| Castle and Capitol
14ers Climbed: Castle and Capitol
Partners in Crime: Jonathan and Mike
Jonathan, Mike and I left Fort Collins at 2am on Saturday morning (7/1) and drove down to the Castle Creek trailhead, arriving around 7:15 am. We drove Mike's Subaru Forrester up the Forest Service road about 1.5 miles until we hit the first stream crossing. Mike had gotten very little sleep the night before so he decided to catch some sleep while Jonathan and I headed for Castle's summit. We left the car around 7:30 am and headed up the four-wheel drive road. The hike up the road from the first stream crossing is fairly long (about 4 miles), but the views are great, and it makes for a nice warm-up to the steeper climb that follows.
We hit the end of the road and decided to take the Northeast Ridge Route to the summit (Route 25.2 in Gerry Roach's book). The NW Ridge is certainly also climbable, however, we had left our crampons at home, and since the snow seemed fairly icy, we felt it was a little safer to head up the rocks. Also, I have to say that the NE Ridge route was quite enjoyable with a little bit of scrambling (nothing more than Class 2+).
The NE Ridge route is clearly seen from about 200' up into the upper portion of Montezuma Basin. The route switchbacks up to a saddle between Point 13780 and Castle.
We arrived at the summit of Castle around 10am, and since the storms really weren't building too much yet, we took in the views for about 30 minutes before heading back down the ridge. The views from the top are amazing! South Maroon Peak and Capitol looked especially impressive from the summit.
The descent down Castle was fun and uneventful. We glissaded about 300' feet from the end of the NE Ridge route to the start of the four wheel drive road at 12800 feet. We made good, quick progress down the four-wheel drive road, and we were back to Mike and the car around 12:15 pm.
After grabbing a quick bite to eat in Snowmass, we were off to the Capitol Creek trailhead. The last 1.5 miles to the trailhead are pretty rugged, but we were able to make it without much trouble in Mike's Subaru Outback.
The initial couple of miles of the Capitol Creek Trail are closed due to a bridge being out, so the alternate route is the Ditch Trail. The Ditch Trail was a great hike, and I actually recommend it over the Capitol Creek Trail, since there is little descent on this trail (as opposed to about 400 vertical feet of drop on the Capitol Creek Trail).
After about 3 miles on the Ditch Trail, the trail crosses Capitol Creek (there is a log bridge slightly to the south of the official trail) and rejoins the Capitol Creek Trail. We continued the hike up the creek towards Capitol Lake. The views of Capitol Peak are amazing and certainly help encourage the weary backpacker along! We stopped briefly about one mile before the lake to wait out a brief rain shower, and then arrived at Capitol Lake. According to my GPS it was about 6.5 miles from the trailhead to the lake.
We awoke with sunrise around 5am and got ready for the day while taking in a beautiful sunrise with the early rays of sunlight illuminating Capitol Peak and Mount Daly. The initial climb from Capitol Lake to the saddle between Capitol and Mount Daly is on good trail, although it is quite a quick way to wake up in the morning! I guess 900 vertical feet in 0.5 miles will do that to you.
We then traversed to the south into the basin between Mount Daly and Clark Park. There are several large snowfields that must be traversed, and I would certainly recommend bringing an ice axe. I don't think that crampons are necessary.
The climb up to K2 was uneventful, and we took in the views of Capitol's NE ridge and then headed for the infamous knife edge. In my own opinion, the knife edge ridge is somewhat over-rated. Although the exposure is considerable, it isn't too bad, and if you really don't like exposure, you can also down-climb about 30 feet on Capitol's south side and avoid the knife-edge entirely. There are a couple of borderline Class 3 - Class 4 moves if you choose this option (I actually did this on the return trip, just to check and make sure this is a practicable option). The rest of the climb up Capitol was fairly uneventful, although there are a few places where we certainly did not choose the easiest route. I would recommend Gerry Roach's advice to, in general, stay as close to the ridge crest as possible.
We arrived at the summit about 2 hours, 30 minutes after leaving camp and took in the great views before heading back down. There were a few somewhat threatening clouds beginning to build, so we only took a few minutes on the summit. Jonathan did a great job of leading us back down the NE ridge, and since we stayed closer to the ridge crest, the descent was quite enjoyable. After coming off of K2, we arrived back at the large snowfield we had ascended earlier that morning. Since the snow had softened considerably, we decided to go for a nice, long glissade :-) We descended about 900 vertical feet, which was the longest slide I've ever done! It was really fun sliding, and by the time we were done, it was only a short traverse back across the ridge to the saddle, and then a quick, steep drop down back to our campsites.
We got back to the campsite around 10:45 am, filtered some water and got ready to head back to the trailhead. The storm clouds were building quickly, and we got a move on down the trail by around 11:15 am. By the time we hit the crossing of Capitol Creek, it had started to rain, and there was a bit of lightning. Thankfully, though there was no lightning too nearby, and we made it back to the car around 1:15 pm before the rain started falling heavily.
We stopped in Glenwood Springs for a greasy, calorie replenishing meal at Taco Bell and then headed back to Fort Collins. Traffic was surprisingly light for a Sunday afternoon (must be that a lot of people are taking a long weekend for the 4th of July), and we were back to Fort Collins by 7pm. All in all, this was a great weekend and one of my favorite 14er trips that I've taken.