Capitol Peak (14,130 feet)
Via the Capitol Creek TH
July 24, 2004 and July 25, 2004
This was the one peak that I was most unsure of. There were a lot of “I’d nevers…” involved with this peak… I’d never: packed in and camped for a peak (always day hiked), I’d never climbed sustained class 4, I’d never climbed unroped class 5 (there was potential), I’d never hiked 17 miles RT for a peak, etc.. But, when we finally pulled into the TH parking lot, all apprehension floated away! Oh, what a beautiful site!
I had made plans with some www.fourteenerworld.com members before the trip to meet them at Capitol for the climb. The only name that I knew, at the time was “Jared”, and I wasn’t quite sure of the last name. And, Jared and I hadn’t touched base for a few days, so I wasn’t 100% positive that the plans were still solid. Regardless, after a morning at Antero, Scott and I headed towards Aspen for a planned hike into Capitol Lake. Scott wasn’t planning on attempting the summit of Capitol, but he was signed up for what was supposed to be a very beautiful hike in, and out.
We finally reached the TH parking lot around 5 pm. We were racing against day light at this point. Our goal was to pack up and get started by 5:30 pm. With a 3 hour hike in, this would get us to camp, by 8:30 pm, which would still give us just enough daylight to setup camp.
The pack up was a challenge. We hadn’t planned on packing in during this 4 day trip, so we only had day packs. The key was getting the sleeping bags and a single tent into our packs. I ended up stuffing my –20 degree down sleeping bag into my daypack, which made a tight fit. Scott was able to bungee cord his bag to his pack. So, that left the tent, which I bungee corded to the outside of my pack. With such a tight fit in my day pack, I didn’t have room for the cameras (digital and video), and our breakfast and dinner. So, luckily, I had brought another daypack; this one a fanny pack. I wore this backwards (with the pack in front), and filled it with the fragile items: cameras and peanut butter and honey sandwiches (mmmm!).
We finally hit the trail at 5:40 pm. The beginning of this hike in involves about a 400 feet drop in elevation. This was tough on us, as we knew that we would eventually have to regain this elevation. But, it also made for a very quick first few miles. About a hour into the trip, a light went off in my head, “Did I lock the car? Ohhh! Did I even close the car door?” We were such a hurry, I wasn’t even sure if we had closed the car doors. As we hiked, I was 95% sure that we had closed the doors, but only about 20% sure that I had locked it. Luckily, most of our valuable (cameras, etc..) were with us.
As we continued, it never felt like we were gaining any elevation. But, according to the barometer, we were slowly gaining; very slowly. About half way, we ran into a pack of cows. I say pack, not herd, because these things were vicious. Or at least they seemed like it. They just would not move. Man, were we wussies. Eventually it clicked, “someone has to herd these things sometime.” So, I just became the aggressor and shooed them out of the way. They moved, in fact, they ran once we took the offensive.
All the way to Capitol Lake, the trail was solid class 1. Easy, easy, easy. A lot of people hike this as a day hike, and I can see why. It is a great trail, and very pretty most of the way. But, watch out for the cow poo.
Scott and I finally started running into people at about 2 ½ hours. This was a great feeling. It was funny, the first group that we ran into knew of Jared, and pointed us in the right direction. It turned out that Jared (and Brian) had gone down and let a few groups know that we were coming. This was awesome. We checked a few more campsites on the way; no Jared. Finally, I came up to the Lake campsites, and two guys were coming down. One of the guys said, “Is one of you guys Rob?” And, I said, “Is one of you guys Jared?” Finally, we are there. I think we made it in just under 3 hours. Just enough time to put up the tent and get ready for bed.
As we made introductions, I quickly caught on to the fact that I was also being interviewed. Questions were like, “What have you done? How many? How hard? Etc..” My best answers were, “Longs, solo, via the keyhole, 20+ 14ers overall, and I’ve been gym climbing for over a year.” The fact that I didn’t bring an ice axe or a rock helmet didn’t help things much. I had almost no doubts in my abilities, but I didn’t blame my partners for being a bit apprehensive. Their apprehension only showed a little bit. Hey, you have to start into the hard ones eventually, right?
Scott threw both sleeping bags into the tent, and crawled into my –20 degree bag almost immediately. He was getting chills. He ate, and drank some fluids. I took off with Jared and Brian. By now, I had been introduced to my hiking partners for the next day: Jared Workman and Brian Espe. We went down to the lake and filter fed our bottles for the evening, and the next day. When I got back to the tent, Scott was warmed back up. We pulled all the gear in and crawled into the bags for a rough night’s sleep. In order to cut down on weight, Scott and I had hiked in sans sleeping pads. This didn’t bother me nearly as much as Scott, but it was a rough nights sleep.
The morning started at 4:30 am. I just sat up in bed with my headlamp on for like 15 minutes. I had my pack ready, and we weren’t planning on starting til 5 am. So, I just gave my body plenty of time to wake up. I crawled out of the tent, and went to meet my climbing partners. Scott stayed and slept. He pulled my sleeping bag over to use as padding.
The hike up to the Daly/K2 saddle was solid class 1, but it was really steep. We made the saddle in just over 30 minutes. Man, I’m usually the endurance fiend, but these guys were definitely setting the pace. After the saddle, we went around the backside of the ridge. We made a decision to stay high, which forced us into a very early class 4 traverse across the first gully. This was a good warm up. After the gully traverse, we started to slowly cross the snowfields and boulder fields. I was very careful, as I didn’t have an axe, nor the knowledge to use one. The ice was very hard, but a fall would have been more embarrassing than dangerous at this point. Eventually, we came to the final ice field. This one was higher, and there was no easy way around it. This route pushed North, up to the based of K2. I was cautious, and slow, but I kept pace pretty well. None of us had crampons, so our pace was the same. At the top of this snowfield, it was boulder hopping the rest of the way to K2.
We chose to summit K2, which involved our first solid class 4. The other option, to circumvent K2 looked loose and nasty. We were on the top of K2 in about 2 hours from the saddle. We got to the top of K2, and took a look at a grouping of clouds to the West. They looked nasty. And, the worst thing about it, was that we would lose sight of these clouds, once we started up the ridge. We spent sometime contemplating our decision: Go or no go? My clock says that we only spent 10 minutes making this decision, but I swear it seemed longer. The clouds were definitely moving South, and away from us, and the clouds above looked clear. So, we decided, “Go!”
We started down K2, and onto the knife-edge. This stuff was awesome. I was so confident that I started across the knife-edge with one hand on the ridge, and one hand on the video camera, taping. This didn’t last long. But, I was able to cross the knife-edge using the one side traverse technique, versus the scoot-butt technique. The knife-edge is not continuous, as it is broken up by some short exposed scrambling. The knife-edge was definitely exposed, but with the right shoes, you can easily walk the slab, using foot holds, or even by smearing when holds become sparse.
Once we left the knife-edge, the serious vertical class 4 started. After a short, nasty, loose, traverse around the south side, we started to gain elevation through class 4 and some mixed class 5 up-climbing. Since I didn’t have a helmet, I stayed back from Jared and Brian. This gave me great opportunity to take video and photos of these mountaineers in action. After the class 4 vertical, we made a final traverse to the real summit. Jared actually summited the ridge, and followed it to the summit, but the easier route is the traverse. We made the summit in about 1 hours and 15 minutes from K2. It seemed much longer.
We didn’t spend much time at all on the summit. The sky looked ok, but it looked like it could turn nasty in a very short time, if Mother Nature chose. After some video, and picture, plus some pictures with cardboard Rodney, we left the summit. My timer says 3 minutes on top.
As we started down, we had several small scares. First, Jared stepped onto a big boulder, and it decided that it no longer wanted to be on the top of the peak. It rolled on him, and it just about took him down with it. Luckily, Jared was able to catch himself. At the same time, I grabbed a handful of his fleece, and the big rock, rolled onto his leg, stopping him from sliding. I was worried that Jared might have been shaken up, and that this would affect his ability to continue fast. Nope, he was solid again in about 30 seconds. In fact, quickly, Jared was out of my sight.
Just after I lost sight of Jared, I had a nice scare myself. I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but it went something like this: I think I tripped over something – my own foot, or a rock. I started to fall. I reached out and grabbed a solid handhold at the top of a 70% slab. I was hanging from the slab. I yelled out, “I’m alright!” I couldn’t pull myself backup without pulling rocks down on myself. I looked down, and it was a 2 foot drop. Oh, by the way, my camera had dropped from my pocket, and was waiting for me on that ledge below. I lowered myself, picked up my camera. Of course, the first thing that I did was take a picture of the slab that I had just hung from. That is when I noticed that the camera LCD was crack. This was my hiking camera, which had seen plenty of abuse, so no big loss.
I climbed back up, and continued. Jared had proved that he could not be shaken by a close call, but I did not recover quite as well. I slowed down drastically at this point. And, Jared and Brian were going even faster. It probably didn’t help that I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast; Dumb, Dumb. When I got to the knife-edge this time, I was much, much slower. It wasn’t fun for me this time. This time, I was making 4-5 moves at a time, then resting. I even butt-scooted a few times, but this made me feel very unbalanced. I finally got back to the base of K2, where Jared and Brian were waiting for me. We made it back to K2 in about 1 hour. But, it wasn’t over yet. We still had to get around K2. All routes were of the class 4 variety. We had decided that we didn’t want to summit K2 again. We started to traverse the North side, but ultimately, we had to up climb, then down climb about 30-40 feet of vertical to get back to stable ground. This stuff was easily class 4, and the down climb could easily rate at class 5. At this point, we felt we were safe from the exposure, but the clouds were still threatening. We took a very short break so that we could all grab a bite to eat.
We didn’t stop for long though. We started down the boulder field, towards the large snowfield. When we got to the snowfield, Brian decided it was just to perfect to pass up a long glissade. So, he climbed to the top of the snowfield, while Jared and I started towards the bottom. When he reached the top, Brian came screaming down, and just missed Jared and I by about 10 feet. I was video taping the whole time, singing the theme to “Speed Racer.” It looked like fun, and if I had the right gear, I’d have probably tried it also.
At this point, we continued through the boulder and snowfields. The snow was much softer at this point, so I was able to cross much easier, and safer. Eventually, we reached that gully that we traversed in the beginning. We’d planned on NOT crossing the same way on the way back, but it just didn’t look like there were too many options. Jared went low, but on some really loose rock. Brian repeated the class 4 traverse, in reverse. And, I followed Brian. After this traverse, we were home free. We were at the saddle in about an hour and 15 minutes from K2.
On the saddle, we could not resist a solid break. Plus, we ran into some locals that were day hiking from the Capitol Creek TH to the town of Snowmass. These guys really knew this area well. We also had fun with a scrappy looking Marmot, but we resisted the urge to feed the critter.
After a 15 min break, we started down the final class 1 trail back to the camp. At this point, Brian made the statement, “I hate to jump the gun, but I think that we have this one bagged!” We all smiled, and agreed!!
I got back to the camp and Scott had already hiked out. He wanted to head back early and hike slow, so that he could enjoy the beauty of the Capitol Creek trail. I packed up, then went up to say bye to my buddies. Both Jared and Brian admitted their initial apprehension at this point, but admitted that they were dually impressed. This made me feel great. I headed out… It took me just over 2 and ½ hours to get back to the car. I was “the walking dead” for sure. I still hadn’t eaten much, and my body was complaining.
When I got back to the car, Scotty gave me a high five, and notified me that I looked like crap. Oh, by the way, I DID forget to lock the car, but the doors were closed, at least when Scott got back. And, nothing was missing.
This was a great one. I met some great guys, who I’ll definitely hike with again. I learned a lot. I bagged a really tough one. And, this one definitely made up for the weather problems early in the trip. This was definitely the “exclamation point” for the trip.
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