| The Capitol-Snowmass Connection
Ever since moving to Colorado Capitol has peaked my interested, especially as a combination run/day hike with Snowmass. Knowing that there is only one other ‘reported’ time for combining the two in a day (Bill Briggs 1990, 11h15min), I was very intrigued. After summitting Capitol all by its lonesome in 2009, I finally got the chance to return to the Elks for a crack at the Capitol/Snowmass combo on July 21st, 2012. With Nolans14 training at its peak level and coming off four days of pacing and crewing at the Hardrock 100, I figured it was time. Thanks to CO_Native for the beta on his ‘SnowCap Loop’ http://www.hikingintherockies.com/fourteeners/snowcap/snowcapmain.htm, the plan was all laid out, all I had to do was trust my navigation and hope my legs were up to the task.
Sunrise over West Snowmass Creek.
At 4:36am I set off from the Maroon-Snowmass trailhead by headlamp, slowly jogging my way up the muddy trail. I soon reached the junction with the West Snowmass Creek trail, where I curved back down to the river, waded across, and continued my hike/jog on up through the meadow and aspens. The trail gently climbs up the valley, allowing for some interspersed slow jogs, a nice mix with the power hiking. As the sun rose the orange hue illuminated Clark Peak at the back of the valley, damn that was a long ways away. I soon reached the meadow where the main trail switchbacked up to Haystack Mt, here I stayed down by the river angling for the West side of the meadow where I picked up a climbers/cow trail. I followed this along the West side of the river for a bit, until it dumped me on a gravely wash, where I hopped the small stream and continued my bushwack up the East side of the river.
The trail came and went, and after some time searching for the ‘best’ path, I gave in and just followed whatever semblance of a use trail was in front of me. Better to keep moving than to worry about which trail might be better. Finally the valley began to constrict and steepened, I stayed a little further left on a ridge above the river, finally getting dumped out at the small tarns just below Moon Lake.
Reflection on Moon Lake.
One last scree hill found me staring at the glassy calm reflection in Moon Lake, 2h41min after starting out. It had been a long haul up the valley through the deadfall and brush, but ahead lay wide open talus, a specialty of mine. The valley split and I swung right into the broad basin that would lead me to K2 and eventually Capitol Peak. I talus hopped and scrambled my way straight toward the back of the valley, making quick work of the open terrain, finally seeing other signs of life, several parties enroute to Capitol’s craggy summit. From the base of K2 I took my usual line straight up and over the peak on some fun class 4 rock, bypassing a party of three in the process.
Capitol Peak in all its glory.
At 3h47min into my day I found myself atop K2 with the final scramble and knife edge up Capitol dead ahead. I had been looking forward to this section all morning, and quickly set out across the ridge in order to stay ahead of a few other parties. I hopped across the ridgeline, even tight rope walking most of ‘The Knife Edge’. When I reached the final steep scramble to the summit I hit the ridge straight on, choosing the class 4/5 rock over the dirty class 3 ledges. The ridge was just as fun as I’d remembered, wonderfully solid rock with lots of hand holds and no rock fall to worry about.
Only 27min22sec after leaving K2 I stood atop the summit of Capitol, the final scramble had gone by incredibly fast, but it felt good to be only 4h15min into my day and to already be on top of the first peak. As I took a moment to catch my breath and take in the views, the enormity of what still lay ahead began to sink in. Endless miles of scree and talus stretched across Pierre Lakes basin, up Heckert Pass and to the summit of Snowmass. I snapped a few photos of the ridge, Capitol Lake, and the sprawling valleys, then set off back the way I’d come, now headed for the Wandering Dutchman coulier. I continued to scramble the direct ridge over K2 and down toward the coulier. As I neared the coulier the ridge began to fall away very quickly and I could tell it was going to be tough climbing, if not impassable. I was soon looking down 50ft of solid 5th class climbing to the coulier.
Pierre Lakes Basin, the day has only begun...
After a short backtrack I was able to work my way down into the notch (5h00min) only to be greeted by the several hundred feet of loose nasty scree that was the Wandering Dutchman. I slipped and slid my way down into Pierre Lakes basin, paused for a moment to eat something and try and work out a ‘good’ line through the valley, finally deciding the best line was the shortest one, so I made a beeline for the other side. Pierre Lakes basin is a giant rubble filled valley, though I was able to find some larger more stable talus among the smaller boulders. After a quick water refill at one of the lakes, I continued my giant game of hop scotch toward the meadow on the far side.
One of the welcome distractions in Pierre Lakes Basin.
The scenery in the valley is quite beautiful; several large lakes reflecting the Capitol-Snowmass ridge, cascades pouring between the boulders, and even a waterfall tumbling down a steep staircase into a large meadow on the Snowmass side. I used all these to distract me, until I finally made the far side of the valley and up around the ridge I went toward Heckert Pass. This pass made the Dutchman look down right pleasant, 500ft of hard pack dirt (now that the snow was gone), led to the only weakness in Snowmass Mt’s massive NE ridge.
Snowmass, so close, yet so far.
At 6h49min into my day I’d navigated the last obstacle between me and Snowmass Mt, and all that remained was the long haul up the now snowless Snowmass. I dropped 100ft then began a high traverse from the pass toward Snowmass, hoping to keep some of my altitude. My ledges soon disappeared into crumbling talus slopes. I gave in and at the first sign of a good downhill line I bailed into the valley below, opting to regain the extra elevation rather than slowly plod my way across the shattered scree slope. With clouds beginning to build all around I pushed the pace up the rock, making steady progress. I could feel the heat of the sun and the elevation taking their toll on me, as I began to slow. I pushed my way up the final scrambling pitch and collapsed onto the summit. I’d made it to the top of Snowmass AND Capitol in just over 8h07min.
Success on Snowmass, peak #2.
The clouds had held away, simply providing a little relief from the sun, but not threatening to storm….yet. I began to scramble my way down the ridge, then the loose steep gulley where I’d ascended. Even without its name sake snowfield I was able to link rock slabs and grassy patches most of the way down for a ‘runnable’ descent. The hanging valley and meadow just before the final plunge to the lake was still a welcome break from all the rock hopping.
One last steep descent and some annoying willow whacking around Snowmass Lake I popped out on trail 9h16min into my day. After over 10miles of talus hopping and scree skiing I was so excited to see smooth worn dirt track. I laced down the shoes and began a slow jog down the trail; enjoying both the wonderful feeling of easy running and the peaceful sounds of the river cascading along side. The miles passed on by, and I was soon leap frogging over the log jam, the river was so low most of them were well anchored in the mud. A quick glance at my watch showed that I had a chance to break 11hours, so I dropped the hammer for the last 4miles, covering them in about 33min. I hit the trailhead in stride stopping my watch at 10h44min24sec. What appears to be a new FKT for the Capitol/Snowmass linkup.
It was a phenomenal day with lots of spectacular views, new terrain, some fun scrambling, and lots of seldom seen backcountry. This is definitely not a route I’m going to hurry to go back and do, but the prospect of finding a shorter route to Snowmass that avoids Heckert Pass is intriguing. In all I had accomplished what I had set out to do, link Capitol and Snowmass in a single push, setting a new FKT in the process. Between Wandering Dutchman and Snowmass Lake I had seen exactly zero people, an experience most others don’t get on a 14er, but one I relished in having. While the standard routes up both these peaks are fantastic in their own right, it’s these seldom traveled cross country routes that really make the experience for me, even on the busiest peak one can find solitude if you search in the right place.
Moon Lake 2h41min
K2 #1 3h47min--1h05min
Summit of Capitol 4h15min--27min22sec
Wandering Dutchman 5h--45min
Heckert Pass 6h49min--1h49min
Summit of Snowmass 8h07min—1h19min
Snowmass Lake 9h16min—1h08min
Maroon-Snowmass TH 10h44min24sec—1h29min
Here is a link to my SPOT tracking from that day, the waypoints are only valid for a week then they disappear.
One last view of Snowmass before heading home.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):