Intro/StatsCapitol Peak (14130')- CO Rank 29
July 23, 2006
~17.5 miles RT, 5900' gain
via Capitol Creek Ditch Trail (9440')
Brad Snider and Kevin Baker
For Brad's version of the climb, plus an awesome movie of the climb, click here: Movie
Ever since I bought Gerry Roach's 14er guidebook 4 years ago, I have been intrigued by Capitol. When I read about the narrow knife edge across its' n.e ridge, I quickly wrote this peak off my list. I knew this ridge would "expose" my fear of heights. After some class 4 climbs here and there, I felt that I might be able to do Capitol along with the other class 4 14ers. I only had one day on this particular weekend to climb Capitol because of a wedding committment, so a long day hike was in order. My two potential partners bailed and I was fortunate as Brad Snider from summitpost was up for the abuse on short notice.
I arrived at the Capitol Creek TH at around 8:30pm Sat night as Brad was already there. The road to the TH is in pretty good shape as my Santa Fe had no problems. It is a little rough for the last half mile, but is not bad at all. We quickly introduced ourselves and hit the sack as the mosquitos were agressive. The night was clear as the Milky Way was spectacular. I even spotted a satellite cruising across the sky. The forecast was looking great and an insanely early 2am start was planned to maximize our chances with the long approach.
After only a couple hours of sleep in the car as usual, I awakened at 1:30am. The anticipation of the climb made it hard to sleep. It was so warm at 9400' that I had to crack the windows and hope that the mosquitos were done for the night.
Brad and I set off at 2:04am under a moonless sky along the Capitol Ditch trail. This trail avoids the 400' elevation loss on the standard route and is relatively flat for the first mile. The trail is fairly easy to follow. We found the two creek crossings just prior to where it joins the standard trail without any problems. It was so warm that I was hiking in a tank top, a rarity prior to sunrise. A couple miles before Capitol Lake we did miss a turn in the trail and started going up a dry creek bed, but quickly turned around and got back on track. We arrived at Capitol Lake in 2.5 hrs as the dark n.e. face of Capitol loomed above us. We must have missed the turnoff for the trail leading to the saddle, but we quickly found it and were hammered by the steep grunt to the saddle, arriving at 5:35. At this point we were making excellent time, but we would slow down considerably from here.
We took a long break here to refuel for the second part of the climb, the traversing grind up the boulderfield to K2. Both of us decided to not bring the axe and were glad we did. There was only one snowfield (I think the first) where we wished we would have had one. I gave Brad one of my poles and we just followed the steps of others. We ended up going a little too far east of K2, but the slight detour afforded a unique angle of our goal ahead. The view of Capitol and the knife edge from here is stunning.
A unique view of Capitol and its infamous knife edge taken from the east ridge of K2.
At this point, Brad put on his La Sportiva mountaineering boots and we climbed the east ridge to K2. There were a couple class 4 moves here and there, but it wasn't bad.
The Knife Edge and Face Climb
Since we were already a little slower than I thought, we just went right over K2 at 7:40 and headed down the n.e. side. We found a path that wraps almost all the way around to the opposite side of Capitol. We came to a difficult spot that would have required a jump, so we contoured to the right and found easier terrain.
Once on the ridge, we came to the first mini-knife edge. This wasn't bad as there were plenty of places to place your feet. This couldn't be it. Ah, there is the classic view I was waiting for. Brad went first across the knife edge and implored the butt scoot strategy. Towards the end of it, he went to the grab ridge and use the footholds strategy on the north side.
Brad Snider crosses the knife edge on Capitol.
It was my turn and I wasn't sure what I would do. I decided on grabbing the ridge and using the footholds on the south side, which didn't seem quite as steep. At one point, the footholds were minimal so I put both feet and hands on the ridge. This was the most committing part of it. After that, it was easy class 3 scrambling to the base of the east face. The rest of the narrow parts could be avoided by contouring below on either side, climbers right being the easier side. Round 1 is over!
There was one guy ahead of us on the face but he was too far ahead to see where he went. The summit looks very close from this vantage point, but we knew the work wasn't over.
The view to the summit of Capitol on the n.e. ridge before it steepens.
Brad did a nice job leading the way as there were multiple cairns to choose from. We basically did an ascending traverse to a rib, at which point the route wraps around to the back side and hits the ridge just below the summit. We topped out at 9:30am, a rather slow ascent time of 7 hrs, 26 min from the TH. I attribute that because I slow down considerably on exposed ridges and ledges due to my exposure wussness. Within minutes of summitting, 6 other guys joined us in the celebration. There were probably around 20 people on the mountain this day, which was surprising as usually I don't see many people on the harder ones. Of those 20, probably only 1/4 of them had helmets on. I am surprised there are not more accidents on the route, because there were plenty of spots were rocks let loose. Capitol was a first 14er for one of the climbers, so I told him it's all downhill from here! The weather was holding other than some isolated benign clouds, so we relaxed on the summit until departing at 10:26.
I didn't have the normal elation I have on summits for Capitol, because I knew we had a long way down. We ended up staying a little higher than our ascent route than the descent, and the moves seemed a little more exposed. I never felt that there was any point where the moves were worse than class 3 on the face though.
Time for Round 2 on the knife edge. Brad had me go across first so he could get some pics. It was a scphinter tightening experience again this time as I pretty much used the same technique.
Here I am crossing the knife edge on Capitol. Pic by Brad Snider.
I stayed on the south side as the drop wasn't as sheer on this side. Once I got across, it was Brad's turn and he had no problems. The views from just beyond the knife edge to Snowmass were stellar.
Snowmass and its connecting ridge to Capitol.
One more class 4 pitch over K2 and the difficulties other than the tedious boulder hop was over!
The view down the climb of K2 to Capitol Lake below as I climb. Pic courtesy of Brad Snider
We elected not to glissade the snowfields since we didn't have pants. We missed picking up the climbers trail near the saddle, but after some searching and bad routes, we found it. We didn't get back to the saddle until 2:15.
I was wanting to take a shot at nearby ranked 13er Daly since it was less than a mile to the south, but Brad wisely decided to call it a day. I had read of Ryan Schilling's report of going from Daly to Capitol and that Daly's south ridge was not bad. It didn't look that easy from the saddle as there was an immediate tower to skirt. I skirted it to the left, topped out in a keyhole, and traversed over to the other side. This was a tortuous affair as the going was slow on loose, grassy slopes. I decided to just gain the ridge and after doing so an unreasonable downclimb presented itself. The view from here was depressing as there were plenty of ups, downs, and gullies to traverse, so I decided to bail. I wouldn't get home until midnite if I continued. I bailed n.w. down a loose but doable talus gully as I hit the trail just below the lake in about 30 min. It was a good thing I bailed because I ran out of water just after doing so. I went through 4 liters on this hot day!
The long 6 mile hot hike down the trail seemed to take forever. I met some cows along the way that I missed on the way up, a couple of which were plopped down right on the trail! The views I missed of Capitol on the way up were special.
Capitol towers above the valley on the way out.
I finally made it down to the car at 5:04pm, happy to be done with arguably CO's hardest 14er by the standard route!