Peak:  Capitol Peak (14er)
 Route:  Snowmass Appraoch
 Range:  Elk
 Posted By:  kushrocks
 Date of Info:  03/17/2013
 Date Posted:  03/18/2013

Kyle (letsgocu) and I attempted Capitol Peak from the standard Snowmass Approach this last weekend.

I wanted Capitol in Winter bad but between working every other weekend, getting sick, bad weather, and just life in general it seemed like the timing was never right. What began as a great forecast early last week slowly turned to garbage as we got closer and closer to the weekend. I talked to a meteorologist friend of mine all through the week. He said yea it looks like light snow Saturday night but you might have a “weather window” to sneak up Sunday morning before another storm hits while you are descending. That was all the push we needed to make a decision to go for it. Still with the forecast Kyle figured our chances of actually summiting with the bad weather were about 1 in 5 still you never know unless you try. Any day in the mountains beats sitting at home doing nothing on the weekend.

We drove up and camped at the road closer to the Snowmass Trailhead on Friday night. We wanted to get up early because we figured with the recent heat the area received and the colder temperatures that arrived our chances of post holing would be a lot less. We got about 1.3 miles in on snowmobile tracks and then the post holing hell that is the Capitol Winter approach began.

I was constantly reading the few Winter Capitol trip reports out there and it seemed like the approach varied from 6 to 8 hours to Moon Lake. Even one group summited in 9 hours from the trailhead. But it ended up taking us 10 hours of posthole hell to reach Moon Lake and Kyle is one of if not the fastest/strongest people I have ever hiked with. We took turns plowing trail about every 20 minutes or so. Around 10,500 is where things began to get sketchy the overcast skies began to snow on us pretty heavily and many of the slopes we could see were very concerning avy wise especially since here is where things started to get steep We finally reached our camp sight just below Moon Lake in an area we felt was a little more protected. We dug in and set up camp.

Although the day was completely exhausting we still felt somewhat confident we could summit if we had our “weather window” Sunday morning our friend was talking about. It was a cold night. I was mostly concerned about my boots, which had basically frozen over night. We got up about 3:30 an spent almost 2 hours getting ready most of that boiling water and putting hot nalgene bottles in our boots then into our sleeping bags to help thaw them out.

We got up out of the tent to partly cloudy skies with no wind and could even see a few stars. At the time we thought wow my weatherman friend called it just right for us. At that moment we were confident we could pull this off. Of course no sooner had we started than it began to snow . . . heavily . . . with wind. We slowly plodded our way up. The slopes that we heard were supposed to be mostly wind blown and perfect for crampons . . . .well they weren’t. We continued to post hole in snowshoes. We traversed several more sketchy sections. Right where picture 4 was taken I began to get this real bad feeling. The slopes that were already heavily loaded were getting dumped on. I knew we were in trouble when at one point Kyle was 30 yards in front and I was trying to follow his tracks and by the time I reached them they were half filled in with snow. We were both feeling strong and figured we could probably make it but how dangerous would the slopes be 6 hours later if the snow kept dumping like this. Also, how bad would the weather be up high on the technical and exposed terrain. We still have plenty of bad slopes below us to go down that are getting dumped on right now. We got to the top of the slope in photo four and made the smart call to turn around. We were right at 13,000ft.

We made it back to camp without an issue noticed the tent looked a lot smaller as we approached it well that because it was half buried under what we estimated an additional 8 to 10 inches of snow. We had been gone only about 4 hours! Just as we got in the tent the storm picked up even more. We spent about an 1.5 hours in the tent rethawing our boots, melting more water, and eating as the storm raged outside. I liked the idea of being warm but I knew the longer we waited the more snow would accumulate. There were several slopes I was worried about between where out tent was at Moon Lake at 11,700ft to where things kind of flattened out around 10,500ft. We were very cautious on the way down but still I manage to trigger a small slide right in front of me. I saw it happen and thought wow that collapsed so easy and you couldn’t even tell it was coming. Pucker factor of 10 right here. We stayed close to the trees and after a few more hairy moves we were down to a lot safer ground. We were able to make out the outline of our track and tried to follow that out but still managed to post hole in our old tracks about half the time on the way out. Talk about exhausting. 6 hours after leaving camp we were thankfully back at the car.

We really pushed it on this climb but working together kept a good eye on each other to make sure we were as safe as we could be. It was still a great day in the mountains and even more so a great learning experience . Funny part about this whole trip was as soon as we got back into cell phone range I got a message from my meteorologist friend sent on Saturday saying “It looks like the storm for Sunday has sped up and will be there Sunday morning instead of Sunday making it impossible to summit Sunday. Id cancel your trip.”
On the bright side I made the joke to Kyle that even though we didn’t summit we both set a new personal record for the highest altitude we have ever continuously post holed in snow shoes at . . 13,000ft.

Picture 1: This about sums up our weekend. Here is a photo of me post holing to my waist with a 55lb pack on. Good times

Picture 2: Kyle heading up a scary loaded slope. We did this one at a time and traversed far right to stay close to the trees. If you look closely you can see cornices at the top left of the slope.

Picture 3: Photo of me Sunday morning. So yea the weather was bad.

Picture 4: The last slope. We made it to the top section just above the rocks to the right before we called it. It was right here where I began to get a bad feeling.

Photos (click for slideshow):
Image #1Image #2Image #3Image #4

 Comments or Questions
Exiled Michigander

You'll Get That Capitol Snowflake Next Year!
03/18/2013 15:44
Great effort, guys. 10 hours of postholing to Moon Lake deserves its own icon. Glad you made it back safely. Even without a summit, it makes a great tale.


Glad you guys are safe
03/18/2013 16:46
but not sure about your choice of weather window. I looked hard at the Elks but that was predicted as early as Thursday despite the great weather they had Mon-Thurs.

Don't want to be a dick or know it all because I am far from either of those but the avy danger you guys were under is probably more than we both know (all thsoe avy slopes on the approach are no joke)

Despite this, glad you made the right decision to turn around and still had a great time in some gnarly conditions. No gimmies in Mountaineering and each is a learning experience, thanks for sharing.


03/18/2013 16:52
wow sounds like an epic and makes me want to go buy some skis


03/19/2013 05:32 13kft (and a good ways back down) does NOT sound like fun! Great workout though I suppose. Did you get ahold of avy gear? Anyway I'm looking forward to reading up on your Denali expedition prep in upcoming weeks.


Great effort.
03/19/2013 10:17
Wow, thanks for posting. I enjoyed the read. You and Kyle will look back at this many years from now reminiscing about your Capitol Peak expedition.


glad you guys are OK
03/20/2013 19:00
You made it postholing about 9 hours and 55 minutes more than I would have....Pic #1 looks miserable.


03/28/2013 16:25

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