Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Date Posted:  09/13/2011
Date Climbed:   09/04/2011
Author:  stevevets689
Additional Members:   WSC_Geologist12
 Afternoon Delight  

Peak: Capitol
Route: Knife Edge Ridge
Miles covered: 17
Elevation gained: 5,300 feet
Participants: stevevets689, WSC_Geologist12
Summit time: 4:10PM

This is my second climb this summer on a committing, wilderness route in the afternoon (the first was Wham Ridge on Vestal Peak). Have I gotten lucky, smart, or really dumb?

James (WSC_Geologist12) and I agreed earlier in the year (or was it last year?) that we were going to knock off two of Colorado's toughest 14ers this summer: Little Bear Peak and Capitol. With the LB-Blanca traverse complete and school underway, it was time to finish the job.

Capitol seems to be one of the most popular Labor Day peaks out there, so we had a few plans to deal with the potential for crowds. 1, climb on Labor Day itself, hopefully after everyone had completed their climb; 2, start so early that the sun still hasn't come up by the time we're on the Daly-Capitol saddle; and 3, climb the ridge direct from the saddle, putting us above and separate from most of the other climbers. Cool, let's get homework done on Saturday and hike in on Sunday, you know the drill.

Sunday morning at around 8:30 put us at the Capitol Creek trailhead, where we were lucky enough to find a parking spot among the many other vehicles. We snapped some pictures of one of the best views from a trailhead I've ever seen, shouldered our packs, and started along the Capitol Ditch Trail. I have to say, this is an awesome approach, likely way better than dropping straight to Capitol Creek. It's a very gradual grade (mostly flat until you leave the ditch), with great views most of the time, and tons of ripe raspberries along one section.

Capitol from the trailhead

A little ways along the trail

Luckily, we came across a couple who had vacated one of the campsites that morning, so we knew we had a place to camp. We hiked with a purpose to make sure we could secure the site.

As we were approaching the lake

As we were hiking, we noted that the weather was absolutely beautiful and continued to be so as the day went on. The forecast for the day was very good, unlike the forecast for the next day which called for a 40% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon (I read that as a 100% chance of thunderstorms above treeline AT noon). Our pace kept strong, and we started considering an alternate plan: get camp set up, pump some water, and then knock the bastard off before the day's out. This would probably take care of the lots-of-other-climbers issue, and quite possibly give us a better chance at summitting than we would have the next day with the storms. What the hell, let's give it a shot.

From the slope up to the Daly saddle

We were able to get everything done and start hiking up towards the saddle at 12:30. We got a lot of judging looks from a group of climbers on their way down, but they were camped way too close to Capitol Lake so, right back at you guys. 1:10 on the saddle and we decided to not bother with the direct ridge route and take the easiest (and potentially most expedient) route up. The boulders beyond the saddle were surprisingly easy to cross and we found ourselves nearing K2 at about 3:00. We saw a few teams coming down after climbing the Northwest Buttress route at this point and made sure to give them plenty of props for their accomplishment.

Looking back across talus towards the saddle and Daly Peak

More talus hopping...

James in the rocks leading up to K2

James hiking up the slope. We knew it was about to get harder...

Looking up at K2. The best way around I could find was about 15 feet down from the summit, making it pretty silly to not climb to the top

On K2, we surveyed the time and weather. We decided on a 5:00 turnaround time to make sure we got off the tough terrain before dark, and decided the weather was probably going to be nice to us for the rest of the evening.

Classic: Capitol from K2

On the standard route, I have to agree that the Knife Edge was the crux, both in terms of exposure and difficulty. James claimed that it was more extreme than anything we did on the LB-Blanca traverse but I don't know if I agree with that. Luckily, it's short.

James crossing the Knife Edge

Beyond that, it really seemed to be a game of "Follow the Cairns" which was fairly easily played. There were lots of them, and they were well placed. Honestly I only remember making a few class 4 moves beyond the Knife Edge and found the rest of the climbing to be pretty easy and much more straightforward than I expected. Definitely some loose rock but when you really needed it to be solid, it was.

Remaining terrain after the Knife Edge. It's easier than it looks (at least I think so)

James making his way up. K2 really looks like K2 from here

Much of the terrain beyond the Knife looks like this

Looking back from high on Capitol

4:10PM saw us on the summit, still under great skies. We spent a little time up there, looking back down on the lake, joking about heading off to Snowmass Mountain (should only take like an hour, right?) and then headed down. We figured we would be the last people off the summit for the day.

Snowmass Mountain from the summit

Capitol Lake and the drainage from the summit

Looking back towards K2, with some exposure

Traversing back to the Knife Edge wasn't too bad, and re-crossing the Knife Edge was, well, re-crossing the Knife Edge, but at least once that was done we had all the major difficulties behind us. We scrambled back up onto K2 only to find another climber, who was on his way up. It was, oh, 5:30 by this time. He asked if this was a good place to leave his pack. I wanted to ask him why but instead suggested bringing it so he would have extra layers, food, water, headlamp, etc. He responded that he had "everything" in there (so I'm assuming he brought his 56" plasma screen) and couldn't possibly bring it all up. Alright, yeah, you'll find it again if you leave it here. I can only hope his climb went well...

James crossing some ledges

Happy to be getting back to the Knife Edge

James coming back across the Knife Edge

We took a break, made a couple "we're alive" phone calls, and then headed down just in time to see the sun dropping behind a ridge from the Daly saddle. We took a bunch of pictures of Capitol, figuring that most people don't get to see it with this sort of light, and headed down.

Capitol from the Daly Saddle

Sun going down over Capitol Lake

Nice light on Capitol

Capitol from Capitol Lake after the sun went down, the Moon above the summit

Good times were had at the lake with a couple guys who had climbed the Buttress, then we slept, woke up, hiked out, and got lunch in Carbondale at Beijing Tokyo (we had a lot of jokes over the name of this restaurant and its correlation to the peak we just climbed (Beijing Tokyo Denver, Beijing Tokyo Ottawa, Beijing Tokyo Reykjavik, and Beijing Tokyo Islamabad, for example)). And so ends scrambling season for me for the year. Hopefully I can climb three more peaks this year and hit my 50 out of the top 100...

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

 Comments or Questions

Great TR!
09/14/2011 01:09
I can't wait to climb Capitol myself. Great pictures and info. Good job!


Good job!!
09/14/2011 01:54
Your assessment of the climb beyond the Knife is pretty much how I found it. I agree it didn't seem nearly as difficult or tricky as many claim. Well-placed cairns and consistent class 3 climbing is how I remember it. Your image #17 is almost exactly like one I took. Good taste! but then, you can't really go wrong with the stunning scenery! Enjoyed your write-up. Thanks for the post!


route finding past Knife Edge
04/02/2015 19:45
You must have above average route finding skills. We had a little bit of trouble on that section. I estimate we stuck with the trail for 2/3 of the way, but then we lost it, so had to go through some ”interesting” spots to gain the ridge.
Impressive work!

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