Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Date Posted:  09/28/2011
Date Climbed:   09/25/2011
Author:  roguejackalope
Additional Members:   snowalli

Capitol Peak - Northeast Ridge from Capitol Lake

RT - 17 miles
Elevation gain 5300'

This is my first trip report, as a request for beta on current conditions and the immensely good time I had on this climb has pushed me past the tipping point to write this (despite the fact that this report will be completely overshadowed by Dancesatmoonrise's finisher report).

Ben, Alli, and I started from the Capitol Creek trailhead about 3pm on Saturday in beautiful weather. The aspen colors are going to be amazing in this valley in a week or so. The snow on the north face of Capitol was a nice dramatic addition. We left the snow gear at home, figuring if there was enough snow on the route to warrant it, that we probably would save the mountain for another time. We packed a backup plan instead.

We had beautiful views the entire way up the valley, and met Connie and Brian on the way up. We would see a lot more of them. We also met chicagosky and freeflyfreek on their way back to the trailhead. They reported turning back at K2 due to the snow. We were glad we had our backup plan in case we got turned back early.

View from the trailhead

Unbeatable scenery

We reached the campsites at Capitol Lake in time to setup camp, put the backup plan on ice, and take in some great views of the sun setting.

Backup plan front and center

Alpenglow on Capitol

Capitol on Capitol

After pumping some water, we started out from the lake about 5:45am. We didn't want to go back to camp, so we carried the water filter with us, which would come into play later. The sun was rising as we reached the saddle, but not before we reached our first snow crossing! We also met up with Connie and Brian again and did some joint routefinding down off the saddle into the basin, and walked and talked with them for a bit.



We climbed down from the saddle through a gully with a good switchback trail. An up and leftward slanting crack gave easy access to exit (and reenter on the return) from the gully without having to lose as much elevation. This photo was taken on the return trip but shows the gully, taken from just past the top of the crack.

Gully down from saddle

As we climbed higher in the basin we had great colors and beautiful light on Mount Daly behind us.

Early light on Daly

Taken on the descent from K2, this image shows the location of some of the snow fields in the basin. Most of the snow is avoidable by climbing dry rock to climbers right while climbing out of the valley on the approach to K2.

Snow in the basin

After cresting a rise, K2 became visible. A familiar picture, but showing that the snow is limited on the approach to K2.


Reaching the ridge, we found the west side of K2 to be pretty socked in with snow. We wanted to climb it anyhow, so we were not too worried. The snow was easily avoided on the climber's left side of the ridge.

Snow on K2

Reaching the summit of K2, we had some great views of the surrounding areas and the rest of the route, including the knife-edge.


Crew on K2

Seeing that most of the route was snow-free, we decided to press on, figuring we'd turn back if we reached something we didn't feel comfortable on. The backup plan was moved to the back of our minds. There was a short area of snow that needed to be climbed just past K2. The top of it is visible in the lower right corner of the shot showing the rest of the route:

Capitol from K2


Getting down off of K2 was a little tricky. We started out SW down the ridge and quickly found that it didn't connect (read: overhanging cliff).

K2 cliff

Currently, the best route down to is probably to climb down a rocky rib northwest off of K2, then cross a flatter area and climb the previously mentioned snow back up to the ridge crest. We backtracked and did just this, and were shortly at the knife-edge. Climbing across this was a blast.

Knife-edge close-up

Full of adrenaline and smiling we pressed on. Here are some images showing the types of short snowy sections encountered on the rest of the route. Most was pretty easy to avoid. Spikes probably not required until it snows again.


A little snow

Snow crossing

Patches of snow on the ridge

We followed the cairned route most of the way up. At one point, as the cairned route circled to gain the steep east ridge of Capitol, it crossed some snow so we climbed a steep loose gully. This was the sketchiest part of the climb, in my opinion. Very exposed with terrible rock. We descended the cairned route and found it to be much better. Taken near the top of that gully, the cairned route goes right across that snow below in this picture.

Steep and loose gully

Great success! Stunning views from the summit, a 30 minute break, group photo, and then we began the long trek back down. Connie and Brian were approaching the summit right as we headed off, so they had it all to themselves as well. We congratulated them on their second to last peak. They were hoping to finish on Snowmass in a couple weeks.

Crew on Capitol summit

The other Elk 14ers

The descent went well, but not quickly. As we finished crossing the knife-edge on the return, a friendly fellow shouted to us from near the top of K2, asking for beta regarding the overhanging cliff we had surveyed earlier from above and below. He went off K2 the same way we had and we met up with him near the top of the small snow field mentioned earlier. We chatted briefly about the route, the fact that this was his finisher, and a brief detour that he had taken up the snow towards Clark. Then he introduced himself as Dancesatmoonrise. He probably didn't recognize my user name, as I'm pretty new to the game and the forum, but I sure recognized his. We wished him luck and congratulations and then started back up K2.

About this time we started to run out of water. We had each carried about 3L, underestimating the heat of the day and the amount of time the trip would take us. As we descended from K2, we decided to follow the valley and look for snow melt. We found a pool and took a break to pump water and were really glad that we had the pump. That water was quite tasty. As we sat hydrating, our minds began to wander towards our backup plan.

While we sat hydrating, I was telling the crew how amazing Dancesatmoonrise's photos and trip reports are. A perfect and relevant example.

Shortly after resuming our descent, we found some mysterious tracks in the snow below Clark...


The climb down the low point in the valley took much longer as we tried to navigate through a slippery mix of snow and rock. It was difficult to regain the dry rock that we had climbed earlier. The lower valley is relatively snow free.

Daly in a different light

We powered through though and returned to the lake around 3pm. The weather had remained absolutely beautiful all weekend.

Amazing colors

We went about packing up camp, enjoying some of the backup plan and thereby lightening our load a little. Connie and Brian came down shortly after us and we chatted briefly again on the way out. Brian took up our offer for a cold can after a long day. The hike out was also beautiful. We got to the car shortly after nightfall, tired, hungry, and happy.

Stella advertisement?

Sun setting on Capitol

Trip times:
Trailhead to lake - 3:00
Lake to K2 - 2:25
K2 to summit - 2:00
Summit to K2 - 2:30
K2 to lake - 2:20
Lake to trailhead - 2:30
Total time - 14:45

These times don't include a 30 minute summit break or 15 minute water pumping session

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 26 27 28 29 30

Comments or Questions

Back up plan
09/29/2011 02:11
Love it!
Always good to have a back up plan!!
Congrats on the summit - Cap is an amazing mountain.
One of the most strikingly beautiful mountains/areas in the state, IMHO.


09/29/2011 02:33
Great job, guys! Yes, the mountain and the setting are simply amazing! Always fun to see and read another Capitol report! And a bonus to meet Dances! Thanks for the post!


Raising the bar!
09/29/2011 07:42
Solid work, on and off trail! The photos are spectacular.

My TR is going to be simple: ”Just see RJ's”

Very nice meeting you; I know we'll bump into each other again. Congrats on a fine job with one of the tougher peaks.



09/29/2011 14:44
That was awesome to read and great pictures.


Get yourself....
09/29/2011 16:38
A Racer 5 for picture number 5. Great shots and report. Glad someone was around to see Dances!


09/29/2011 16:42
That snow in pic 6 looks pretty iffy - glad you are able to get past it safely.

Looks like your back-up plan worked out pretty well - good thing you had worked it through ahead of time.


Nice work!
09/29/2011 17:27
Way to go on Capitol!

Quick question for you:

We were going to make a special trip up this weekend to take pics of Capitol from the trailhead with the aspens (hopefully yellow/orange) in the foreground. But it looks like they are still green. Do you think they will be anywhere near 'peak' this weekend?

Thx! Smitty


Aspen colors
09/29/2011 18:08
Smitty, they were starting to change in the area near the trailhead last weekend. I am sure that the colors will be great between this weekend and the following one. I think you should see some good colors if you go this weekend.


09/29/2011 22:09
for the info!


Awesome & Congrats!
10/03/2011 13:36
Great report. We had considered this a couple wks ago on our annual trip...right as the moisture had come in so we pursued our backup plan (in our case that was Belford, Oxford & Harvard). I was so jealous reading your report and seeing the pics - can't wait to give it a try next year on our annual trip from Ohio and South Carolina!

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