| Holy Cow, Holy Cow, Holy Cow!
Capitol Peak: 14,130' Route: Northeast Ridge from Capitol Lake (Standard)
Climb date: Saturday, August 08, 2009
Start Time: 5:38pm (Friday, August 07, 2009)
End Time: 5:30pm (Saturday, August 08, 2009)
Total Time: 13.75 hours (total hiking time)
Trip Length: 17.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,300 feet
This trip began on Friday, August 7th. There were five of us that met up in Aspen to do this together. We drove out to the TH and were ready to leave at 5:38pm…from L to R: Steve ("sgladbach"), Luke ("Chary"), Britt ("globreal"), John ("aconcagua08"), and Eric ("lostsheep5"). And yes, that's Capitol Peak behind us.
It was a beautiful, warm summer day to do this 6-mile approach up to Capitol Lake. We took the Capitol Creek trail and our hike time was 2:52 minutes, so just about 2 mph. And as it turned out, we were able to secure one of the few (only 8 I think) designated campsites right near the lake. I was really thankful for that.
My desire was to do the approach on one day, and then climb the dangerous portion of the mountain the next day; first thing in the morning while we were fresh. (This is another one of those difficult peaks that brought butterflies to my stomach several days in advance of climb day. It didn't help that just 3 weeks before, Jimi Flowers, the U.S. Paralympic swim coach died on this mountain.)
Sat. morning, we were up by 4am and on the trail at 4:38am.
We hiked up and over the saddle between K2 and Mt. Daly in the dark using our headlamps. On the east side, we stayed low below the Class 4 ridgeline on our approach to K2. This route took us hiking across talus fields and snow fields. This is looking back at the saddle and Mt. Daly just shortly after the sun crested the horizon.
The sun was a big bright ball as Chary hiked up the hardened snow field.
The alpenglow was wonderful. There is something about when you first get into those first, warm rays of sunshine. Do you know what I mean?
Eric took this shot looking back down off of the summit of K2 as aconcagua08, Chary, and I climb up.
photo by lostsheep5
Under an almost full moon, the first 4 of our team reaches the summit of K2 with the spine of Capitol behind.
Something that surprised me was the overhanging cliff on the south-west side of K2. I've not read anything about this. In fact, the route description I read says: "the 'easiest' way to get around K2 is to turn right just below the top and swing around to the west." The "easiest" way? Heck, it's the only way!!! (Unless you're repelling 1000 feet!) If any of you may be thinking of heading off K2 directly toward Capitol. DON"T DO IT!
This is looking down the gulley underneath that K2 cliff in the previous photo. Add those together...yikes! That's a long ways down!
This photos shows the guys on the infamous "knife edge" with Capitol in the background. 14ers.com describes the infamous "knife edge" this way: "It's a short, exposed section on the ridge that requires concentration and solid nerves. If you are spooked by exposure, this area may twist you in knots." (What you can't see in this photo is that it goes down probably 1000 feet on both sides.)
If you look carefully, it looks like sgladbach (lead position) sliced open his britches there on "the edge!" And the rock edge is that sharp!
The "knife edge" turned out (for me anyway) not to be that daunting. Since it wasn't sheer vertical, I guess it didn't scare me like I was expecting it to. Eric took this shot looking back towards the knife edge and K2 beyond.
photo by lostsheep5
Now, after the knife edge is actually where it gets more dicey. The terrain turns to more vertical with growing exposure. aconcagua08 & Chary heading up. (In this photo you can see some of that 1000 feet below the knife edge.)
sgladbach talking over the route with the guys. It's looking steeper.
globreal, aconcagua08, and Chary carefully climbing the loose terrain.
photo by lostsheep5
Actually, this peak has had the most actual climbing exposure of any I've climbed.
photo by lostsheep5
Sometime before 8:30am (just under 4 hours) we all successfully reached the summit of Capitol Peak. aconcagua pulled out what several of us thought were girls' panties! But, they were actually traditional summit flags. So, we proudly held them high with Snowmass Mnt. behind us.
And while the celebration was sweet...there was still a hint of reservation inside. We still had to get back down off of the exposed sections of this mountain.
This photo shows Capitol Lake below, Mt. Daly upper right, K2 middle right, and the starting trailhead back up and beyond the valley near the top of the picture in the trees. If we only had a hang glider we could be back at the car in probably only 8 minutes!
We enjoyed just over one hour on the summit and then starting heading down about 9:30am.
After coming off of the summit, we were immediately down climbing steep terrain.
Now, a lot of people who know me, may very well know that I have a faith component to my life. I actually emailed and asked some friends and family to pray for our safety prior to leaving on this trip. Especially since this was one of Colorado's most dangerous 14ers. (Fast forward a little bit...after getting home from this trip, I wrote the following email to those same people. I am now going to let that email tell what happened next…)
Dear Friends & Family,
I truly want to thank each of you for your prayer support. I believe many of you actually prayed for our/my safety on this 14er trip. Well, your prayers were not in vain. God protected us and we successfully climbed Capital Peak (one of Colorado's toughest and most dangerous 14ers!) And when I say "God protected" I mean it! Aside from climbing across (and back) the infamous "Knife Edge" and many other places with dangerous exposure, I had the scariest experience in all of my climbing/mountaineering days to date. (Those who don't know the climbing term... "exposure" means being "exposed" to steep terrain or cliffs where a fall could or would result in serious injury or death.)
While down climbing from the summit, we were crossing an area with extreme exposure below us. We came to some steep, vertical rock that we would have to climb up and over if we were to keep going that way. So, I backtracked a short ways to look for a better/safer, less exposed route to go up and around this vertical rock.
photo by lostsheep5
I came to a big rock slab area that was relatively mild in steepness, (45 degrees or so.) I started climbing up....had just placed two hand holds above me, then pulled up and placed my foot up on it, and swoosh! I had a refrigerator size slab of rock break free from right underneath me! I mean, everything from just below my hands, broke loose and slid right out from underneath my feet, legs, and belly. I was hanging there by my hands with my feet dangling in the air! And in the matter of the blink of an eye, just about 20 feet below me, all that rock flew down and fell off of a 900' cliff and immediately disappeared! I remember saying, "Holy cow, holy cow, holy cow!"
photo by lostsheep5
If that slab had broken loose ABOVE my hands, or if I didn't have those secure hand holds before putting my feet on that slab, I would have ridden that rock like a surf board down and off that huge cliff to my death!
This quick, "in the blink of an eye" experience was an eye-opener. In the past 34-14ers I've climbed, I've not had anything like this happen. I now really believe I could die at any moment on one of these mountains and I'm asking God: "Why did you allow me to live?"
We safely made it back off of those exposed cliff areas and around to the ridgeline. This is aconcagua08 looking out over the vast expanse about halfway between the Capitol summit and K2 (beyond him).
And we actually got in some fun glissading back down in the softened up snowfields which is one reason why I always bring my ice axe even on summer trips. This is Chary stopping a glissade.
And if I may, I'd like to divert back to the email I sent out…
Now, I didn't quite get of of this mountain injury-free. A mile further on down from the summit, hiking across a large talus (rock) field, I had a loose rock roll out from underneath my left foot. This caused me to step into a 2 ft. deep hole with my right foot. I fell back and down the hill and ended up twisting my right leg in that hole severely. The toe of my boot was pointed up hill to the right, while the weight of my body was hanging down the hill to left, pulling in a twisting motion on my foot and knee. I immediately started yelling! Thank God, another hiker (not with our group) was near by. He ran over, lifted up my torso, which removed the force off of my leg so I could get free. The pain was pretty intense on the inner side of my right knee. I either tore or over-extended the MCL or medial collateral ligament. (If I were a cursing man, this would be a good place to insert one of those expletives.) Reason being, I had a good mile to hike back to our camp, and then 6 more miles to hike back to the car. Surprisingly, I was actually able to walk with a shortened gait, taking caution not to step out to far or point my foot outward. When I would, the pain was sharp and quick.
Back at camp after packing up my tent, sleeping bag, etc. and spending an hour not walking....wow! The knee pain and stiffness intensified. When we started our hiking back to the car, I was having a more difficult time walking. And there was 6 miles to go! Only 100 yards down the trail I remembered something. For this trip, (don't ask me why) I had put some narcotic pills (Hydrocodone) into my backpack. I took one of those pills and in a short time....by the grace of God, that masked the pain and I was able to hike out!
I am grateful to the Lord that Search & Rescue didn't have to carry me out on a stretcher or in a body bag! I attribute that to all of you who prayed for us and again I say "thank you!"
This is the talus field where this knee injury happened.
Because of that injury, I've been barely able to walk much less climb. And so for the last 2 weeks, I've had a good amount of time to think about all this. I find it ironic, that I get injured and taken out of climbing for 5 or 6 weeks from a injury on this very gentle, grade/slope. It just goes to show, anything can happen anywhere. Kinda like life, huh?
A parting shot….kinda of like a mixed metaphor...there's beauty in the midst of the danger.
photo by lostsheep5
And playing off of that mixed metaphor...why did God allow me to live…to not ride that slab to my death? I can say, I did come home and hug my wife and kids in a different way. And that is a beautiful thing...to appreciate those people I sometimes take for granted. And I admit, I've taken for granted many of my friendships... many of you that I've climbed with; many of my friends and relatives that I know, love and care about. And I've come to realize, I haven't had the guts to go there... to share with some of you about that faith component in my life. To be honest, I've been more worried about being rejected instead of taking the risk to share the God of the Bible and about Jesus who came to die for my sins. He is where I get my hope and my salvation. I do hope and pray I'll do better with all this in the future. And maybe this is the answer to that big question.
Regardless of what your climbing….be safe out there!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):