridge that I would trust belaying from. I suppose a hip belay would have worked for this traverse, to be on the safe side but honestly, on this rock, it would have been moot point anyway. “Steve” I yelled. “Go back. We can’t continue on the ridge. Our packs are gonna throw our balance off too much.”
“It’s that bad”?
“I wouldn’t say it’s that bad, but with these packs, it would be reckless. We need small daypacks for this shit. I’m turning around”. Steve was waiting all the while back where I dropped my pack. I think he was actually relieved. We scrambled back down through the chimney then Steve started to traverse back across the slope whence we came to drop down to the valley floor. “Steve, wait. Let me run over to the other guys and at least discuss our options.” I spider-crawled across the slope and up into the notch. Mike and Noah looked like they were getting ready to commit to rappelling.
Saddle Panoramic
The saddle and Siberia Peak.

I told them what I saw and what I thought of it. We took a good, solid five minutes of discussing various scenarios and outcomes. Unfortunately, all of them had conclusions we didn’t care for. Basically, standing there in the rubble at 4:20pm, we estimated the gendarme section (roughly ~400 yards per Mike) would take us about 3 hours. We then guesstimated the technical climb to North Snowmass would average about 2 hours, give or take. Then, probably 90 minutes to descend back to Geneva Lake. That would put us back on terra firma between 10:30-11:00pm. This would be well past dark and about 3 hours past our expected return time. Plus, Mike and I had girlfriends waiting for us at the lake or the trailhead.
But what trumped everything was Steve’s very low energy state. He was nearing his physical wall and that was bad news. Letting someone descend alone under these conditions is just downright inexcusable and deplorable. No one wanted to split the group up. That’s when we decided to make the call. We choose then to descend with Steve and come back another day to try our hand.

The descent to Siberia Lake was as monotonous and tiresome as scrambling could ever be (Think South Maroon’s standard trail without the grassy patches). The damn scree was just large enough that you couldn’t even ‘scree-ski’ down effectively. I reached the lake just shy of dusk followed 20 minutes later by Noah and Mike. I thought one of us should probably continue down the trail (a good trail heads all the way up this valley to Siberia Lake) and reach the girls to let them know all is well. Since I had rested the longest and had already refueled with fresh water, I went. They stayed behind to wait for Steve.

I arrived at the trailhead in Lead King Basin at 8:20pm and found the girls waiting in lawn chairs for us. I gave them the bittersweet news. Stephanie had an 8-pack of Gatorade, hoagies, cookies and Jell-O for us. Brenda (Mike’s GF) had a six-pack of IPA’s. The others arrived about half an hour later. We did the usual post-climb discussion, re-cap, thanked Brenda and Stephanie profusely and being we were all tired and spent, we called it a night. I’m sure the guys camped in their tent next to us were glad we finally left. This was one hell of a day and one that I probably won’t ever go back to repeat.

Thoughts and Musings

The Tower
Standing Stones

This ridge has a reputation as large and mysterious as itself. It is long; a little over 3 miles and as far as the total vertical gain, I’m guessing somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,500-v-ft. Most of the extrinsic difficulties lie in the range of difficult 3rd to 4th class. There are large, major mid-5th sections at both ends (Capitol, Snowmass), a short section of gendarmes & spires near North Snowmass that’s almost impassable and areas of exposure that breaks the glass ceiling. The whole ridge is peppered with the occasional 5th class move(s). The loose rock is worse than anything I’ve ever encountered…even in the San Juan’s of Southern Colorado. It’s actually kind of impressive if not anathemic.
Stephanie asked me a good question the other day about this climb. “Did I actually enjoy this ridge”?

I didn't think it was as enjoyable as I was hoping. The consistent mental focusing and that the difficulties/responsible climbing never let up distracted greatly from actually appreciating it. In my opinion, at the end of the day, I climbed it just to say I did it; surprising because I wasn't expecting this as an answer.
Not all trips are going to mind-blowing and great. An unsuccessful trip can in many ways be a smashing success and vice-versa. And this trip in particular reminds me of a seldom-thought aspect concerning mountaineering that even the most experienced person still leans new things, can be moved by 'dusty emotions' and is still subject to the most basic rules in scrambling and climbing.
This is a journey with no ending.

While the views were obviously awesome and mind-blowing, these moments were painfully few for something so serious…but in hindsight I guess, this should be expected anyway. I will go back and finish the ridge. But I’ll never repeat it as a whole. Last I checked, Mike, Noah and Steve actually did go back and finish the last remaining section (I’ve been battling Bronchitis all week, so I had to bow out).

It’s my firm and humble opinion that some things should just stay broken.

Other Links

Some other links to useful information concerning future climbing:
Mountain Project

Part I of Noah's/Mike's Report
Part II of Mike's/Noah's Report

Their Finisher!
Alternate Version

Pictures from Mike and Noah

Some of the 'teeth' along the slab section Noah chillin on the ridge

The land of Scary Gendarmes Noah passing through some columns in the land of Scary Gendarmes. Taken from their successful finisher trip.

Myself standing at the top of the first gully waiting for Mike to clear off to a safe zone. That's the start of 'Cleaver Ridge' in the top left-hand corner. Climbing along the slabs



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Liba Kopeckovanice report

Liba Kopeckova

Voted 10/10

but somehow it did not get me interested in climbing it - sounds too long, loose rock, and I am not sure if there is anyone crazy enough who would want to go up there with me... Well written...
Posted Oct 4, 2010 4:55 pm

KieferRe: nice report


Hasn't voted

Believe it or not, that was 'kinda' my goal...but not completely intentional. I just wanted to be honest with my thoughts & opinions about a ridge that I think many in Colorado have an interest in and passing fascination with since it has such a reputation.
I definitely DO NOT want to dissuade anyone from climbing it but more that, I felt I should be honest so that people know what to expect...and not some amped up, sugared version/opinion.

It's still a dangerous route of course but experience, skill, wisdom and preperation will alter that level of risk for everybody.
If it could be called anything, as a 'test-piece', it certainly sets the bar high!
Thanks, Liba.
Posted Oct 4, 2010 10:24 pm

effectsofaltitudethe one that got away


Voted 9/10

Back in 2008 I had set out to do this traverse, but from Capitol to Snowmass. We planned it for early winter (mid october). We never even made the summit of Capitol Peak (which was probably a good thing). A cold night at a high camp was a great reminder that "if you pack lite, you'll freeze at night!" It is a climb that I will always remember as "the one that got away," but I am fine with that. Looking back, I realize that we would have died on that ridge. It is an extremely committed traverse (in any season), and I commend you on your spirit of adventure. Great trip report, And thanks for the history and background you provided!
Posted Oct 7, 2010 10:30 pm

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