(Due to us having so much information to explain and pictures to show, we have decided to split the trip report into two parts)
The Capitol Peak - Snowmass Peak Traverse 2010
Noah (Winter8000m), Mike (Oldschool), Kiefer, Steve (sgladbach)
The Introduction by Noah
First off, let me give a warning for whoever is considering this ridge. We all agree, it was the hardest climb any of us have done. It was so mentally exhausting, it took a few days to get my mind back in it. And your body gets destroyed with the horrible rock. That being said, this route is very dangerous and sustained for over 3.5 miles. Be prepared for unroped fourth class to 5.5 or so. And oh ya, that's also the most loose rock out there. It's an accident waiting to happen.
Just one of the minor surprises along the way
Who has not stared at the Snowmass - Capitol connecting ridge? When first looking at it, one simply wants to climb it. The obsession of climbing this traversing ridge has been one of my top three goals in Colorado.
I call it the Cap-Snow Obsession
This ridge has almost been an obsession that I hoped would come to reality. I have been wanting to climb it for the last 5 years. I had to wait until I was ready for it. Who would really join me on it though? Who likes to climb up to 5.8 choss? The answer is I don't. You have to deal with it though. Through much research I have done, I knew this ridge was serious.
So what's the history of it?
Through very in depth research I have found three ascents of this traverse.
In 1952 was one of the first attempts of which took 3 days and the dual party had to bail due to weather at the Gendarmes. They got very close to death with lightning. They put up two cairns on the route that we saw and they made mention of the deadly rock and how severely exhausting it was.
Then in 1966, Bill Forrest and Glen Denny went for a 24 hour push and climbed South Maroon, Snowmass and Capitol. They then quoted later on to a friend of mine that they did not stay on the ridge all the way.
In 2000, Cave Dog made the speed record of all the 14'ers and climbed the ridge from Snowmass to Capitol. Threw his speed ascent, it's hard to say if he stayed on the ridge the whole way. If you did, it would not just be a day event but much longer. Ridge running on this ridge would be suicidal. He also did it ten years ago on the exact day of our attempt. September 11.
Then a year or two later Matt Samet made what might of been the first ascent from Capitol to Snowmass. I talked to Matt quite a bit before heading out to do the traverse. He is also the one responsible for writing the Mountain Project page for the traverse. He quoted," I was ranging from mildly scared to scared to hella scared the whole time, just focusing on keeping moving fast enough that the whole thing didn't slide away under me." I couldn't agree more.
That's it. That's all that is recorded. Through research in the AAJ to internet to talking to the ones that have done it. It's hard to tell but I don't think the ridge traverse has ever been climbed without dropping to the basin. It's possible from the 1952 story, but even longer.
Our goal was to unviel it. The honest truth is, I don't want to do that. I would rather not give out information about it because It's flat out dangerous. There are a couple fun parts but that's about it. But it's an unforgettable adventure I had with Steve, Kiefer, and Mike that I'll never forget and want to share with others from start to finish.
Our team of four was quite varied. From 18 years old to 49 years old with a variety of experience. From rock climbing to mountaineering we had it. Many of us had not even met but this traverse has created a bondage between all of us that I have never experienced. Trust is the first word that comes to my mind when I think of our group. We all lead each other into the unkown and worked as a team to figure out the gift that kept on giving. Honestly, these guys are the ones I would choose next time to go on a very serious trip. There great friends and I trust them with everything.
Gathering the Group Together by Mike
The Capitol to Snowmass ridge traverse has been called "the hardest connecting ridge of any 14er by far and possibly the hardest ridge traverse in the state of Colorado, if not the entire USA...."
In August of 2009 I climbed Pyramid Peak and saw the connecting ridge between these two peaks.
I thought about the long treks to do each peak separately and was wondering about connecting the trips...do both at the same time. After completing Pyramid I went home and started to investigate the route, history, possibilities, and soon it quickly became obvious.. this wasn't something that gets done often to say the least. The info available was sketchy, old, and seemed to indicate some scary stuff. That was just what I was looking for!
When I got home I posted up on 14er's for a partner, anyone interested in joining me to do the traverse from Cap to Snowmass. I got one hit..got lot's of " you are crazy man"..but Kiefer (kiefer) did respond. We started to talk about it, tried even harder to get as much info and beta about the route as possible, and knew, due to the time of the year we would have to put it off until 2010. So we waited......and waited.......
As the snows of winter began to melt, I got way excited. It was something I had thought about all winter. I felt I had gotten as much info as there was to find and just waited for the right time. Originally Kiefer and I had an Aug departure date but that got pushed to Sept as the monsoon hung on and other commitments came about. Steve (sgladbach) and Noah (Winter8000m) expressed interest so our Team grew to 4 strong, experienced people. Good news..I was glad I didn't have to do it solo! Our plan was to summit Cap, do the traverse, and exit the area via Geneva Lake and Lead King Basin trailhead.
The Approach by Mike
I left for Cap Creek trailhead on Friday, Sept 10th with my girlfriend Brenda, 3 dogs, Tama, Lady, and Frankie, and started up the Ditch Trail. Brenda left first, I waited for Kiefer and Noah to show up who carpooled up and showed up at the trailhead with a low clearance Lincoln, and we all got on the trail not far behind Brenda and the dogs. All was well until Kiefer, Noah, and I got to the place on the ditch trail where you head up into the woods, about a mile into the hike. It was then I knew I had forgotten the awesome chicken and pasta dinner Brenda and I had made the night before to eat at Cap Lake....CRAP! So I dropped my pack, ran back to the truck, got the meal, and ran back to catch up. I caught everyone at the creek, out of breathe and feeling a bit silly. All was well though. The dogs were carrying packs, all but Lady, and we kept on the trail, heading for Cap Lake to spend the night. The weather was beautiful!
The Pre Game Workout by Noah
Me and Kiefer got water at Capitol Lake and decided to go for a hike to Avalanche Gulch right below the Northwest Buttress. We then decided to go on to the summit of UN 12,751 with a view of the complete north face of Capitol.
We both got excited and took summit pictures.
Kiefer and I on top of UN 12,751
We were so energetic we ran down back to camp. I could see the excitment in both of us. I packed really light as we were doing a carry over to Geneva Lake. For sleeping I brought my heavy duty coat and a bivy sack which is essentially a waterproof plastic bag. I knew I would not sleep. Kiefer brought a single man bivy tent which ended up being really roomy.....until I got in it. Kiefer offered me a place in it and I didn't deny it. It was quite tight. I was tossing and turning all night. Though semi-warm, I didn't sleep and seemed to keep Kiefer up. He was not happy.
To the Summit of Capitol Peak by Mike
Mike crossing the Knife Edge with Steve farther ahead
We got up at, packed up our packs, and headed out at about 5am. Brenda stayed in camp with the dogs and was going to hike out on Sat, drive around to Geneva Lake / Lead King Basin trailhead to meet us. She was awesome as she carried the tent and Jetboil down too, lightening my load. As it went, she got up and hiked up to the Mt Daly saddle to get a look then hiked out to drive around.
We met Steve as planned.
The beginning of a long day
As we got to the top of the saddle, which took us about 40 minutes or so to ascend, we saw a single, lonely headlamp down in the valley by Moon Lake....sure hope that's Steve! It began to move up the slope, so Noah, Kiefer, and I kept going on the "normal" route towards the basin and the hike up to K2. Steve was hauling ass...as he usually does......and met us in no time. We continued up to K2, ran into a bit of snow on the north side of it, but got around with no issues.
Noah wondering when he is going to start the traverse
The ridge between Cap and Snowmass was looking long, amazing, and sustained.
Kiefer coming up Capitol
We got to the summit of Cap at about 9 am.
The Team L-R Steve, Noah, Mike, Kiefer (taking photo) P.S. Kiefer I don't know if you deleted the shot of all of us on the summit
We took a breather, got our harnesses on, and set our minds to a long day on terrain that was going to demand all we had for many, many hours. We knew we were in for a day like none of us had ever had.
Kiefer with the Traverse behind him at sunrise
Part 1 of the Traverse by Noah
Off the summit of Capitol it looked interesting. The climbing started off right away.
Kiefer, Noah, and Steve following the Knife Edge
It was like the knife edge but a bit more loose, harder, and way more exposed for about 100-200 feet.
Kiefer and Mike in the distance. Where Mike is, is where we cut left.
This was my kind of climbing. I love exposure so much.
The view down
We had to drop off in a bowl.
Kiefer with some good exposure below
We found the hidden gully and scrambled down as far as possible. It was really exposed looking straight down to the bottom. Don't fall! Or should I say don't slide!
You see what I mean?
We had one person go at a time. Each person knocking down a microwave sized rock down as we all watched in amazement. This was just a taste of the traverse. The beginning part of the traverse is actually the most solid part. I knocked on every handhold and foothold testing it a few times and STILL did not trust it. We approached the 5.7 choss and decided not to downclimb it.
Why take more risk? Since I was in the right position I spotted a piton from the 1952 or 1966 attempt. I knocked on it with a carabiner listening for the right "thunk" sound. It sounded good to me. Still it was old. I placed a bombproof nut to back it up. There was no where else I could place gear though.
All of sudden 6-7 microwave sized rocks came down and collided into Steve's legs. We all froze and moved out of the way. Steve held on and was in the middle of the rock slide. In a matter of seconds it stopped and it was covering his feet.
He moved his feet as the rocks fell down many feet below us. Wow this is insane. We were all so focused. I rappeled first and Steve rappeled last.
Noah heading down smiling
Let the games begin!
Steve coming down
It seemed when we pulled the rope that there was no point in return. We had to move forward and that's that. I looked ahead at the traverse and it lookes even harder and looser. What were we going to encounter? This ridge looks a lot longer then 2.5 miles. From the time we left Capitol I have never been more focused for such a long time. To be honest, at many parts I was scared this whole ridge would slide away with me on it.... This was just the beginning. It was just 9:30 in the morning and I knew it was going to be along day.
A look at the rest of the route after the Rap. Were not any closer.
I felt the the most wonderful feeling starting on this unknown territory and making our own route down. We were going into the unknown. The unknown that everyone has been wondering about for years. We were going to do it. There is nothing like that feeling of going into the unknown. It's quite hard to explain it. Nothing is more gratifying then it.
Our Descent off of Capitol
To be Continued....
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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