A friend and I set out under mostly clear skies, both smoke and weather-wise, for a backpacking trip to earn El Capitan. We left the Rock Creek Trailhead around 12:45pm. The bushwhack after Rock Creek Lake was a bit tedious and cairns seem to be sporadic (and at times misleading). Finally, we made it to the "7" shaped lake just under El Cap after about three and half hours of backpacking. After enjoying a clear, calm night of fifty degree weather we woke the next day to head for the summit. But...one small problem, though. We hadn't brought crampons or ice axes and the couloirs still had so much snow in them that bypassing the snow on rock was not an option. We decided to go for it and made some temporary ice axes out of the branches of a dead tree by carving the ends to a point. These homemade axes proved indispensable on the descent! We began kick-stepping up and let me tell you, with soft Salomon boots, it hurts! Near the top quarter of the snowy couloir, we detoured off in to some exposed class 4 rock and eventually found our way to the summit ridge. From there, it was a beautiful hop to the top and we climbed both stacks to ensure we gained the true summit. Smoke had filled the valley that morning, but there were enough peaks to ogle in the distance to make ones imagination work out potential new trips. We descended the same way we came up (with Riker, the yellow lab in tow..tough boy!) and eased down to load our our backpacking gear at "7" Lake. The bushwhacking from there to Rock Creek Lake was more difficult to follow than it was on the way in and our tired bodies let us know it. All in all, it was a beautiful trip and El Capitan was a more difficult peak to earn than I initially thought it would be.
That summit is a long way back there, but worth the views! Lonesome bachelor looks tiny from the top! It's a must in the Bitterroot! Kerlee is a perfect mountain lake.
15 hours from car to summit to car. I do not recommend doing this as a day climb. Stretching this out over 2 or more days would have been much more enjoyable.
Could not have had better weather. No clouds, almost no wind, 70s throughout the day, and really no snow to contend with. The snow that was left in the couloir was easily bypassed on climber's right where the solid rock sits.
Route: Little Rock Creek
We wanted to do El Cap as an overnight, and it turned into a *literal* overnight. First, we arrived at the trailhead to find the Bitterroots cloaked in wildfire smoke. The hike to the lake was beautiful and a bit surreal (because of the haze), and when we arrived just before dark we found the only even remotely reasonable camp site already taken. So, we kept hiking, skirted the lake, and ran out of daylight right as we bumped up against the bottom of a boulder field just short of where the bushwhacking portion of the hike starts. So we slept on boulders.
The next morning, we started the bushwhack and found it took us a few hours (yes, hours) longer than we'd expected. We pushed on to the couloirs, where my hiking was almost crushed by a mini-rockslide and I almost feel fifty feet after losing my grip heading up the chute (neither one of us are technical climbers, and this was a terrifying ascent for us). We stuck it out, and were rewarded with hours of scree-hopping up and then down, with only a brief break at a summit socked in by wildfire smoke to break up the monotony.
The going back down through the chute was so slow that it was dark by the time we reached the creek again. With only a small, hand-cranked flashlight to light our way (my headlamp malfunctioned), we slowly worked our way back to camp and got there just before morning. We'd set out from the tents at 7am and got back at 430am. A really hellish route, but still worth it just to be in the Bitterroots.
We attempted the peak as a day hike. Left the trail at 8am. Made our way to the couloirs via the little rock creek trail. Experienced some very unstable snow due to the high heat we saw this weekend, which made kickstepping a lot of work. We made it about halfway up the couloirs and made a judgement call. I had two 50' slides and my buddy almost got hit during a rockfall from the ridge. With no technical gear we decided to call it. Next time I will have an ice axe and crampons! El Cap will be mine! All-in-all an amazing hike of about 17 hours. Bring the deet!
Took the southern approach via Tin Cup Creek and Kerlee Lake - didn't think the dogs would enjoy the couloirs on the northern approach. Crazy log crossing of Tin Cup Creek right where you leave the main trail and head up to Kerlee Lake (one of my dogs fell off it about 15 feet into the raging creek on the way back)! Camped at Kerlee Lake. Nice little climb at the top to the true summit of El Cap!
16 hour trip. Made it to top of couloir with friend Joshua, but bagged it there. One of my best days in the Bitterroots. Need to try again.
alpinelight, did you climb this in the winter or summer? Any suggestions for a winter attempt?
Made a 1-day attempt at this summit. Hiked from the Little Rock Creek trailhead to the lakes at the base of the summit, then climbed on boulders, talus, and scree to the bottom edge of the snow in the couloir. Climbed the couloir to the ridge, then hiked along the ridge toward the summit. Unfortunately I was bone tired and the summit block was blocked by a 20+ foot deep drift of snow. I decided to live another day and save the summit block for another time. Only 600' of distance and 100' of elevation to go!
decided on this route after seeing it from the top of trapper. left tin cup trail about five miles in at a good size scree field. went straight up toward como peaks and headed west once above timberline. made for an unbelievably beautiful, albeit long approach. little creeks, small tarns, and wildflowers galore. thunderstorms forced a quick descent to kerlee lake and a bushwack out. as great as the ascent and summit were, the descent proved to be equally as miserable. not sure on total mileage but this route made for an 18 hour day.
Skied to base of couloir late on Saturday, bivied, then climbed under bluebird skies to summit on Sunday morning. Climbed with mtsurveyor-- he skied the couloir on descent (glissade for me!)
Climbed via some couloir? Nice climb with the lakes below as a base camp. Climbed with Sarah, she is a rock star!
Combined with the Lonesome Bachelor and the Como Peaks for a spectacular traverse. From other SPs, this looks like a place for many past, present, and future epics.
my first peak in this range. camped out and then climbed the couloir south of the summit. went with luke cassady and tim sharp. I say "Thank you" guys for accepting me into your trips and not dicriminating against my gender.
Endless bushwacking through thick extremely wet brush. Gotta love the bitterroots..
Climbed with Luke and Amy, great trip but I put a hole in Lukes Kiva with my ice ax,[Mountain Hardware replaced the panel]. Amy had a beautiful lead up the couloir that reached 45 deg at the top.
A poor route choice lead to a long day. The climb up was great, but rather than descend the couloir used to come up (no crampons or axes, my parrtner and I decided to descend the NW side of the peak and make our way back around. After being cliffed out and adjusting our route numerous times, we made it back to camp at the high lakes after 19 hours (car to peak to camp).