Photo by Jc White
Jordan was right on time Sunday morning. He was followed by Matt and Caleb. We had met them at Lou Dawson's BBQ for the Denali crew the previous afternoon to pick up a radio, rope, and of course, Lou's blessing. I think we called 7:30 pm getting a head start on West Snowmass Creek. Brittany and myself were bivied in the first flat open area we could find for a couple of hours. We tried to take care of as much of the approach as we could, but it was tricky once we were on snow in the dark. There was a skin track from a party going for Mt Daly a few days ago, and that really helped. Food and water concerns had us up until 10:30 or 11:00 pm.
The group moved quickly, entering one meadow after the other to a narrow gully passing through to the next section of forest. I had to pass the rope to Caleb to keep up. This is a long and steep approach any way you look at it. I think we all had our moment of doubt on the way to Moon Lakes. It was difficult to maintain a balance between warmth and sweat. The wind was on or off, and the dawn chill slowly sapped my strength.
Caleb passed the rope to Jordan, and said that was it for him. We pestered him to at least keep moving to the pass, hoping the sun would change his mind. It's always darkest before the dawn. Still, this was not the peak to have an off day, and we respected his decision for taking the speed and safety of the rest of the group into account. I certainly wasn't feeling too spry at that point: dropping my shades and tipping over trying to grab them before they slid down the basin. Jordan bolted after them on a 100 yard all-out sprint to grab them.
Photo by Jc White
I was relying on the sun to help me fight through it. We dropped through the notch down the One-in-a-million chute to Peirre Lakes, an exciting stage of the trip.
The last time I was here was in the fall about six years ago, when I made a huge circuit around Snowmass from Geneva Lakes to climb 'The Plug' right in the middle. It was as tricky as climbing Capitol itself, only smaller and less stable. Part of the summit shifted and fell off as I was climbing towards it
Matt skis the One-in-a-mil
Photo by Jc White
It was 7:30am, I felt better already, and started kicking steps up to the Secret Chute. We rotated out quickly, keeping the front person fresh. The thaw had begun already on the upper face. We were bombarded by snowballs and ice chunks the entire time, but no rocks.
Jordan took the lead with the rope up through two rocky crux sections, and chopped through the cornice at the top. Matt climbed to the crux, and anchored himself separately to a horn on the left, offering a communication relay between the top and bottom, and help with the moves. I offered to simul-climb with Brittany to save time. Not as easy as it sounds since I had to tie in to a fixed point on the rope rather than glide on an ascender.
At the ridge, Jordan turned me loose, and I went right to work before taking in too much of the sudden reversal of exposures. My phone rang "IT'S ED ROONY FARRIS, I'D LIKE TO HAVE A WORD WITH YOU". lol.
The next couple of big steps I chose to swing low and across the ramping slopes to reduce the angle and stay off the thinner snow along the rocks on the crest. This worked great, but every time I got close to the rocks I could tell that things were starting to warm up. Matt caught up with me and was feeling the same doubts. We were concerned with the new snow. Point releases were going to be a given, but if anything went as a slab, it could be enough to get swept away.
It was a very cold and at times windy day. The temperature would hold as we ascended, but the thaw would follow and I was concerned it would all be falling apart when we turned the corner on the descent. Jordan was setting up an anchor, but soon on his way. Matt and I continued out front, and worked well together. Steadily solving the mixed climbing and knife ridges. The last problem was a short chimney that hung out over the north face ever so slightly.
Truly the hardest won summit of the project, and an incredible feeling to finally reach for it. You've got to really want Capitol to be able to follow through with it. It's not about the turns, that's for sure. The reasons are more internalized than on other summits. For me it was like settling an old grudge...
We signed the register, and pulled up the socks for the descent. Just then Jordan appeared on the other end of the summit ridge. He was signaling for us to wait. There were many potential places where I could have problems, and if I did, I would be holding up the show and putting others at risk by prolonging exposure to unstable slopes. I compromised to at least get across the southwest slope from the summit, doing the sidestepping with one foot up to meet him and queue up for the main part of the descent. I was very impressed that they were right behind us in spite of stitching up the face. That kind of fluidness only comes with experience. Still, I was getting very anxious since it was almost 11:00 am. I held out a little longer, and then chose to begin. I was not trying to leave anyone behind by any means. It was going to take each of us some time to work through the crux, and we would each need lots of space to avoid getting caught in the mush rivers. I would prefer to stick closer too, and Jordan had the beta, and the sweet fish eye lens on his camera, but I felt it was a simple call.
I made a cut across the top of the south pitch, and watched the snow peel off to the dirt, 4-6" beneath, and run full length down to Crazy Corner and over the void...mommy. I had some ok turns down to the left turn over the rib, and peered into the rocky crux, deciding to give the lower option a shot on the next ledge down. It was intensely steep, but traction was sufficient to make a few hop turns.
Matt started down and I moved out of there, getting into the lower entrance to the face, and barely making the traverse across the top of the last rock band. I did a little Billy Ray Cyrus thing, and let go across to the far rib, watching the entire face pull out full length below me as I went. Total destruction. Not sure if those guys saw the size of these, but I was getting a tad frazzled. I sat on the first rib to spot. I think I made the right call though, because the spacing was about right, and everyone was making good steady progress. If anyone spilled, I was in a good position to try to help, yet out of the sluff lines. Matt took the main crux line, but recommended the lower entrance for Jordan and Brittany. Matt and I were not thrilled about continuing along the undulating face given the wet snow, and noticed that we were only about twenty feet below one of the low swinging traverses we took on the climb. I decided to climb up to meet it and regroup on the ridge. I think this was the safest option at that point, and a good set up for the rest of the riding back to the exit even if we were to drop back onto the face. Fortunately, that would not be necessary, and we used the ascent route along the ridge crest for the rest of the way over to the chute.
We used a sling to rap off the horn. I went first, not thinking for a second that the 70 meter rope would not be long enough, but sure enough, there I was, just above the last rocky section looking for solutions. I untied the leash on my axe, a red little piece of webbing given to me down in the Grand Canyon last summer, thanks Rick! I tied the board to my harness, unbuckled, and let it drop on the webbing. Then pulled the toe-clip strap out of my pocket and used it for the axe leash. Now for the crampons... untied the knot at the end of the rope, and tied into one half. Trying to communicate which one to Jordan was difficult, so who knows. This kind of stuff happens all the time on rappels, and that's why they are dangerous. It was my own fault if it had to be anyone's and I was probably still better off with the double than being lowered for my own reasons. This process took at least fifteen minutes, maybe more. I was pretty happy to have that little chair chopped out from this morning to put the board back on. Once in the chute I took a big diagonal for slough management, once again sending the mess to the floor in a 3-4 foot deep debris fan. It was great to be down in one piece, and the others were along one by one, but we still had a full journey left just to get home.
Image #27 (not yet uploaded)
We discussed the difficulties of Bear Creek, which would involve a great deal more distance, as well as an extra mission back up West Snowmass Creek for the bivy retrieval. It also did not exactly eliminate all avalanche hazards. The lower elevation slopes were going to be more suspect than the One-in-a million exit, so up and over it was. I had a water filter with for the Bear Creek contingency though, that was a good thing to have.
The riding was so fun down through the chain of basins and meadows. I split to skis to battle the snirt. Always a crowd pleaser. I had at least two good faceplants. I purified water, and relaxed for a few. It was getting hard to motivate. Brittany hit a patch of snirt on the way and crumpled into a pretzel-like inverted position that would be trick for even the most flexible yogi. The axe points were planted in the snow. holding her there. Believe it or not this was not the first time I've seen this happen, not to her, but myself rather, and it really hurts if you have pickets on your pack. I hurried over and unclicked her skis to release the pressure.
I took a little siesta at the bivy cache. Matt and Jordan headed down. I probably had enough food to spend another night, and pack out in the morning, but it wasn't my call. We had to get back. It was a long evening finishing the job. The last section of trail back to the car went on forever like a bad dream where you can't get out. It was 10:30 pm back at the trailhead. That's 27 hours elapsed time, with three hours of sleep at the most, so give or take 24 hours at work. Hardest day ever.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):