Peak(s): Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet Date Posted: 07/24/2012 Date Climbed: 07/21/2012 Author: djrunner Additional Members: clochard0
Capitol "F-U-N"

Well, where do I start? Capitol is a BIG mountain. I wonder if that is why it is called Capitol. Either way, we climbed it and had a blast doing so. Dan and I left Denver around 12:30 PM to meet up with Allen at Capitol Lake. Due to traffic, we did not get to the trailhead until 5:00. We began getting our packs ready, and it started sprinkling. The sprinkling soon turned into rain, and then hail. This was not a good way to start off. We waited in the truck until the hail subsided. It was raining lightly when we started hiking at 5:30 PM. The rain was off and on heavy and light, but never stopped until we reached the lake. On the way we took few pictures.

First, Dan asked why they called it the "Ditch trail." He was looking for the ditch.

"Here it is" I pointed out.

Capitol Peak can be seen from the parking lot. At first glance it looks very intimidating. Even from afar. As we hiked closer, it never seemed to get any closer. It only appeared to be growing larger which made it even more intimidating. Of course, physics would tell us that the appearance of it getting larger really means it is getting closer. It is simple mathematics. However, we were not convinced it was any closer.

We finally reached camp at the lake at 8:30 PM. A 3 hour hike in. We probably would have taken longer with breaks, but we had no motivation to stop since it poured down rain the entire hike in. Fortunately the rain subsided long enough for us to set up camp. We got the tent up and ate dinner. It was sprinkling again, so we decided just to go to bed.

We woke up around 5 AM, had breakfast and coffee (thanks Allen for heating up the water). At 6 AM we were off. The sun was just breaking and shining on Capitol peak.

We quickly ascended to the saddle. It was a tough way to start. It is steep with no warm-up. Our breathing was heavy, but we made it with relative ease.

Once on the saddle we met two gentlemen who were heading back to camp. They started before us, did not drop below the cliffs and got to a point they were not comfortable. They did the brave thing to turn around. We learned from their mistake. They informed us that we needed to drop down below the cliffs. While we read the description it was unclear. We finally saw a switchback in the first gully we came across. We descended the switchback and crossed the gully. To avoid descending too far, we climbed some rocks at the other side of the gully and started the long ascent through the tallus and boulder field towards K2.

On our way, we met a very friendly pika. He came right up to my feet. Don't worry, I did not feed him.

The rock hopping section is a good way to warm up to the climbing portion of the mountain. We did not see many cairns on the way to K2, but we knew the direction and basically headed towards it while avoiding the cliffs. On the way back, we saw many cairns. Funny how that always seems to happen.

Once to K2, we did not summit. Instead, we dropped down and up to the ridge. It was a fun section and another way to prepare for what was ahead.

Once on the other side of K2, we could see what was ahead of us. It looked daunting, and fun.

A very short while later we were at the knife edge! When you study this mountain, that is all you remember. For some reason I thought it was further up the mountain, closer to the top. However, here it was. Finally! For years I have been anticipating checking this mountain off my list and doing the infamous knife edge. I crossed first. I posed for a straddle shot, but did not do the scooting method the entire way. It was a mix of scooting, crawling, or walking on the either side. It was fun, short, and relatively easy. This is not the hardest part of the ascent. In fact, I thought it was very safe compared to other portions. Regardless, I did it, and it was FUN!

Close to the top we looked over the edge and found our campsite. You can barely see two dots, one orange and one yellow, on the left hand side of this picture. Those are our tents. I had to zoom in to see them. I know they are there, because I saw them live!

There did not appear to be one way to go. People were finding their own routes. We did the same. We looked for cairns and approached them when we did. When we couldn't see any, we assessed the situation and made agreed upon routes. We chose to stay below the ridge as recommended by most route descriptions. It worked for us. I am not sure it was the best route. I am not even convinced I could duplicate the way we went again. It was confusing and mentally taxing. However, since there were three of us, that helped. Below are a few shots of Allen during the approach to the summit.

We finally made it to the summit around 10 AM. It took 4 hours from camp. Dan was so excited he sprinted to the finish!

I was not content on the top. I wanted to be on the very tip top. I gave Dan my camera and asked him to take my picture. He wasn't sure what I was going to do, but gladly obliged. Next thing he knew I was standing on top of the four foot boulder on one leg. I think it scared him more than me. The hard part was getting off the boulder.

Group shot with Snowmass, the bells, Pyramid, and other 14ers in the background.

Allen soaking in the beauty.

Below is more of what I mentioned earlier. We would get to a point like this and have to make decisions about where to go. We saw occasional cairns and would head towards them. Sometimes, we would all three choose diferent lines, but end up back together after a short bit. It was exciting, nerve-racking, and fun all at the same time.

We finally made it back to the knife edge and scurried across. It was even easier the second time through.

Once past K2 on the way back, it felt like relief. The rock hopping was fun and easy, relatively. I actually enjoyed this portion a lot on the way back and it was becoming my favorite part of the descent. At least for the first hour of it. After a while, though, it just seemed to go on and on endlessly. My toes began to hurt from the downhill jumping, hopping, stopping. It just continued on and on. There seemed to be no end in sight. All we could think about was finding the gully we needed to ascend to get back to the saddle. Around each corner, there was just more rocks to jump. Fatigue had set in and every minute seemed like 10. It quickly became my least favorite portion of the descent.

We finally made it to our gully. This picture looks back at the gully. You can see the switchbacks. When the switch backs ended, we just climbed the good rocks on the other side of the gully.

Finally we made it back to the saddle. Sweet relief! This last portion down to camp was easy. I even jogged a little bit of it. It went by quickly. I took the stopped to take a few reflection and flower photos.

When we got back to camp, Dan and I tore down camp. Allen decided to stay another night. Smart. If I do this mountain again, I might consider doing that myself. We took down the food bag that I hung all my myself. I was proud of how high I was able to get it. Considering I hung it hte night before, in the dark, bare foot, in the rain, with three feet of snow, uphill both ways! Okay, everything was true except the hill and snow.

The hike out was much like the hike in. It rained the entire time! We even had some lightning strikes, which scared me. In fact, I think I was most scared on the hike back during the storm. Lightning scares me more than high exposures. We eventually made it back to the truck three hours after leaving camp.

It was a great experience overall! I have checked it off the list. I enjoyed hiking with Dan and Allen. Together we made a great team. I am glad it is over but would probably do it again!

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