Up to CampMountains: Capitol Peak (14,130’), K2 (13,664’)
Route: (07/04) Started at the Capitol Creek TH and camped below Capitol Lake (~10,800’). (07/05) Climbed to the Daly saddle and followed the crest of the 4th class ridge to K2 and continued along the standard N.E. Ridge route from K2, leaving Ridge Direct a little later than usual.
Crew: Prakash and Ice Axe-y the ice axe
Thanks are due to Craig, Steve Knapp and CO Native for the conditions info. I waited 9 months for the conditions I saw in their most recent trip reports. Several times in the interim I had packed and all but jumped into my Jeep to drive to the TH only to be yanked back to reality by doumall or someone else who understood my plight. I hardly thought I would last that long: Patience in Mountaineering 101. There was a 30% rain/snow forecast for my planned first-choice summit day (Saturday) but there’s always a 30% forecast everywhere so I decided to go. I reached the trailhead late on Friday evening and began hiking up the ditch trail enjoying the bluebird day and the fantastic views this mountain offers during the hike up.
Capitol from the Ditch Trail
It’s pretty easy to miss the trail cut-off when you lollygag and focus on picture-taking. I ended up following the ditch trail for a ¼ mile too long and had to bushwhack due East to meet up with Capitol Creek trail. The correct branch at the trail junction is marked by a cairn (in the picture I look back at the cairn, circled in red). You will also see signage in the trees past the opposite bank. Here are a couple of pictures taken from the East side of the creek.
From the East side of Capitol Creek, looking at the trail signage in the trees
looking at the Ditch trail from the East side of Capitol Creek
I’ve also missed another useful piece of info from past TRs. There’s a log bridge 50 feet upstream of where the trail crosses the creek. I ploughed through cold, fast flowing, and knee-deep creek water instead. While this is
fun, there is another option to be aware of. At the headwall leading up to the lake I noticed that sections of the trail off to the right had melted off and I followed it up to a small meadow at approximately 10,800’. Here I stumbled upon the campsite of a group of three climbers carrying ropes, planning an early attempt the following day. It was completely dark by now and I asked if I could set up camp in the vicinity. They graciously Okayed the request. I went to bed at 11PM with the alarm set for 3AM.
Ascending to Daly Pass
After the customary morning flirtation with the snooze button I began hiking under headlamps at ~4AM. The other three climbers set off a little earlier. I soon passed them and left the trail, heading up close to Capitol Lake. I would use an easy couloir I’d seen the previous evening, heading up from the lake to the Daly saddle. I fleetingly assessed the crusty early summer snow. Crampons were unnecessary. Close to the top the snow was hard packed and I fished out my axe. I never saw the other group of three for the rest of the day. The actual trail is to the climbers left of the couloir I used, and is completely free of snow all the way up to the saddle. I was up at the saddle in time for sunrise and munchies.
Daybreak on Daly Pass
Sun rises on Daly Pass
Past the saddle there are a few gullies to be traversed. Though on suncupped Easterly aspects, these gullies were sort of bulletproof early in the morning and kicking steps across them took a little work.
Another group of three young climbers from Montana came up behind me. These folks were attempting Capitol for their first 14er along with Elbert the following day.
I looked across at the standard route up to K2… annoying talus hopping followed by a gentle snow slope up to K2’s summit.
Snowslope up to K2
The Ridge: Daly Pass to K2
The Class 4 ridge crest from Daly pass seemed like a more interesting alternative, much more so. I climbed snow up to the base of the ridge.
Base of the Ridge from Daly Pass 1
Base of the Ridge from Daly Pass 2
One of the climbers from the group from Montana followed me for a bit but then decided to head for the standard route while the other couple followed me up the ridge. The ridge has some fine 4th class moves with a small knife edge thrown in.
Here’s a picture of the couple following the path I’d climbed down to a few feet below the ridge crest.
Ridge from Daly Pass 1
Once you commit to the ridge, you will find the most solid rock by sticking to the crest. There is plenty of choss lower down. I quickly climbed back up after my investigations down below.
Ridge from Daly Pass 2
There is one point that looked intimidating from afar but it turned out to be much easier than I thought. I stayed right on top of the ridge crest to get to it.
Ridge from Daly Pass 3
The other two climbers decided to head back down and find the standard route. They were concerned about the down-climb on the other side of the point. I thought they had shown fantastic resolve up to this point, (especially considering that this was their first 14er) and was a little disappointed to see them turn around here. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t follow a solitary madman with ‘eXtreme’ imprinted across the dome of his helmet either. I scrambled up to the point. It was exposed 4th class climbing at the hardest part. There was no drop off on the other side. The other side of this point is visible in some of my other pictures in this report.
Ridge from Daly Pass 4
Clouds came in from time to time but cleared away. There appeared to be a large storm system off to the North/NE but it didn’t appear to be moving towards me. Here is a sample of what lies on the ridge past this point looking towards K2 and Capitol behind it.
Ridge from Daly Pass 5
And here’s looking back at the couple from Montana and the section of ridge I had climbed…
Ridge from Daly Pass 6
There was a little more exposed 3rd class scrambling to be done before K2
Ridge from Daly Pass 7
The climbing was not difficult, but there was some overhanging exposure and I took time to plan my moves. It was still early in the day and I had plenty of time.
Ridge from Daly Pass 8
The difficulties ease up all of a sudden and the rest of the way to K2 looks like this.
K2 from the Ridge
Here’s a picture of the easiest route around K2 that avoids bagging the summit… snow-free.
K2 from Closer Up
Here’s that famous shot of Capitol from the summit of K2.
Capitol from K2
Upper E. Face Difficulties
I climbed down the slabs off K2. I didn’t see the group from Montana below me and I figured they turned around.
Getting off K2
The Ridge to Capitol: Knife Edges
Contrary to what I’d heard, there was a lot of loose rock strewn all over this mountain although not as bad as Pyramid or the Bells. There is solid rock on the ridge crest and that’s where I stayed for as long as I could. I found myself meticulously three-point climbing the whole route. There are actually three knife edges on the first half of standard NE ridge route. I was surprised that one of them takes all the glory. Perhaps this is because it’s easier to cheat on the other two. Here’s the first one just below K2.
1st Knife Edge 1
…and here’s looking back at it. This knife edge can easily be traversed via ledges (footholds) at a convenient distance below the edge.
1st Knife Edge 2
Five minutes later the second, more popular knife edge appeared. I used an assortment of techniques to cross it. (1) Straddled and shimmied across some of it (2) Bent forward and grabbed the edge, stood up and walked over the edge while sliding my hands forward (3) Grabbed the edge and walked on ledges to the climber’s left. I lack the few extra millimeters of ball required to balance-beam the whole thing. I am sure more worthy climbers here possess this added ability.
2nd Knife Edge 1
2nd Knife Edge 2
Here’s a close up of the edge from half way across… pretty sharp.
2nd Knife Edge 3
The third was a mini-knife edge about 10 feet long and appeared 5-10 minutes after the second one. Again, this one is easier to avoid if necessary.
3rd Knife Edge
However, I felt the knife edges and the first half of the ridge in general were easier than the loose-rock-ridden Upper East face.
Upper East Face 1
Here’s looking back at K2 and the ridge to Daly.
Ridge to Daly
I met another climber from Glenwood Springs who was making his way down off the mountain. He and I were the 2 who summitted of the 10 I know of that set out on Saturday to summit.
The Upper East Face of Capitol
I never found a satisfactory description of the upper east face in many of the trip reports and route descriptions I’ve read so I tried to get in some pictures that illustrate it better. The route past the knife edge is cairned exceptionally well. Where a cairn was missing, I followed a common-sense route and dependably found the next cairn.
Upper East Face 2
Large, precariously positioned blocks of rock are prevalent.
Upper East Face 3
Upper East Face 4
Where there is no loose rock there are steep slabs that provide good holds for short periods of time. The cairned route momentarily takes you around to the back of the summit block that is not visible from K2. I found patches of manky summer snow at spots. Many of the snowfields could be avoided but I had to traverse 2-3 steep ones. The snow was loose and slid easily under my boots. This is melting fast though and I’d be surprised if it was around next weekend. Crampons would’ve been useless here and I booted across the snow while holding on to the occasional rock hold that I could reach overhead. Cairns continued to be found aplenty. On this section of the climb, if you are off route, you will soon know.
Upper East Face 1
I made summit as thunderheads began forming for the day.
I was elated and yodeled long and loud as is to be expected on a worthy opponent like Capitol. Unfortunately the summit register was smashed. There were a few pieces of paper with illegible writing, and no pen. Here’s an interesting little side project for the next climber headed up there.
Five minutes later I had successfully bellowed away all the pent up frustration of the last several months waiting for this summit, but still grinned from ear to ear like a d-bag while I grabbed my summit photo on ‘teener #58.
Here are some summit pans beginning with the traverse to Snowmass…
Traverse to Snowmass
The Ridge to Daly pass…
Ridge to Daly Pass
And Pierre Lakes basin…
Pierre Lakes Basin
Descent to Daly Pass
I would’ve liked to spend a good hour on summit but Capitol is a weather-magnet like all other fine peaks the world over. 10 minutes later I began my descent following the cairns. I’d say it was my identical ascent route. Halfway through my descent I met Larry and Howard making their way up. We chatted briefly and I headed down. They then assessed the weather situation and decided to abort their summit bid. Here’s another pic of the Capitol-Snowmass traverse timed with their turn-around point.
Traverse to Snowmass
Loose rock below the ridge crest continued to be a problem. At one point I reached up and plucked an ostensibly solid boulder twice the size of my head and brought it crashing down to a ledge below my feet as Howard looked on. Three point technique saved my life here. Incidents like this occur occasionally to remind you how quickly things can turn tragic in this sport. I down-climbed with these two for a while and then decided to glissade to the elevation of Daly pass and traverse across to it. The glissade filled my pants with wet snow. I was freezing and decided to take off after waving goodbyes to the two who had decided to stay high on the traverse.
Pack Out and Conclusion
The hike to Daly pass went quick and there were a few more short glissades to be had on the way down to the trail. I broke camp in the middle of a downpour and began the hike out, cold dirty and hungry as hell. I grabbed a few more shots of Capitol on the way out. The trail junction of the Ditch-Capitol Creek Trail is visible at the bottom of this picture .
Capitol on the Way Out
I was back at the Jeep at around 8PM. The chassis groaned as I unloaded my pack… It was either from the weight or my Jeep’s way of saying “Whoa! You reek boy”. I stared at these boots for a while.
Crusty Ol' Boots
Kindly indulge me in this last lachrymose reflection of mine. When I started out on Longs in August of '06, I thought I’d be an "experienced-climber" when I was done with the 58. Now it seems like there’s no such thing (to restate the obvious) and I’m still a gaper although slightly more de-sensitized to cold, pain and suffering. There are just varying levels of insanity and “gaperdom” from what little I’ve seen. I’d like to dedicate (it’s little, but the least I can do) the completion to my wonderful family and friends who waited on tenterhooks for the past several months, for my phone calls when I went climbing by myself. Thanks are also due to all my climbing partners who came along for the ride and co-workers who checked the missing climber’s lists on Monday mornings.
P.S.: Congrats Kirk on a solo ascent of Pyramid in less than favorable conditions. Glad you made it out safe.