| Capitol Peak, let the fun begin!
Capitol Peak, it's a beast! It's also a blast to climb. When my wife and I first pulled into the trailhead around noon on Friday I was astonished by the enormity of Capitol as it sat at the end of the valley, quietly dominating all within site. The long approach and tough reputation keeps all but the most battle hardened climbers at bay, but even still it can crush the will of the most experienced. We ran into a couple of climbers on our way up that warned us, " Don't do it! It's very dangerous, sustained class 4 all the way! We failed twice now!" After that little nugget of encouragement, and about a half hour of trying to calm down my wife I could finally again focus on my goal, and it seemed to look a little more imposing. This peak has a formidable reputation, and I wanted to see if it could live up to it.
One week prior:
"Don't get your hopes up, but would you want to backpack up to Capitol Lake Jason?" After my wife made that suggestion, I literally started jumping around! I warned her that it would be a tough approach for her, which after four years of 14er experiences, she was well acquainted with the rigors of hiking them. This was so unexpected I found myself as giddy as a school girl!
Crowded TH, I hope there are camping spots open up there!
We started hiking about a quarter to noon and took our leisurely time enjoying the smooth ditch trail through the quaint aspen forest. My Wife and I both agreed that this is one of the most beautiful areas in Colorado.
Amanda and Einstein make their way through the dense aspen forest
I was surprised at how mellow this trail was, and it gave me hope that Amanda would be able to make it all the way. As with all our previous backpacking trips, I was the pack mule and had quite a hefty load of my own to haul up. I had forgotten how much work it was!
I love how dense this aspen forest is!
We made quick work of the ditch trail (it is flat) and started up the first of many little hills. Not long after leaving the ditch trail we dropped down into a gorgeous open meadow marked by the Maroon Bells, Snowmass Wilderness Boundary. This open area is the beginning of a long slow ascent into the Capitol Creek area.
Wilderness Boundary sign
The beautiful aspen forest continued for miles, and all I could do was smile at so much beauty. This portion of the hike is so tranquil, and Amanda was feeling the same way. It was around the portion of the trail where it started smelling like a zoo, it was definitely a nice touch.
Dense undergrowth and tall aspen trees make for a surreal hike
Shortly after passing the wilderness boundary sign you start up a gradual hill that eventually leads you out of the thick aspen forest and drops you out into a gorgeous meadow. It was around this point that Amanda mentioned it was "finally starting to feel like a fourteener." The ground covering in this meadow was phenomenal, and the views of Daly and Capitol were even more magnificent. This is where we encountered our first herd of cows. I jokingly said to passing hikers that I didn't need to pack any food as these cows could keep us fed for weeks!
View of Mt. Daly and Capitol Peak
We enjoyed a nice little descent down to Capitol Creek, and our first break of the day.
Amanda and Einstein relaxing in the shade after the creek crossing
We crossed the creek and I knew this was the halfway point, but I withheld that little bit of info from Amanda. She and I came to an agreement after our first couple of 14ers, she doesn't want to know how much further, and I won't tell her either. It keeps us both motivated!
Once passed the creek, the scenery changes, and quite drastically! It goes from being a gentle aspen forest, to a sweat producing deciduous pine forest. Awesome! Once you rejoin the Capitol Creek trail, and past the W. Snowmass Trail the hills get a little steeper and the flat sections get shorter. So far the trail has kept this pattern: uphill, flat area, uphill, flat area and so on.
No more cows, or cow pies!
Last creek crossing before Capitol Lake
We were getting closer to the lake, and Amanda was showing signs of fatigue. At this point in the hike we were so close to the lake it was all I could do to keep her spirits up! I ran into fellow 14er.com member Aggieclimber, and he told me we were just twenty minutes from the lake. I asked Amanda if I could forge ahead to try to get a spot, it would buy us some time and we hadn't been passed by, YET. You get a feeling though that people are nipping at your heels, I didn't want to give up any spots. As I pulled ahead of Amanda I saw a hiker quickly coming up behind her and I knew he and I would be rushing for spots. "Are you camping up here?" says the hiker. " Yeah, we want to camp at the lake." "Is that your husband ahead?" "Yes." And with that the hiker raced off to catch me. I looked back, and saw the hiker coming up fast. It was obvious after Amanda told me of the conversation they had that we had been racing each other to get to the lake. Although I was successful, it turned out to be pointless because there were plenty of spots near the lake.
Taken below Capitol Lake headwall
I pushed the last little bit and scored campsite #6. I threw my gear down and went to meet Amanda on the trail and grab her pack. She and I made our way up the slope to our new home together. This site had a view unrivaled to any place we've camped. It was a tough hike for Amanda, and with all that weight in my pack it wasn't a day in the park for me either. We were both tired and promptly fell asleep after our carbohydrate rich dinner.
I've always wanted to witness this for myself
I woke up at 530am assuming a six hour roundtrip time, yeah. I started hiking around 6am after downing a muscle milk and made the saddle 45 minutes later.
Atop the saddle
Once on the saddle summit I relaxed for a minute and ran into two good guys that I had lent my water filter to the night before. We ended up sharing company for the remainder of the hike. This part of the hike was a little tedious, but it wasn't too bad because the boulder hopping was fun, and the boulders were huge! We stayed well below the cliffs and made good time to the base of K2. There are cairns everywhere, but as long as you work your way towards the large snowfield, you are golden.
Taken right before you bank climbers right up to K2. The dirty snowfield is a good landmark as well. My fellow companions Frank (red) and Kurt lead.
Shortly after banking climbers right, K2 commands your attention.
Near summit of K2
Mt. Daly as seen from the summit of K2
K2 was absolutely worth summiting! An early start to my thirteener endeavor, shhh, don't tell my wife. From reading trip reports on this climb, it was hard for me to imagine K2 as being what it really is: technical. When looking up at it from Capitol Lake, and the boulder field from the other side, it looks as innocuous as a sledding hill from my childhood. But, you had better give this "little guy" respect, or it will eat you for breakfast. If you take your time there are a million handholds to help you down, and it was quite fun.
K2 should be called two face mountain. Here is her good side, the white rock is a sheer face. Taken near the knife edge.
Ten minutes after down climbing K2 I was standing at the entrance to the knife edge. I won't comment on it's ease because everyone is different, but I will say it was very exposed but very fun!
Of the four climbers on the knife edge, my two partners are further along the ridge.
There is another mini knife edge after its parent, and after this point the path of least resistance isn't as obvious. Some good route finding skills and concentration were in order. After we dropped down shortly after baby knife edge, we discussed our options. The consensus was to go up to the ridge for a while, and then plan the next move.
It's not that far of a drop....... Frank and Kurt enjoy the exposure near the ridge.
I would rather be working...........sure I would!
I apologize for the lack of pictures as I was concentrating on route finding and climbing. But I will try to explain what we did. We didn't take the ridge the whole way, but we did stay high for quite some time. After a few minutes we arrived at a wide, dirt filled loose gully. There are many options here, but we stayed high enough that we didn't have to really down climb, or lose altitude to get safely to the other side. There was an obvious notch on the other side of the gully, which led up to the summit ridge. We crossed a rockband that was almost like a shelf, (because it seemed to be the most stable option)which led us all the way across and ascended about halfway up a gully that still held a minuscule amount of snow. We hit our goal of the little notch on the ridge and started climbing up the exposed rib. This was the most exposed part of the route since the knife edge and it was pretty intense. We reached a cairn that lead us around to the south side where the route becomes much easier to follow. I had suggested to Frank and Kurt that it may be more fun to hit the summit ridge early for some more scrambling instead of staying below the ridge and then cutting up to the summit, they agreed. We started up a well worn path to the ridge, then scrambled up to the ridge proper where the trail banked climbers left. It was super fun, and I would recommend that if you made it this far, go up to the ridge for the remainder of the climb! It was pretty cool to be looking down at Capitol Lake with nothing between you and the lake except a bunch of air.
Frank and Kurt approach the summit from the ridge proper
Capitol Lake from the summit. Amanda can be seen as an orange blur if zoomed in.
Snowmass and the connecting ridge to Capitol
The Maroon Bells, Pyramid and Castle as seen from the summit
Here are some other pictures I thought were nice
Snowmass as seen from K2 summit
Climbers crossing the knife edge the next morning. (Possibly ScottP and son)
I had an absolute blast on this climb, and Capitol Peak definitely lived up to it's name, in a good way. This was an exhilarating place to be and I felt like this was a tremendous accomplishment. To Frank and Kurt you guys rocked, I loved your humility and kindness, I had a blast hiking with you guys. By the way, I'm still trying to filter my water!! John aka Jet(14er.com member) it was a pleasure meeting you and your wife, I hope you guys had a good hike. It was nice shooting the breeze with you Scott, you've got me thinking about some winter ascents.
Thank you so much for the motivation to get up this mountain Amanda, I wouldn't have been able to do it without you. You pushed hard for me and I will never forget it. Thank you for your continued support beautiful.
I hope you guys enjoyed this report, climb on!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):