K2 is the smaller peak just before the infamous "knife edge" on the way to Capitol Peak (Elk Mountains, Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO). It is named "K2" for its resemblance in shape to the world's second highest peak in Pakistan. Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but that's what I've heard! At about 13,600', it is much less famous than its partner across the ridge. But it is a beautiful peak and a challenging hike nonetheless. It makes for a great "scouting" effort if you want to scope out Capitol peak and the knife edge for a future attempt.
Take I-70 west to Glenwood Springs, then drive about 26 miles southeast on CO 82. Turn right on Snowmass Creek Road and reset odometer. Drive 1.7 miles to a junction and turn right on Capitol Creek road. Reach the trailhead at approximately 9.9 miles.
We did a 2-day trip, since it's a long (~17 mile) hike round-trip from the trailhead. So on day 1, we hiked up the Capitol Ditch trail from the trailhead, planning to camp around Capitol Lake. This trail is a bit higher than the Capitol Creek trail and avoids some of the elevation loss/regain required on that trail. It's a very well-traveled trail, starting out in Aspen forest. It gently follows a ridge line through some forested and then open spaces. At one point, you must break left off the cattle trail and cross a stream to meet up with the Capitol Creek Trail, but we found this to be pretty obvious.
After crossing the stream and meeting up with the creek trail, it's about 3 more miles to Capitol Lake. After a while along this trail, the slope increases and there is some steeper hiking. The ominous Capitol Peak and the Knife Edge are visible for most of the route, providing a constant warning of what's to come!
After about 3-4 hours of hiking, we reached the Capitol Lake area. Be warned, it can get ridiculously crowded up here. But I guess that's the story of all 14ers nowadays. We got basically the last campsite before several more crowds of people arrived. We sat back and watched them hike round and round trying to find a place to camp. Some settled for heavily forested and sloped areas back down the trail... others for wide open flat areas around the lake. We relaxed, played on the rocks around the lake, took some pics, and enjoyed some of our "trail margaritas" before turning in for the evening.
The next morning, we got going at about 7am. There were already several groups ahead of us. From the lake area, you're only a couple of miles in distance to K2/Capitol Peak, but the entire hike is pretty brutal. You must first hike up to the saddle between Mt. Daly and K2/Capitol Peak, which is very steep.
After passing the saddle, you come to a section of loose rock which can be quite treacherous. There are a couple of colouirs that you must traverse with very little stable landscape to brace yourself. We actually had difficulty finding a good route through this section and ended up wasting a good hour or so trying to scramble upwards and avoid it. In retrospect, I don't think this the way you want to approach it, unless you want to scramble all the way up the ridgeline (probably some class 5 moves in there with tons of exposure). We wound up coming all the way back around to the saddle and trying it again. Fortunately another group had come through that seemed to know the way a little better, so we followed them. We ended up making a fairly direct way across the couloirs the second time around. I think the best advice is to descend just slightly at the beginning of this section until you find a passable spot across the first colouir, and then keep fairly constant elevation for the rest of the route across.
You will eventually come to some big snowfields, but they were easy to traverse and the tracks were obvious. In low snow years these might not be as big. But this year they were huge, even in late August.
After passing the snowfields, you'll start to turn upslope and make your way towards K2. You should soon be able to see it rising above the talus. From this distance, it looks like a tiny hill.
We made our way through the Talus pretty much straight towards K2, while heading just a bit to the right occasionally when we came across noticeable cairns. Finally, we met up with the ridgeline and went the final distance to K2. Towards the very end there is some scrambling mixed with very serious exposure (not a good combo if you're afraid of heights!)
Perched atop the small K2 summit, you can clearly see the Knife Edge and ridgeline to Capitol Peak. The exposure is quite dramatic. Also notably, quite a bit of distance remains from K2 to Capitol. It looked doable, but we had underestimated the distance and difficulty of the ascent to this point, so we decided to call it a day and save Capitol for another time. Besides, this way you get this great report on K2. :-)
It's a beautiful view from the top of K2!
We headed back down to our campsite and enjoyed the last sips of our delicious trail margaritas. But to our dismay, there was hardly any left. This presented us with a difficult decision... Should we stay another night (as originally planned), or book it all the way down to the jeep and back to civilization, where we could get cold beers! Well obviously, when you put it that way, the choice isn't that difficult. We packed up and hiked the entire distance back to the jeep, and then drove all the way back to Boulder in time to hit Mountain Sun before closing! Woohooo ... Swan Song is a delicious beer.
On the way down, we passed several people who were making their way in. Each one of them asked us, anxiously, "Did you make it?!?! Did you summit?!" We explained that we chose to summit K2 instead of Capitol and almost invariably, a look of disappointment washed across their faces. Eduar and I talked at length about this phenomenon of "summititis" that most people seem to have. It's as if people have no concept of enjoyment on the mountain. For them, they either reach a particular summit or they consider their trip a failure. It's really somewhat sad. Honestly, I must admit that I was a bit like this myself early on in my climbing days... Everything was about accomplishing specific goals that could be maintained in list form and bragged about later. But through many experiences and my expeditions with my brother-in-law Eduar, my outlook has slowly changed. I now tend to see in a more "real-time" sense what my experiences on the mountain are doing for me. Every minute on the mountain seems to bring out the true nature of what's inside me... A constant reminder of who I am, and of the magnitude of life.
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