| Capitol Peak - Northeast Ridge - Winter 1-day
Timmy Parr and I awoke in his old 4-Runner around 3:30AM at the Snowmass Creek TH (~ 8300 ft.). Bleary eyed and tired, we fought the urge to sink back into our warm sleeping cocoons. Donning semi-warm clothes and full packs (rope, harness, helmet, rock pro', crampons, avalanche probe, one ice axe, 2-liters of liquid, extra warm coat, thick gloves, and requisite food), we left the vehicle at precisely 4:20AM. Once on the snow, not far down the road, we laced on our Northern Light snowshoes, checked our avalanche beacons, and began the plod toward Capitol Peak about 7 miles away.
The way was familiar even in the dark. Our headlamps bounced off thick trees and hard packed snow. The first large, open field we dubbed "cell phone field" because I lost my cell phone in the area a few years back during a prior winter attempt. We entered a thick wooded area on the other side followed by a second, large open field. We quickly entered the wood again and made our way to the "arch," a tree guarded gully that gushes water in the late spring and summer.
Our path continued up a few steep headwalls to Moon Lake by 8:10AM. With the sun rising to the East, the heat on our backs was welcome as we made our way up to K2 by 10:10AM. The snow seemed solid and deep. We found a nice flat spot just below K2's summit and quickly donned crampons, helmet, harness, extra clothes, and ice axes. The packs, snowshoes, and trekking poles remained behind.
We climbed up and over K2, gained the Northeast Ridge, traversed the knife edge, and walked over benign terrain for the first 1.5 hours. By this time the heat of the day was intense, especially with the almost non-existent winter "down low." Up high the winter snow was deep and solid but fast becoming terrifying slush stuck to 50/55 degree rock slabs. Tying into the rope was now welcome and improved our psychological state. Progress remained study and inspiring!
Sticking to the Northeast ridge all the way to the summit line, we scrambled up and over mixed terrain and found the climbing to be exhilarating. Rock horns were abundant and served as excellent anchor points or natural belays. Timmy and I moved together for the most part, protected by various natural anchors and soon found ourselves on top at 1:20PM. The surrounding view seemed foreign and surreal as we gazed upon a sea of snow and rocky peaks (to use an overused expression).
The down climb was pleasant as we followed our boot track across the now familiar terrain. The rope remained a part of the descent until we gained "flatter" ground. The exposure remained high, but removing the rope sped up our descent and focused our concentration. Once over K2, we settled down, drank and ate, repacked gear, laced up snowshoes and sped back to the car by 7:20PM, exactly 15-hours since the journey began.
Points to ponder: (1) the weather was perfect albeit a bit hot, (2) avalanche danger was moderate with pockets of considerable but for the most part the route avoided steep/exposed avalanche chutes/slopes, (3) carrying a rope, helmet, axe, harness, crampons, and rock gear/slings were well worth their weight, (4) starting earlier in the morning (say around 1:00AM) may have allowed for more solid snow conditions on the Northeast ridge higher up and would have attenuated snow balling-up on the crampons, but I'm not sure our mental alertness would have been improved, (5) climbing Capitol in one day in the winter is like running on a treadmill for 15-hours and realizing when all is said and done you haven't moved!
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