Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
"K2"  -  13,664 feet
Post Date:  08/08/2011
Modified:  08/24/2011
Date Climbed:   08/07/2011
Posted By:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   LynnKH

 Girls' take on Capitol    

Route: Northeast Ridge
Date: August 7, 2011
Length: 17 miles
Vertical: 5,600 feet
Time: 15 hours hiking time total over 2 days (3 hr backpack in on Saturday + 9 hr ascent RT + 3 hr backpack out on Sunday)
Who: Lynn (LynnKH) and Natalie (nkan02), joined by JasonF and MNlakes (Paul) on some sections of the route.

With all that intense debt-ceiling negotiations in Congress last week it was only fitting that Lynn and I decided to go to Wash… (oops) Capitol. In all seriousness, the perfect weather forecast for Sunday in the Elks made us adjust our plans from Kit Carson to Capitol.

Due to Lynn’s work commitments, we were not able to leave Denver before 3pm on Saturday and did not start from the TH until 7pm. We made good progress in the waning daylight though, reaching the Capitol Lake 3 hours later. We grabbed the first flat spot we could see for a campsite and hit the sack by 10.30pm.

The wake up call came at 4.30am. After filtering water, finding the correct trail turn-off in the dark and swallowing a few energy shots for breakfast, we finally hit the trail at 5.30am, behind some parties already ascending Capitol-Daly saddle. As correctly pointed out in the TR description, the saddle was the end of the easy hiking.

Easy hiking ends here

We decided to stay up higher so not to lose elevation and thus had to traverse a couple of steep gulleys and rock bands before entering the snow fields. With snow, it was easy to see the trail.

crossing the gulley

route ahead

We ditched our ice axes at the end of the snowfield at approximately 13,200 and scrambled up dry rock to reach K2 around 8.30am.

K2 comes into view

Scramble up K2

view of Capitol from K2

side of K2

We picked the direct west route to descend K2 and ran into a couple of Class 4 moves before reaching the ledges leading to the Knife Edge. I had seen multiple pictures of the Knife Edge, but they still did not adequately prepare me for what was to come. Some people find Capitol’s Knife Edge easier than what they expected, I found it harder than expected. Still, we made over it without major issues, but surely a bit rattled.

Lynn is getting ready to tackle Knife Edge


exposure on Knife Edge

Knife Edge


Maroon Bells, Snowmass and Pierre lakes from the Capitol ridge

My impression from reading TRs was that a descent from K2 and a traverse across Knife Edge were the hardest part. Wrong! Capitol has a very long ridge that would just go on and on and on. The long and grueling scramble begins after crossing the very exposed notch of the gulley. If you manage to stay on trail (which is hard to see on the way up) it is mostly class 3 scramble with frequent Class 4 moves. This section of the trail has very much reminded of the climb up Mt. Eolus, only much longer and more difficult.

Route ahead

Looking back on the route. Notice the ridges that we will have to circumvent

Eventually, we lost the “trail” (i.e. barely traceable path through the ledges), and decided to go directly up the ridge towards the summit. We ran into a couple of low-5 class moves in the process, but regained the “trail” leading to the summit ridge as a result. After crossing a number of gulleys I was getting convinced we were either directly below the summit or worse, overshot it, but in reality, we were not even that close. Once high on the ridge, we caught a glimpse of some “hard hats” on the summit ahead (those belonging to Jason & Paul who reached it about 20 minutes before us), so we stuck to the ridge and after running into a few more Class-4 moves, finally gained the summit of Capitol exactly 5 hours after the start, at 10.30am.

Near the ridge. If you lose the "trail", the route can easily become Class 5

Lynn is gaining the ridge near the summit

Natalie on the summit

Maroon bells from the summit of Capitol

We stayed on the summit until 11 am and then started a careful descent back, trying very hard not to repeat our respective ascent routes (Jason and Paul also ran into steep sections on their ascent). We found route finding on the way down much easier, and were back at Knife Edge after an hour of solid work and mostly Class 3 moves, though still frequently intersected by Class 4 downclimbs.

Route on the way down

Working the ledges on the way down

Lynn on Knife Edge on the way back

As I find with other exposed climbs, coming back was easier and the exposure on Knife Edge felt less severe, so we made a quick progress towards K2. We decided not to re-summit K2, but skirt it on the left (west) side, which was supposed to be an easier route. We think that had we stayed higher, about 10 feet below K2, we would have had a much easier time circumventing K2. However, we picked the lower route and found it quite loose and sketchy (class 4ish), but still safely made it to the saddle of K2 by 1pm. The hardest part of the climb was over. The weather forecast held and we were still enjoying the blue-bird day, although the winds were starting to pick up.

We skipped down on talus to the upper snowfield, retrieved our ice axes and glissaded 3 sections down to reach the rock field in the lower basin.

Glissade time!

We lost quite a bit of elevation, but we felt that taking the lower and more straightforward route would be easier and faster than staying up high and trying to negotiate a steeper terrain.


Daly saddle

Still, we had a bit of trouble traversing the very last gulley just before reaching the safety of the grass on Capitol-Daly saddle, so some of us opted to drop even lower to skirt the rocks and had to regain elevation, but I downclimbed into the gulley (the very last sketchy move of the day) and traversed the short snow patch to finally reach the dirt trail on the other side.

Gulley/snow crossing. The lower tracks in the snow are mine.

We were back to the camp just before 3pm, and after packing in and filtering water for the trip, on the road by 3.40pm.

Capitol lake

Capitol as seen from the campsite

After taking multiple pictures of the mountain we just conquered, a few creek crossings (including one that involved removing socks and boots) and chasing away cows blocking our path, we reached the car exactly 3 hours later. We even felt strong enough to drive straight back to Denver, without feeling an immediate need to pull over and take a nap, which had been a factor on some recent hikes. Overall, this was a satisfying day on the mountain and we were glad to visit Capitol on a blue-bird day.

Still a blue bird day

Cows on the "Ditch" trail

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions
Joe W

Good job     08/09/2011 05:19
Great pictures!
Sunday was great weather on Capitol,glad to see you two made the summit.


blue helmet team strikes again!     08/09/2011 12:56
Another great girls' trip with you, Nat. What a fun day! Thanks for being an awesome partner. You rock.


Mooove Out of the Way (for the Girls)     08/09/2011 14:24
Great report Natalie (aka snow leapard). You girls certainly do rock! Glad we were able to join forces for the hike. Nicely done on the glissade BTW. Wish I had brought my axe


Way to go!     08/09/2011 15:07
Leonard, Mark and I were on the Bells doing the traverse on Sunday. Tried to see us in your pic of the Bells. Nice job to the both of you, you 2 are turning into the Incredible Duo!


Great shot     08/09/2011 18:04
of the knife edge exposure! That's not a fun time to take out the camera...


Wonderful Day.     08/09/2011 19:22
Great trip report Natalie. Thanks for doing this. It certainly was a great day to be on the mountain with you, Lynn and Jason.


Great report     08/09/2011 21:39
thanks for the pics too; I'm both terrified and obsessed with Capitol.


Great trip report and congratulations!     08/09/2011 23:28
And I concur...going around the side of K2 was loose, sketchy, and much more exposed than I expected. My partner went over/near the top and had a much more enjoyable time.


Super shots!     08/10/2011 03:22
Great job people!! What an amazing mountain! But, O-o-h! the cows are back!! We didn't see a one when we did it!

Michael J

Nice Job!     08/10/2011 04:12
Great job on ”the big elephant”! From K-2 to the summit and back is one time in your life that you know you're alive and hyper aware of everything going on around you. Nice report!


You Girls ROCK!     09/11/2011 19:11
Don't know how I missed this TR the first time around - but really great report, wonderful images, and a solid effort!!


Thanks Jim     04/02/2015 19:45
Hopefully I will be able to say this in person on the Quandary hike in a few weeks. Glad to be done with Capitol w/o any snow or ice on the sketchy parts of it

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