| early rise on Capitol
Peaks: Capitol Peak
Route: Northeast ridge (standard) via the Ditch Trail approach
Date Climbed: August 9, 2009
Elevation Gained: ~5,800-ft
Roundtrip Mileage: ~17-miles
Group: Andy & Sarah
Timetable: 01:45 Capitol Creek TH
04:00 Capitol Lake
06:30 summit of "K2"
08:00 summit of Capitol Peak
09:15 summit of "K2"
11:00 Capitol Lake (break until 12:00)
14:00 Capitol Creek TH
Sarah and I climbed Capitol Peak via the standard route under impeccable skies. While I do not have much information to add in terms of the actual route finding, I thought others might find it useful to see a detailed breakdown of our travel times. When we decided to try climbing Capitol Peak in a single day, we had difficulty planning our timing because of the lack of reliable beta. Of course, there are plenty of trip reports by super fast rock stars, but knowing, for example, that Jordan White can climb Capitol in less than 8-hours does not help a mere mortal like myself. We took 50% more time to climb this peak than him. Talk about humbling!
Sarah and I are far from the quickest climbers in town, so our above timetable is intentionally detailed to give fellow "slow" climbers something to use. The approach to Capitol Lake went very smoothly for us. The Ditch Trail has relatively little elevation gain given its length, and the logs for the creek crossing were pretty simple to find in the dark. The climb up to the Mount Daly saddle is steep, but the trail is easy to follow and makes ample switchbacks. Getting from the saddle to "K2" is the part of the climb that caused us the most trouble. In fact, getting directly off the saddle and down to the talus fields below was the crux of the entire day for us. We found ourselves doing a few sketchy moves on seemingly blank slabs for a 30-ft traverse above a steep gully. Also, the remaining snow in the valley was rock hard before sunrise during our ascent, and we avoided the steep sections (>20-deg) as much as possible. We had very little difficulty traversing around the north side of "K2," a section that worried us the most before the climb. The knife edge is exactly that for about 30-ft. We were both wearing approach shoes with somewhat sticky rubber soles, so it was not too difficult to smear our feet on the north side of the ridge while clinging the to top with our hands. There were a couple loose handholds along the way, so be careful to check things before committing to them. The route finding while ascending the final summit pitch was a bit tricky, similar to that encountered on Pyramid Peak. On the ascent, we lost the cairns roughly 100-ft below the summit and ended up finishing on the ridge direct route. From the summit, we were able to spot our intended route and had very little difficulty following the cairns all the way back to the knife edge, saving quite a bit of time in the process.
Even if you are not as super fast as others and if, like us, slow and steady is more your game, climbing Capitol in a day is not an impossible endeavor. If you get an early start and are patient enough to catch a rare, clear forecast, then this approach to the climb is doable by mere mortals like us. Also, a bright moon goes a long way for boosting morale in the wee hours of the morning. Capitol Peak relishes the pale, colorless lighting of night.
(broad view of the Capitol Creek basin from the parking area)
(Snowmass Mountain dowsed in early morning alpenglow)
(Andy standing atop "K2" at sunrise)
(Andy negotiating a section of the infamous knife edge)
(the summit ridge line reaching toward the moon)
(Andy perched just below the summit with Pierre Lakes more than 3,000-ft below)
(Snowmass Mountain makes for a stunning backdrop on Capitol's summit)
(wildflowers abound on the grassy slopes below the Mount Daly saddle)
(absorbing the neck-straining view of Capitol Peak from Capitol Lake)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):