| 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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):