Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Date Posted:  09/24/2013
Modified:  09/25/2013
Date Climbed:   09/21/2013
Author:  forbins_mtn
Additional Members:   time2climb
 Summer Comes to a Big End  

Capitol Peak - 14,130ft
Distance: 17.2 miles
Climbers: TJ(forbins_mtn), Kelly, Cindy, Paul and Kevin

I don't do too many trip reports but this mountain obviously puts off a vibe that demands respect. Over the last few seasons I've gotten to know a few of you in this community, and those that know me understand that this summer was going to be big for me. I turned 30 this past May and had some big goals lined up for this summer:

Run a marathon, climb Rainier, and bag Capitol/Little Bear.

Plans don't always line up and I was thrown a big curveball this year: meeting Kelly. So instead of focusing on just my goals I ended up focusing on getting her a first 14er. After that, she is now just as much of an altitude junkie as anyone I know - so watch out! It couldn't have been a better summer, but this climb symbolized the end of summer climbing for me. I needed it as much as I've needed anything before in my life. I've stared at this mountain. I've compared myself to this mountain. I've understood that this mountain is on its own level and I needed to know if I was capable of conquering it.

As the summer starting coming to a close I still had Capitol on my mind. Kelly, I and a few different group of friends tried to make plans to bag it starting in July. It seemed every time we had a weekend free Mother Nature would throw us the worst weather pattern in weeks. The first time our group rerouted over to the S Arapaho > N Arapaho traverse, which was good - but was no Capitol. The next month was all packed schedules and not enough time to go out for a whole weekend to nab the elite peak. September presented some of the worst summer weather I've encountered in the past couple years, but it finally cleared and gave us a two day window to get out there and summit Capitol. Kelly and I quickly facebook messaged a bunch of friends to see if anyone was interested. I had met Cindy last summer on a CMC trip up Ice Mountain and the Apostles, and she had a couple friends who we all met at Cindy's 14er finisher last month on El Diente. The group was set! Five of us planned to hike in the 6.6 miles on Friday, summit Capitol and hike out on Saturday.

We arrived at the TH around 3p. We took my trusty Honda Accord, which has made Lily Lake TH, Gray's TH and a long way up the road to Yankee Boy Basin - I love this car! I am proud to say my Accord was the only 2WD at the TH. The view of Capitol from the TH is daunting. The distance seems ridiculous, the difficulty seems too much and the overall energy that it gives off is sheer terror. This is the point that each hiker chooses whether this is for them or not. Our group rose to the occasion and couldn't have been more excited to climb this behemoth.

View from the TH

Kelly, Cindy and I had arrived on our own and decided to hike in to camp. We expected Paul and Kevin to meet us on the trail, as they tend to be two of the fastest hikers I've ever met.

My GPS said 6.6 miles at the end of the hike in. It started off as one of the easiest hikes I've done in a while. It's gorgeous country, on an easy path with not much elevation gain in the first 2-3 miles.

Does it get anymore peaceful and gorgeous than this?

The only major concern you need to know is getting from the Capitol Ditch Trail onto the Capitol Creek Trail. It's painfully obvious when this change needs to happen. At about 3 miles you'll come into a meadow and that will lead directly to a stream. The only options are 1) take off your boots and cross or 2) go up stream about 30 feet and cross on a small log. This is where our trip had its first hiccup. The log rolled slightly on Kelly, which put her in the water. Her boots got soaked, socks were soaked and her spirits slightly dampened. Like a seasoned pro she simply got back up, took off her pack and very tensely changed her socks (and there's a slight possibility she threw everything up in the air in pure anger ; ) ) After this crossing just go through the trees and you can't miss the very obvious new trail that will lead to Capitol Lake. The only thing that could possibly keep us motivated were more views of the looming death trap aka Capitol Peak

Cindy, Kelly and I

The next 3+ miles offer a little bit more of elevation gain, nothing too extreme but enough to keep you panting and needing some hydration. Keep putting one step in front of the other and you'll eventually end up at one of the most magical and spiritual campsites on planet Earth. The sun was slowly setting while we set up camp and it made it nearly impossible to get anything done.

Sunset on Capitol

While the sun went down I grabbed my flask of Jim Beam and headed to the stream to filter enough water for Kelly and I in the morning, and enough to cook with tonight. We still had no signs of seeing Kevin and Paul and tension was rising every minute as to whether they even made it to the trailhead, whether they were coming, whether they were waiting for us or if they got sick, turned around, got hurt on the trail! The options were limitless and there's not much you can do when you're 3 hours from the car and in a spot without cell reception. Our only option was to simply wait. That's hard when you're a control freak and want to fix everything in everyone's life. While I filtered water I could see Cindy running across the meadow to two hikers. I could sense it was Kevin and Paul. Things were right in the world. This climb was still on!

When I went back to camp I didn't see Kelly. I knew she wasn't feeling too well on our hike in but now I knew something more serious had occurred. She was in the tent, huddled in the fetal position in her sleeping bag and was not very responsive. I immediately tried to help her, but she told me her stomach was severely upset and that she had been battling this the whole day. I went through a list of symptoms and we both agreed this wasn't due to altitude. I let her be for a little while I cooked dinner, as I checked in with her continually throughout the evening.

The camp arose very early the next morning. A few hikers had started 4ish and came back with tales of mountain lion eyes in the meadow. So they all came back and waited for someone else to join their party. Our group wasn't fast to get going. We got up at 5a, made coffee, ate breakfast (and God forbid someone get on the trail without allowing me to take my morning poop!).

We got on the trail 630a and Kelly lasted about 15 minutes. I could tell she wasn't doing well. She looked me in the eyes and told me she shouldn't go on. My heart sank. We have talked about this trek for months and I really wanted to share it with her. We went back and forth about it and she was deadset on going back to camp. We traded hydration bladders as hers had an extra liter in it, and she gave me our GU's and beef jerky. Hindsight is 20/20. She made the right choice. This is a serious climb and you really need to be 100%. Everything past the Knife Edge is death trap material. She'll be back. She'll be back.

The views going up to saddle of Daly/K2 are amazing; Capitol in front of you, Capitol Lake below you and a valley that is strewn with aspens and beautiful foliage.

Panorama of Capitol

Once you reach the saddle you drop on the backside of the mountain. This is where I think you can take a few different paths. You're going to drop down to a gulley then you can climb back up the gulley and traverse the side of the mountain (this keeps your elevation higher so you don't have to regain) or you can just go into the basin and go around to the big gulley that leads up to K2 (this option is way faster, but you're going to have more elevation gain going up to K2). I know these two options because on the ascent we stayed high. It's fine and very doable. But on the descent we went all the way into the bottom of the basin (there is a faint trail) and we hauled ass back. We got in front of a group who was a half hour in front of us on the descent. But again - you will have more elevation gain this way.

Kevin, Paul and Cindy coming up the talus

K2 up ahead

Power your way up to K2. It's boulder hopping and not much fun but the payoff is coming. Trust me! The weekend we climbed K2 there was a huge snow/ice patch on the trail leading under K2. We had crossed several climbers the day before who had turned around completely because of this snow. But we had also met a bunch of climbers who simply chose to climb up and over K2. That was our option. It was a great climb, with great rock and I was honored to climb it.

Many ways to ascend K2. Pick a line of solid rock and go for it!

There was a major stoppage on the other side of K2. Groups were turning around, groups were concerned of the troubles ahead and groups were also talking very loudly about a huge rock slide that just happened on the south face of Capitol. I quickly descended K2 as a way to keep our group moving, but Cindy and Paul had other plans. They both expressed that they were having bad feelings at the moment. In those situations there is nothing a friend can say to talk them out of it. You have to let them work through it. You have to encourage them to follow their heart. It's not good and ok to push someone on this terrain to do something they're not comfortable doing. I had complete faith in the three partners I was with on that mountain. I had complete faith that these three mountaineers could work it out. They did. They took about 10 minutes and then mustered whatever they needed to muster and we continued. The climb down K2 isn't a pretty one. There's exposure any route you choose. So descend carefully.

I descended right, Cindy and Paul went down that little chute in the center

I added this next photo because I did choose to go under K2 on the descent. It wasn't pretty and it was far from safe. It's a small ledge and anything that adds instability in that section can turn deadly. GO OVER K2 if there's snow/ice under it.

snow and ice patch underneath K2

The views that come into play after K2 are the real deal. You're faced with the infamous knife edge and than a daunting climb to finish the peak. The knife edge is everything it's cracked up to be, but it's not the scariest thing you face during the day. We scooted most of it, and I walked on the south side for some of it but it's nothing you can't get across. It's solid rock. It's at angle where your manhood is going to come away slightly bruised - so be prepared for it. While going across the knife edge the world around you will stop. Our day was windy and slightly cold and yet none of us can remember if it was windy crossing the knife edge. Your senses focus solely on crossing safely, and your mind becomes unaware of extraneous influences.

Knife edge and terrain beyond

Posing on the knife lends itself to awesome photos!

The remaining climb to the summit takes 1.5 hours. It's slow moving. It's a system of ledges that lead to the south end of the peak and then straight to the top. It's the part of the climb that requires the most attention; therefore I took the least amount of pictures. After the knife edge you'll follow the south side of the ridge until you reach a small ledge system. Carefully follow cairns and traverse the ledges. There will be multiple options to ascend gullies that will lead to the south ridge. This ridge will lead directly to the summit.

small ledges that you have to traverse

The whole route from post knife edge to summit is cairned. Have faith in them and carefully take each step. Each step is a possible rock slide, and each step is a possible bad day for the person below you.

Cindy, Kevin, and Paul and myself on the summit!

I couldn't wait to make it back to Kelly. We figured the climb would take us 5 hours roundtrip (who's the asshole that told us that?!). Instead it took us 8 hours. However, we weren't in any hurry and took multiple breaks to take in the scenery and hydrate. We got back to camp around 3p. The climb ended with vodka, water and Mio - quite the glorious backpacking cocktail!

I can't explain how much this mountain meant to my growth and confidence as a hiker, climber and mountaineer. These mountains have turned into something very special to me over the last few years. They have changed my life and will continue to do so. It isn't about altitude for me; it's about challenge and success. We live in a special state - I couldn't imagine being anywhere that didn't have this kind of natural obstacle that forces me to grow as a man.

Capitol Peak: we'll be back for Kelly's ascent first thing next summer. Knowing that girl, she's gonna be staring at weather patterns starting in May - so you better be ready for us!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Well done!
09/25/2013 03:58
Great report thanks! Looks like you had a great day, bummer Kelly wasn't well enough to get up there too but like you said first thing next year!
Thinking about going back this weekend, weather permitting, and hoping she permits us to stand on high ground! Made an attempt in July, but turned at the second portion of the knife because my partner had his fill of the exposure (I think the down climb from K2's summit finally set in for him). So we turned around no big deal. Ha, yeah right! That mountain has haunted me ever since. She's all I want outta the summer! Although I've summited 18 14ers this summer, I want her before I turn 30.


Nice work!
09/25/2013 12:35
TJ - great TR and pics! Brought back so many memories of my Capitol climb this summer! It is a tough mountain, for sure, and deserves every bit of respect! Way to rock that peak!!!

I Man

09/25/2013 13:18
Cap is a mountain! Trey would be proud. Sky is the limit homie. Well done. Let's get some shit done this winter.


Amazing Peak!
09/25/2013 14:46
Congratulations! Sounds like a number of things occurred that would have turned away many mountaineers (mountain lions, Kelly getting ill, the slide on the south face, etc.) Way to do what felt right for your group and stand on that magnificent summit.

I agree, going around the side of K2 is not the way to go!


Atta boy!
09/25/2013 15:15
Glad you got Cap, one day before the snow came no less! Bummer Kelly wasn't feeling well. She'll probably do the cap-snowmass traverse next year she's such a BAMF.


Awesome Work!
09/25/2013 15:29
Wonderful account of your day on Capitol! Very encouraging read - I eagerly await next summer when I think I will be ready for it. Y'all did a hell of a job!


Great Job TJ!
09/25/2013 15:34
You did a great job in safely getting this mountain and writing this report TJ! It was nice meeting you on friday.

Early in the morning, the eye-shine of some deer were freaking people out in the meadow At about 8:45, I looked back at the knife edge and K2 and counted 14 people, that scared me more than that crazy downclimb off K2. What a fun climb, I look forward to repeating it as well.


The eyes of Capitol
09/25/2013 16:43
Thanks for a fantastic account of our journey TJ! So glad I got to share it with you all. I first saw this mountain three yrs ago and I like you had been studying it for awhile and wondering if I could conquer her massiveness. I did with confidence then even leading my hesitant friends across the knife edge. The second time was different and much more Challenging. With the obstacles life has shown me in the last few yrs it took a lot more to get her this time. But each time I learn something special and the mountain always heals me in some way. Our group was amazing! Can't wait to get Kelly up there!


Nice job TJ
09/25/2013 17:12
And nice report. I enjoyed the story as much as the photos. You should write these more often!


09/25/2013 21:24
thanks for the kind words, gang. Definitely a big experience for me.

I Man/jblyth - we definitely need to rock some mountains this winter. Jason, good luck on your finisher this weekend! Really wish I could be there. My family is doing a weekend together and I don't think Kel and I can get over to Yale.

Rainier: that's hilarious! I figured it was the deer. I wasn't even out of my sleeping bag when they came and woke everyone up with tales of mountain lions.

I really should be writing more of these. I figure there's nothing more that I can add about routes so I tend to stay away from them. But I really enjoy reading these down the road so I need to focus more on my experience. My kids will want to read these someday, right?!


Nice job!
09/26/2013 01:00
Good work and glad you got up and down safely. How do you like them cows??!


Sick man
09/26/2013 19:35
Great job on an epic peak. Im going to have to hit you up for some beta here soon. Nice job TJ and company.


time frame?
07/26/2014 00:44
Great information, we are doing this in August. You said that you camped which is what we were going to do. When you say 8 hours, is that from your campsite or from the bottom to camping to peak ?? Trip times always vary but was wondering/

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