| Capitol Challenge
When Bill and I decided we wanted to do Capitol, we had a hard decision to make. Neither of us are climbers, though I have climbed in the past. Our wives really like having us around and we did not want to straddle and scoot the knife ridge--to me that is not climbing. So, we decided to use a guide. Bill hiked in a day early to get a little acclimated. He's from Atlanta and there are no mountains around (at least by Colorado standards). I hiked in late in the afternoon and got my first view from the trail of Capitol.
It looked as imposing as all the trip reports make it out to be. I got to the campsites after a three hour hike in and found the red bandana, a way of finding camp we've used for years. Bill, Steve, and Danny were there having dinner and they'd made enough for me.
From camp We visited, talked about the climb, decided on a wake-up and climbing time and hit the bags.
We were on the trail at 4:30, gaining the Daily/Capitol saddle at 5:15. We took the high trail, directly to the right of the saddle between the ridge and a trail that headed down.
Sunrise from the ledges We had some ledge work to get around,
Looking back toward Daleybut eventually we ended in the boulder field and headed toward K2.
In the boulder field
Sunrise on the ridgeOn reaching the shoulder of K2, we ran into a party that tried to go around K2 and hit a gully that is really nasty. No holds, no footing, and no good rock. We went higher up toward the summit, and then down climbed to the south west of the gully. The other group after getting to the knife ridge, turned around and headed back down.
We worked our way over to the knife edge, took a look, got our equipment on and headed across after waiting for a solo climber to come back.
Watching this person was watching poetry in motion. We learned later that this was his 54th 14er.We had watched him from below as he climbed the ridge from the saddle. He was true poetry in motion and gave us a good idea how it should be done.
Getting ready to cross the knife edgeThe ropes and anchors gave us the confidence to do the ridge with hands over the edge, which is really strong, and our feet below us. Some of the rock is sheer and no footholds, but good positions of hands and feet made it possible. The handholds are always good. It was exhilarating to be able to look down 2000 feet and knowing we were safe, not because of the ropes, but because we were doing it right in our minds.
As we pushed toward the summit going around to the left and then up the final pitch, we realized that that part of the climb was actually more difficult than the knife ridge. The rock was loose underfoot, a little scree, and still a lot of exposure. We were getting close to our turn-around time and had just a few more minutes left and really had to dig deep to push ourselves to the top. I'm a trail runner so I'm in good shape, but I don't bend as easily as I did 40 years ago, and it was hard work. Bill really had to dig deep, but he too as we say in our family "sucked it up, Toots" and summited just a couple minutes before turnaround.
On the summit--happy climbersWe spent a brief time on the summit celebrating and immediately headed down. It took us 6 hours and 15 minutes to make the summit. We would never have been able to do it without the guides, not because of the ropes, belays, and route finding, but because of their encouragement. AAG is a quality operation.
We essentially took the same route back, and the knife ridge was almost easy and much more enjoyable. Weather was setting in so we kept moving. We got a little rain in the boulder field, making the rocks slippery but fortunately no lightning. Back at the Daley/Capitol saddle we took a brief photo break
Steve, me, Bill, and Danny back at the saddle and headed back down the trail to camp. We were 6 hours going down since going downhill is one of Bill's least favorite activities. Knees, feet, ankles, and toes all hurt more going down and so it takes us longer.
The knife ridge as seen from the trail to saddle
We got back to camp at 5:00 rested a bit, got water pumped, fixed dinner as the rain moved in with serious intention of drowning us.
Rain moving in shortly after getting back to camp.We hit the bags at 7:00
No roof has ever looked better.and listened to the rain all night glad we were in tents and not still on the mountain. We slept in the next morning, but heard our neighbors heading up at 4:30. We heard them come back sometime later and when we talked to them later they reported the rocks, trails, ground was so wet that it made climbing impossible.
On reflection the next morning we talked about what we learned on the trip. First and foremost, even with guides, we still have to do the same amount of work. They did not pull us up the mountain.
Bill wrote to me a day later and shared this with me. I think it is worth putting in this report:
++ get to the lake early and enjoy the view. I.e. be rested!
++ depending on the weather and the time of year leave camp about 1.5 hours before first light. Because by first light you will be on rock that is somewhat tough to walk on by head lamp.
++ Realistically I think most normal people (Are there any "normal people" on that mountain?) would need 4 hours (or maybe a little more) from the base of K2, up and over, across the knife edge, across the east face, and up the last summit climb (not scramble, but climb) and back down all of this to the base of K2. This is the very long crux of Capitol's "danger-zone" If there is a risk of rain or lightning at any point in this long "danger-zone," the climb could be lethal.
++ What this means in terms of normal people: If the mantra: "off the top by noon" is something that you believe in, then realistically you need to be at the base of K2 by about 8 or so when going up. And remember that the approach to K2, after the saddle, requires crossing a very LONG boulder field.
++ Therefore the best recommendation that I would have for anyone planning to climb Capitol is to be with friends who care about each other, who are good climbers, and who all stay together at the same (and hopefully fast) pace. Be sure you are in the best physical condition that you can possibly achieve. Go as fast as you possibly can go and still be safe. Make the decision to turn around early and often.
++ And enjoy the experience! That may be the only take-away for the day--other than looking at a distant mountain top.
The hike out was enjoyable. Everything is so green, the flowers were beautiful, and the trail is in great shape.
Trail-work for crossings was exceptionalAs I got close to the car, I looked back
When will I do this again?and thought about the incredible experience of climbing this peak and wondering when I'll do it again.
We have talked and written and agree that this may have been our best and favorite mountain. It was Bill's 66th fourteener including some repeats (51st Colorado peak) and my 25th. I can't imagine any climb being better than Capitol for the sheer beauty, the difficulty, the company, and the personal challenge.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):