Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Date Posted:  08/15/2011
Modified:  08/16/2011
Date Climbed:   08/06/2011
Author:  gegustafson
 Capital Peak- Ditch Trail  

My climbing buddies and I decided that Capitol was probably clear enough (finally) to allow one of our party to climb his 53rd 14er. Our climbing party consisted of myself, Terry (#53), Barry and Laura: all experienced climbers with numerous 14ers under our belt.
Terry and Laura hate to sleep on the ground, so we decided we would do the trip with only one night camping. We met up in Denver at the Morrison Park and Ride and then carpooled to the trailhead.

We started out on Friday afternoon about 4:30 in full pack. It was a pleasant backpack in and the parts through the cool mountain forest were particularly pleasant.
Aspen Grove


The stream crossing at about halfway was pretty high and no apparant way across. Some of us slogged through but Terry and Laura took off their boot and waded across. On the way back we figured out that if you cross the stream about a quarter mile higher (up to the cow trail), you don't have to get your feet wet!
Stream Crossing

We arrived at Capitol Lake in about 3.5 hours and had plenty of time to set up camp, make a bite to eat and watch the Alpenglow on Capitol Peak. It's a special place and you feel it in that spot! We knew we had a long day the next day so decided to set the alarm early (4am). We had a light storm during the night but I found the Ambien was a great backpacker assist for the night. I think Terry and Barry hardly slept.

Capitol Evening

4am came early and we arose and boiled water for breakfast. We grabbed our daypacks and hit the trail by 4:45am. After a short false start on the wrong trail we found the correct trail and headed up the saddle. The trail in the dark is odd, you know you're huffing and puffing right away but you don't realize why until you come down in the afternoon. We took a short break at the saddle and then started the trip down to the "bowl". By then it was light and we were on the east side of the ridge so the trekking was good. I had climbed Capitol a few years earlier and remembered what a mistake it was to stay too high in the ledges in the bowl so I advised us to drop down and begin the ascent up the bowl. The only problem was the snowfield but we were well prepared.

Looking Back

Two of us had crampons and two of us had micro-spikes. We all had ice axes. The foot gear was definately needed but the miscrospikes seemed to work nearly as well (and much quicker) than the crampons. However, the crampons sure make it nice for going straight up. We worked our way up to the top of the bowl. I was a little winded so sent the group ahead since I had already summitted Capitol, a decision I would soon regret but I wanted to make sure Terry made it since there were early morning clouds.

I presume the 3 amigos made it pretty smooth without me but I seemed to have amnesia from my prior trip. When I got to K-2 I mistakingly went left instead of right. Big mistake! Lots of class 4 and 5 climbing that was really unneccessary. The irony of Capitol is that once you're on the ridge after K-2, the Capitol summit looks so close it's hard to believe. However, you're probably still at least an hour away due to the slow go on the ridge, knife-edge and Capitol face. By the way, our general consensus is that the knife-edge is over-rated. There's plenty of exposure lots of other places to make the knife-edge fun but almost touristy.
Barry Knife

Terry Knife

Laura Knife

Summit from Ridge

3 Knife-Edge Back

I saw a lot climbers going up the ridge on the Capitol face but I followed the cairns on the lower trail and wrapped around the face. Once again I ended up too far and hard to start scrambling up some class 4/5 rock. Unfortunately, at one point my ice axe fell out and must have fell 3,000 feet! I also lost my climbing light. Geez, 60+ 14ers and I was making rookie mistakes! Anyway, I'm not a quitter so I continued on and finally summitted about 11am. Even i found it humorous that I was the laughing stock of the mountain! It was good to re-connect with my comrades and after a short break we headed back down.

We followed a good trail down and made pretty good time back to K-2. We passed a few folks on the way up and gave them beta on the weather (which was good) and dropped down to the boulderffield. I must say the Capitol boulderfield is a dream! Lots of large rocks that make rock-hopping a hop, skip and jump in the park.

We got to the snow field and glissaded down the main field. We trudged the rest of way to the Carson-Daly saddle and dropped back to camp around 3pm. Pretty slow but mostly because of me. I'm guessing the others could have been done a couple of hours earlier.
Back to camp


Now the fun part, we packed up camp, changed socks and headed back to the car. It's a great hike and I love the Ditch trail, but after 11 hours on Capitol it closely resembled a death march. Interestingly, it took us the same 3.5 hours out as in. Tired legs I guess. I was pretty wiped but my comrades gave me support and Laurabelle carried some of my tent (go women's lib). Then, finally, the car! And still daylight! But we still had a 5 hour drive home to Colorado Springs, not counting dinner in Glenwood Springs. We made it home at 2:00am, 22 hours after the start of our day. Whew! Not bad for old farts! And Terry now has 53! Next up, the Weimenuche!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

08/15/2011 17:55
Nice trip report! Don't feel bad about losing your axe. I lost my practically brand new Grivel my front lawn unpacking the truck. It must have slipped off the pack and fell silently into the grass. Then of course someone else saw it and claimed it as their own later. Time to get a pack with proper axe straps!


Gorgeous flowers!
08/15/2011 22:59
The wildflowers look amazing. Were they? I don't know if I'm up for Capitol...done Long's and Crestone and things of that nature but am older now. Advice?


great pics
08/16/2011 02:40
Some of your photos are really great, I really like the summit ridge shot. Mind telling me what camera you were using?


sorry to hear about your ax
04/02/2015 19:45
we left our ice axes and poles at the top of the snow field. We did not want to carry them up K2, but found them super handy on the glissade down to the bowl on the way back.


What a great trip!
08/16/2011 21:33
This may be my favorite climb to date. Thanks for writing the trip report.

The flowers were incredibly beautiful. The camera is a cheap Kodak EasyShare that I wouldn't recommend.

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