Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
Date Posted:  06/25/2013
Date Climbed:   06/22/2013
Author:  blazintoes


I'm calling this advernture "SnowCap"

Day 1: Snowmass East Slope
Solo day trip
21.5 miles
5,800 feet
13 hours

Rarely does an adventure go as planned for me, hence the word “adventure”. However; this was a day of back-to-back harmonious decisions. Saturday at 0500 June 22, 2013, my legs were pumped and ready to tackle this monster climb. 21.5 miles in one day, no way. Here's my story...

The Snowmass creek trail is beautifully speckled with a rainbow of Colorado wildflowers that light up the birds and bees. They are entertaining. Within 4 miles the Snowmass summit barely peaks its North curvilinear head. With the first light of sunrise it is glowing. At 6 miles the log jam is an adolescent reminder of hopscotch. Finally another 2 miles along the serpentine trail Snowmass Lake come into view. The faint trail through the prolific willows has me thankful for long sleeves and pants. Now on the West end of the lake I can see the gully and treacherous scree slope. Oh scree, how I despise thee. The left side of this gully is loose and nasty so I decide to hop over the creek just above the waterfall and climb the green lush tundra. This was a wise decision. I crossed paths with two fellas in red helmets who didn't summit but asked me to tell their buddies about descending the tundra vs. scree. They too are wearing bright red helmets, which shouldn’t be missed. Eventually I crest the tundra and am evaluating the Snowmass snow filled amphitheater. An impressive sight. A few climbers are descending from the Southeast ridge and one brave soul is descending straight off the spine from the ridge closest to the summit. I near the steepest portion at 13,000’ and don my microspikes and ice axe. I kick some fresh steps off to the left so that descending traffic can continue uninterrupted. I can see the red helmet guys descending from the ridge crest; at last we cross paths and I give them the insider scoop on descending on the tundra.

The crosswind was fierce from the West once on the ridge. After another gear change I begin scrambling along the ridge. The ridge is steep and littered with large loose creepy rocks. One long look at the steep ridge and my gut told me to stick to the ridge and so I climb up. I talk briefly with an older gentleman descending who agreed that the rock here is not to be trusted. Another solo female is descending and reminds me to stay close to the ridge, she is right. At last I summit and am all alone. It’s 11:45. Just over seven hours from the trailhead. I hoot and holler from the top and soak up the views. The Bells and Pyramid to the South beg me to come closer. Capitol is on the agenda for tomorrow; its ridge gives me shivers and fills me with dread. I drop down and do my celebratory 40 push-ups since this is my 40th 14er summit. Yippie! Alright enough fun is had and it’s time for the hard work to begin. The way up is not always the way down. Safely I make my way back down the ridge. I see another climber ascending but they are way down low in the loose talus and cause a mini rock slide. My heart skips a beat. Soon enough I get past the rock rib and decide to scramble a little further south for the descent. The topography is just ever so slightly shallower here. I find an innovative way down on firm rock instead of steep snow while remaining South of the steep gully. My descent is a success and I am rewarded with a controlled glissade, wheeee…
Now back on the tundra for the remaining descent from the amphitheater I am guilt ridden to see a couple struggling on their descent down the loose scree. My shouts to them drown across the roaring creek and waterfall. I fill up with water and realize I lost my climbing gloves, No! Having no idea where I lost them, I continue down. I am back bushwhacking through the willows and run into the older gentleman, Tom. We chat and relish in our accomplishment. I scurry on by, pass the camp spots at the lake, cross the river and make my final gear change for the long eight mile uneventful descent. Someday I will return to fish that pristine lake. Swift and efficient is always my plan but not too fast so my legs are ready for tomorrow. Capitol Peak, here I come.

Day 2: Capitol Peak Northeast Ridge
Solo day trip
17 miles
5,300 feet
14 hours

Sunday 0530 June 23. From the trailhead, Capitol Peak boasts its beauty. I say to myself, “yeah, yeah, I’m coming”. My legs take a good two miles and about 1,000 calories to warm up. The Ditch trail through the valley to Capitol Lake is lush green with thigh high frost covered vegetation. It is much colder this morning with a slight Easterly breeze. The moon is more vibrant than I have ever seen. I am meandering along the hillside and not moving as quickly as I’d like, whilst the visible Capitol Peak begins to wake. I don’t recall a single 14er climb quite like this where the summit is always in view. A real tease. The sun lights the intense infamous knife edge and I’m waiting for a voice to whisper, “Get out” so I can run back like a sissy girl to the car but something draws me closer.

By 0630 I’m at the stream and its 42 degrees. I really don’t want to take my shoes off to cross so I wander upstream looking for options. There is one rock filled island with a leaning tree on the opposite side. I throw my pack onto the island then leap forward, phew, made it. Inspired by Bear Grylls, I throw my pack again to the opposite side of the stream and then jump up into the tree thinking it would lean a little, allow me to swing around and scoot my way down it and onto shore. Instead the tree didn’t budge at all, I impaled my thigh on a branch and let go. That hurt. Thankfully I didn’t get too soaked. I gave up on my Man vs. Wild stunt and took my socks and shoes off to cross like I should’ve done in the first place. All this messing around wasted about 30 minutes but lesson learned. There are a few more stream crossings approaching the lake and small patches of snow to negotiate. The final pitch to the lake is snow filled but solid.
The Daly/Capitol saddle is short and sweet. Once pass the saddle, there are a couple steep gullies that are snow filled requiring an ice axe and crampons. I have microspikes. There is no evidence of recent travel so I kick my own steps across. I know that the original route stays below the cliffs but this is snow covered. I see the ridge from the saddle and climb up to it instead. I gain the ridge pretty easily while testing every hold and step. Some of the moves were pretty tricky requiring me to jam my fingers into tiny cracks and making certain I had good foot holds. In my infancy of climbing I’ve learned that fancy footwork is the key to good climbing. My hands sure take a beating but I like to feel the rock. Climbing Capitols entire ridge is nuts but I figure its good practice for what is to come. The ridge is a lot of up and over, up and over climbing that is a bit fatiguing. I take mini breaks when I get a little freaked out, breath, gather myself and go again. Slowly, I make my way and see K2. The original route is snow covered but an optional route of straight over the top looks enticing. The final West pitch to K2 is also snow covered.

Now I’m starring at K2 and contemplating my options. I elect to go straight over the snow free top. This proves successful except the down climb puts me in one awkward move where my legs weren’t quite long enough to reach a final planned step. I slid down the rock tower and landed precisely where I wanted. Dumb luck. Now the remaining route comes to fruition. There are clouds building to the East but they are at least 50 miles away. I can actually see the atomic bomb looking cloud over the South Fork fire, which is impressive and sad. I watch a fat fuzzy marmot lollygag across the knife edge like it’s no big deal. I on the other hand attempt it froggy style, haa, haa. Those who can free climb the knife edge are bold. Safely, I cross this final crux before the last summit ridge where again, I choose the ridge crossing. I hear real voices this time and see two climbers heading my way. They are moving like mountain goats.

The rock on this final ridge is somewhat stable and committing. Once there, the only way out is up. Time is slipping away and with such little mountaineering experience I am humbled at how much time technical climbing takes. I have learned to respect these mountains, to have patience and question every move. Again, I summited just before noon. I signed the summit log and sat there in silence. The two climbers after me also chose the ridge option. I lost sight of them once on the summit. After a few pictures, 41 celebratory push-ups and a snack sadly it was time to descend. I descended the route proper finding the cairns along the way. I made good time to the knife edge and again froggered across, sans marmot. Climbing up K2’s rock tower was less dramatic. Now at K2’s saddle I see another couple resting here and briefly talk to them. I scramble down towards the snow filled basin knowing that I’m going to have to kick steps all the way down this bastard solo. I ran out of water at the top of K2 and I can hear melting snow beneath me, which has my cotton mouth begging for a sip. I look for water options and can see some trickling down the side of a rock pile so I scurry over. I fill my water bag and see two climbers glissading off K2’s basin wishing I were there with them. It must be the two that summited after me. They were bellowing with joy in their controlled glissades and I am here alone on unsteady, slippery and slushy snow. I want to glissade. Eventually the slope shallows but I prematurely chose an unsafe route. Unknowingly, I stick the spike into the snow behind me to use as a rudder, just like “Freedom of the Hills” recommends but the spike doesn’t stick and the harder I dig the faster I fall. I roll over onto the pick and desperately try digging it into the crappy slushy snow going faster now. I realize this isn’t working and flip back over trying to dig my hills and spike again while aiming for a rock outcropping hoping I can slow down enough to hit them with my heels. I dig with all my might and relax my knee joints. I slam into the rocks and abruptly stop. This fall took maybe 7 seconds, who knows it felt like 10 minutes. Every decision was visceral and palpable. The two mountain goat climbers watched and one decided to climb back up the basin to check on me. A true gentleman.

There is a price to pay for being lazy. Looking back now I realize I got tired of kicking steps and therefore made a hasty decision to glissade on unstable snow. The price tag was a chunk of skin off my left middle finger, which made for a good picture with a nice gesture as a souvenir (see below). My hands were frozen and I felt no pain. Although embarrassed I was relieved to have someone there to check on me. We got to a safe spot to glissade and slipped right on down into the final basin. This guy has climbed Capitol peak 40 times with a record summit at 2 hours 30 minutes! What the what? Seriously. We instantly became friends. We crossed the final gullies together and although I wanted to keep up I really needed to tend to my wounds, eat, drink and make a final gear change for the remaining descent. They pressed on and I counted my blessings.

At last I make it to the final water crossing, run into two couples heading up to camp for the night with a summit attempt on Monday. They ask how to get across and with a big grin I shout, “Take your shoes off”. Once on the other side I bust out my first aid kit, bandage myself up and saunter on down the final stretch. Along the way I spot a helicopter and question, another fire down here in this lushness, say it isn’t so but now I know why. It was SAR looking for the great Gladbach. Even I, newbie wild woman mountaineer knew his name. As I am licking my wounds, this amazing man lost his life. On my drive home, a Supermoon is blazing the sky. I’ll never forget this day, a rare Supermoon, my solo feat on Capitol, my summit tattoo, my new friends and the day the mountains cried mourning the loss of a true mountaineer.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Double Header!
06/26/2013 02:58
Two big peaks in two days. Nice! It looks like there is still a bunch of snow up there. Did you see any fish in the lake?


Fish in the lake
06/26/2013 15:22
Hey MountainDawg, I'm pretty sure I saw lake trout but I hear the Bass are the gem of the water. Large mouth, small mouth, white and spotted. 5 lbs or more! Wow.


good mother of god
06/27/2013 02:46
are you the female sequel to the man of steel?!! Very well done!!


Inspiring two days
06/27/2013 15:45
Great Trail Report. I was thinking about this kind of long day approach too, and now based off your TR, I think I will go for it.

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