Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Post Date:  07/18/2009
Date Climbed:   07/12/2009
Posted By:  shredthegnar10

 First Elk Range Summit   

I'll start this off by saying that Capitol Peak was a great climb, the hike in was not too grueling, and the only bad thing about the whole trip was the mosquitoes in the valley that one hikes through on the way up towards Capitol Lake. I have 33, yes, 33 mosquito bites as a result of this.
The trip started on Saturday, July 11, at around 15:30 when I met Brian at the trailhead. I was a little nervous about the climb; I had heard about the climber who fell to his death on the peak on Friday via a post on, narrowly avoided an auto accident due to a moron driver on US Hwy 24, and waited nervously in Aspen for about an hour because I didn't realize Brian intended to meet me at the trailhead (I thought we were going to meet in Snowmass or something).
Misty rain and a bit of thunder prompted our decision to take the Capitol Creek Trail instead of the Ditch Trail, which descends about 400 or so feet into a valley and follows the creek up towards the lake. The weather soon cleared up and it was mostly sunny on the hike in. The moisture definitely brought out the mosquitoes though. We only stopped once for a short break to avoid the swarms of mosquitoes waiting for us to stand still so they could start a buffet line on our exposed flesh. We saw a few cows on our way in, grazing on the plants and grasses that are thriving this summer due to all the rain late in the spring. A little before 19:00, we stopped and set up camp about half a mile or so below Capitol Lake.
I gathered some wood for a fire and ate my dinner – two burritos filled with pork, roasted Anaheim peppers, and avocados – while Brian hiked up to the lake to take some pictures. When he returned, we built a little fire. I dried out one of my socks that was kind of damp due to one of the many small stream crossings on the hike in, and we enjoyed a cup of tea before heading to bed at around 22:30.
My wonderfully obnoxious cell phone alarm clock woke us at 03:30. I got dressed, put on my boots (one of which was still damp from the day before), and readied my pack. We started at around 04:00, and reached the Daly Saddle just as the sun was rising.
The sun rising over the mountains to the east
There were some small snowfields in some of the gullies that we crossed; an ice axe definitely added comfort, as the snow was kind of soft and mushy. It wasn't long before the snow on the route ahead looked consistent enough that we stopped to have some breakfast and put on crampons.
The next portion of the climb, up to the top of this snowfield and the ridge leading to K2 was pretty straightforward. The snow was fairly solid; I was thankful to have brought crampons, because while they might have not been completely necessary, that portion of the climb would have been far too time consuming without them. We reached K2 at about 07:00.
We elected to go around K2 to the right instead of climbing up and over it. There's a little bit of snow on the north side, though it might be avoidable with a bit of creativity. And thus, the fun began.
After a bit of scrambling on the ridge, we came to the Knife Edge.
The Knife Edge
Brian went first – he was a bit braver then I about crossing this: he stood up on it a couple times and kind of switched back and forth between either side stepping on tiny ledges and holding onto the crest. I straddled most of it, only occasionally moving to the right (south) side.
Straddling the knife edge
Reaching the end of the knife edge
We stopped briefly just past the knife edge for a snack and some water. Though we were past the crux, we still had some difficult parts ahead. For the first portion, after the knife edge, we pretty much stuck to the top of the ridge, kind of going around it on the left or right as needed, but not going very far below the top. Much of the scrambling on this portion of the ridge is not too technical but a fall would almost certainly be fatal. The notch where you cross the top of a gully and, according to the route description, stay below the ridge on the south side is pretty obvious. There was some webbing lengths strung around a large boulder in the center … I wondered momentarily where someone would be going that they would want to rappel down that gully.
At this point, the route-finding started to get a little difficult. There are some cairns and sections of path were we could simply walk across ledges, but there were enough technical moves mixed in to make it exciting. The toughest part of this section was crossing over a pretty obvious slab where you have a couple options. Brian went higher and I went lower. According to Brian, the higher path was easier (but a bit more exposed). The sketchiest part of crossing this slab was a point in the middle where the handholds aren't very good so you basically have to trust that your feet aren't going to slip off the rock (which is solid but at an angle that makes it seem more precarious than it is). There was a bit of snow that I had to step in at the beginning, so the fact that my boot was a little wet was part of what made it seem sketchy.
It wasn't long after this that we got to another ridge that offered some fun scrambling. The summit does not look far but the easiest way is to actually go around to the south a little and then scramble up to the summit (at least, that's what we did). We summited just a little before 10:00. After taking some pictures and eating a delicious organic green apple, we began to descend.
Looking down at Capitol Lake from the summit
Snowmass Mountain
The downclimbing wasn't all that bad, but I was careful to take my time so as not to make a mistake. The slab crossing that had been sketchy going up was not quite as bad on the return; after this the main challenge was making sure to go low enough – it's easy to stay high as you cross over and miss the fact that there are cairns below. After crossing back over the gully where someone had left a rappel anchor, the going got easier, but we were now presented with another problem: we were both completely out of water. Shortly before the knife edge, we stopped for a couple minutes and I ate some snow, which was enough to get be back across the knife edge and around K2, but the feeling of being completely parched was still rather unpleasant. In my opinion, the return over the knife edge was more difficult than coming up, but I would guess that fatigue and dehydration also played a part.
Going back around K2 was also pretty sketchball. The snow that had given us little trouble earlier in the morning was now soft and slushy – we wanted to avoid it at all costs. Brian went lower than I but ran into some problems of loose rock as a result of trying to avoid the snow. I went higher but still had to make some sketchy moves to get back. It wouldn't have been that bad except for the fact that many of the rocks were wet due to water from the melting snow dripping down them.
Once we had made it back around K2, I knew the hard part was over, but I heard some thunder off in the distance so I didn't want to waste any time getting down. Soon we were back at the start of the snowfield, where we had some nice glissades getting back to our tracks that cut across from/to the Daly Saddle. I was still very very thirsty, and stopped briefly to eat some more snow. I would guess it was somewhere close to 14:00 when we reached the saddle and began the hike down to our camp.
Wildflowers with Capitol Peak in the background
One last look back up at the peak and the ridge
We stopped briefly in the basin near the lake and got some pictures and were back at camp around 15:00. I filled up my nalgene with water from a nearby creek and treated it with some Aquamira, and sat down. I was pretty hungry but knew that eating food would just make me feel even more dehydrated. I was a bit surprised about how little water I drank once I had waited for the Aquamira to take effect. I ate some almonds and laid down for a few minutes before packing up my stuff. At about 15:45 we were packed up and heading down the trail.
The hike back down was pretty uneventful; we took the ditch trail to avoid going losing and regaining elevation. It wasn't long after the trail junction though that we were back amongst my two most favorite animals ever: cows and mosquitoes.
Cows on the trail
Ok, I don't mind the cows so much because I like eating steak, but the mosquitoes made the last half of the hike out pretty awful. My feet were hurting pretty bad from having made the whole trip in my mountaineering boots, but I couldn't stop and sit down because the second I did, they would descend ravenously upon me like Michael Moore at Golden Corral.
We got to the parking lot a little under three hours later at about 19:30, where I was immensely overjoyed to be able to take of my boots. Really, at that moment, taking off my stiff, uncomfortable, covered-in-cow-shit boots might have been better than sex.
The drive home was rather uncomfortable, due to having mosquito bites in really awkward places (including that small area of skin between one's thumb and index finger ... seriously mosquitoes, WTF).
Overall, it was a fun mountain, we had great weather, great views, and the wildflowers were in full bloom. I did learn two things though:
1. Take bug spray. Lots and lots of it.
2. 17 miles in mountaineering boots is not fun. It is absolutely worth carrying the extra weight to have more comfortable shoes on the hike in/out of the basin.
Looking down at the ridge from the summit

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions
Doug Shaw

mosquitos     02/05/2011 00:22
”Ok, I don't mind the cows so much because I like eating steak, but the mosquitoes made the last half of the hike out pretty awful.”

Just think of the mosquitos as liking steak too


Thanks     11/30/2010 17:28
This is one of the most useful Capitol TRs I've seen to date. Nice photos. This one is on my radar for later this season, but I know my climbing partner is very apprehensive about this one, so stuff like this is very helpful indeed. That photo of Capitol Lake is beautiful. And congrats on a great summit--this is a bold way to launch oneself into the Elks!


Nice Work     07/19/2009 17:31
Your beta (and stevie2shoes) in the capitol conditions thread convinced me to give this mountain a try. It‘s pretty awesome - congrats on a great climb.


good job     07/20/2009 17:08
Nice report, I have to return to this damn peak after not summiting the first time, it‘s driving me CRAZY!


Great TR!     08/06/2009 16:36
I am attempting this peak this weekend. So, thanks for taking the time to put up your report. It‘s excellent....and great use of humor: ”they would descend ravenously upon me like Michael Moore at Golden Corral.”

Congrats on knocking off one of the hardest 14es in the state!

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