Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
"K2"  -  13,664 feet
Date Posted:  08/12/2016
Date Climbed:   08/07/2016
Author:  Kurly_Q
 A Quick Hike and a Nap On Top of the World   

Video at the end of the trip report! Feel free to skip the reading and just watch that for a quick 4-minute summary!


Well, here it goes. My first trip report here! I hope this is up to snuff...

First off, I got this idea while sitting in my cube at work last Tuesday afternoon. All of my normal climbing partners were out of state, so I was looking for something reasonably easy that I could solo. I regularly scramble the flatirons here in Boulder, and I have lots of experience climbing and hiking in the alpine, so anything below 5.4 was under consideration...Given good weather.

I had hiked up and over capitol pass last summer during a 3-day trip, and totally fell in love with the aesthetic peak. While searching about on the internet and through my memory, the knife-edge route came to mind.

As I also enjoy photography, (especially astrophotography) I checked the alignment of the milky way around the peak on Saturday night. When I saw that the milky way was going to be aligned over Capitol peak when viewing it from K2, I started getting excited. When I found that the moon was going to set around 10pm (4 hours before the optimal milky way alignment), I about fell out of my chair!

The galactic center was going to be aligned over Capitol on a moonless weekend night?!?! I could hardly contain myself.

My initial plan was to hike up to K2 before the alignment, get the shot, then continue on to Capitol and bivvy atop Capitol for the night. I thought up all the risks involved, but was worried I was missing a few, so I posted about it here on I got lots of awesome feedback, a couple things to consider, and lots of people wishing me luck. (Thanks everyone! The community on this site is awesome!)

Weather forecasts went from bad to worse throughout the week as monsoonal moisture moved into the area.

Friday night's forecast for Saturday night was the grimmest of all, and I went to bed with completely changed plans for Saturday.

I woke up late and groggily checked the report one last time on Saturday morning. The forecasts had radically changed. There was supposed to be a 40% chance of rain until midnight, and then only a marginal chance from then and into Sunday morning. The cloud cover didn't look great for milky way shots, but I didn't care, as clouds can make for glorious sunrises.

...I re-packed in a rush, made sure my SD cards were cleared, topped of my arsenal of batteries...and then got delayed.

Finally, at 3PM, it was go time!


The drive to the trail-head was largely uneventful...Until I had an awful realization while flying past the soaring chosspile known as Glenwood Canyon.

A sample of my internal dialouge:

"Boy, those rocks sure are pretty, but I would never want to climb them. Too much choss."
. . .
"You know what's great for choss? Helmets! I've heard Capitol is a bit chossy, so I'm glad I brought my...Well, crap."


With a quick stop in Glenwood Springs and one over-priced helmet purchase later, I was back on the road.

I arrived at the Capitol Creek trailhead around 7pm...3 hours later than I had planned. No worries though! I saddled up and launched an assault on the ditch trail. I'm always nervous and uneasy in the days leading up to my solo trips, but once I set foot on the trail, all that unease dissipated, and I found a rhythm quickly. The weather looked cloudy and unsettled, but I had packed and prepared for almost anything.

I got to Capitol Lake at 9pm, and felt I was making good time, especially since I was stopping for photos and video along the way.

I refilled my 1.5L bottle at Capitol Lake, chugged most of it, and then refilled it again. I knew that 1.5L wasn't much for what I had ahead of me, but since I had kept very hydrated all day, I wasn't overly worried.

With a slightly sloshy tummy, I went about the task of ascending the K2-Daly saddle. It went by surprisingly quickly, and I stopped on top to take in the view. As I munched on the first of my 4 PB&J's, I watched as Aspen and another small town glowed far away in the roaring fork valley. The skies were clearing much more quickly than the forecast, a friendly group of bats were keeping any errant bugs at bay, and the green flash of my SPOT tracker set my mind at ease as I checked the route description ahead.

I grabbed my bag and started down from the saddle, when suddenly an early perseid (shooting star) soared from the pinnacle of the sky down past the horizon right in front of me. I stopped in my tracks, reflected on just exactly where I was and how lucky I was to be in the mountains, and felt infinitely grateful. This was shaping up to be a sublime evening.

I knew I was supposed to drop down a bit, but felt like I was dropping down too far, so I headed back up towards what I thought was the boulderfield to K2. Big mistake.

I found and followed cairns, but the trail slowly deteriorated, and I eventually found myself on dirty 4th/lower 5th class terrain. The pieces of soil hidden between the broken rock were unstable from that day's rainstorms, and I was having trouble finding solid purchase with my running shoes. I watched as the void behind me increased, started to doubt I was on route, and eventually found a place where I would have to traverse beneath a roof on wet ledges.

"Screw this," I thought. This could not be the right route at all. Sure, Capitol was supposed to be the "hardest 14er" and all, but this was absolutely ludicrous!

Thankfully, some backtracking eventually got me to the boulderfield below. As I gazed up at the cliffs I was previously on with my "route-finding-spotlight-torch-sun-cannon-9000", I saw just how ridiculous the route I was trying to follow earlier was. With some choice words for whoever built those cairns up on that cliff, I pushed on through the boulderfield. The sketchy detour had cost me at least 2 hours...I guess that's what I get for doing this peak for the first time at night.

I've always had a strange love for rock-hopping since I was a kid, so even though the boulder field seemed to stretch on forever, I found a rhythm and was happy as a clam all the way up to K2. I knew the milky way alignment would be soon though, so I really hauled through the last section.

The "climb" up K2 was a blast (especially compared to the earlier "Cliffs of doom"), and it re-kindled the confidence that my off-route adventure had sucked out of me.

I turned off my headlight as soon as I summited K2, and it took my eyes a bit to adjust from the ridiculously bright headlight halo.

I sat down to catch my breath, and as my rods and cones kicked into high gear, the heaven's slowly revealed their true majesty. I've been to a lot of places without light pollution, but not at almost 14,000 feet...

I don't have words for what it felt like to be beneath that kind of sky while simultaneously sitting on top of the world. All I have is this picture:

I decided to skip continuing onto Capitol that night, as a time-lapse would be much more photogenic from K2, there was a brilliant bivvy spot already in place, I realized just how hellish it would be to retreat from Capitol if the weather decided to change its mind in the middle of the night, and the tendrils of exhaustion had just started to creep in around my limbs.

After taking the above picture and setting up my camera for a time-lapse, I got out my bivvy gear and headed to bed.

...Well, I tried to head to bed, but I just couldn't bring myself to close my eyes on that view.

Shooting stars streaked across the sky at regular intervals, leaving shimmering trails that were in no hurry to dissipate. The milky way's nebulous clouds stretched from horizon to horizon, and I just couldn't take it all in. I teared up, started quietly laughing at the beauty of it all, and went on like that for a while.

The exhaustion finally caught up with me around 2am, and I drifted off in a blissful state.


I awoke just barely before my alarm to see the sky growing brighter in the east. I shook the frost from my bivvy sack, got out to walk around, and then quickly dove back into the warmth of my sleeping bag. It was really cold!

"Truly nipples degrees," as a few of my friends would say.

I stayed in my bag and nibbled on breakfast (More PB&J's) as the clear sky slowly brightened.

Right before the sun broke the horizon, I finally psyched myself up to leave the warmth of my bag, did some jumping jacks, and jogged down to my camera. It (amazingly) was still clicking away from the night before, but the battery was on its last legs, so I popped a new one in. I re-aligned my camera and waited for the first beams to hit capitol...

The sunrise was just as amazing as I had expected, but I had my day's work cut out for me, so I ran back to my bivvy spot and started packing up.

I set up another time lapse as I selected the gear I would need for the last ridge traverse to capitol, stowed my bivvy gear in between some rocks, and shoved more food in my face.

On the way over to capitol, I found the rock was better higher on the ridge, and I love exposure, so I attempted to stay as high as possible.

I ran into another party and decided to stick with them, as it was fun to have some conversation buddies while picking my way across occasionally loose terrain.

The summit was breathtaking, and although a couple of the other hikers complained about the "Haziness," I loved watching the clouds rush around the blocky terrain that we were perched on top of.

I set up another timelapse, destroyed another PB&J, and took stock of my water. The bottle was about 1/3rd full and I felt great, so I wasn't worried.

I joined my conversation buddies (I can't remember their names for the life of me) for the descent, and it was really nice to route-find as a group instead of making all the decisions myself.

On the way back across the knife-edge, I stopped for a few shenanigans and some photos:

The rest of the hike was uneventful other than a few hilarious glissading fails, and I was happy to be back down by Capitol Lake so quickly.

After a quick cool-off dip and water re-fill, I half-jogged down the trail. I made great time, which was partly due to alpine-refreshed-joy-powered strides and partly due to a grumbly stomach, as my PB&J supply had run dry.

Some well-met trailside raspberry bushes topped off a truly amazing adventure right before I got back in the car and headed back to to civilization.

I guess it's back to daydreaming in my cube. I can't wait to see where the mountains call me next....


^The direct embed youtube video feature isn't working?^


    Cheap foamie thermarest (non-inflatable)
    20F down bag
    SOL escape bivvy bag
    1.5L cheapo water bottle + iodine tablets
    SPOT tracker
    first aid kit
    extra pair wool socks
    thin synthetic running socks
    Running shoes
    black tights
    quick dry shorts and shirt
    down puffy
    rain jacket
    4x PB&J's
    a couple bars and gels for quick eating
    small tarp
    sony a7 + 50mm + 14mm
    small tripod
    remote cabled release
    Wag bag
    crazy bright headlight
    crazy bright spotlight for route-finding
    extra batteries for lighting
    Cell Phone

Comments or Questions

Holy Hell
08/12/2016 03:43
That was freaking amazing man! Brings back great memories. And the time lapse in the video of the night sky might be the most incredible thing I've seen


Capitol Accomplishment!
08/12/2016 08:21
That video was amazing! Go Team Sony! Well worth the price of a helmet, loss of sleep and a hysterical glissade!

I shared your video on Team Sony Group on Flickr, Fantastic work!

08/12/2016 08:42
The TR & pics are great. Really enjoyed.


08/12/2016 09:59
Pics were really great. Nice work.


08/12/2016 10:14
In a world of shitty go pro videos this is absolutely refreshing. Beautifully done.

Phill the Thrill

08/12/2016 10:29
Wow! Fantastic video and some amazing pics. Thanks for bringing back some great memories of our Capitol climb.


08/12/2016 12:25
That was a fun report! Beautiful pics and video. I am 0 for 2 on Capitol, and that makes me want to give it a 3rd try soon...


08/14/2016 07:31
Great night photo work with the milky way, very cool.


08/15/2016 15:34
From a fellow photographer, awesome shots man. There is nothing like a sunrise at 14k feet, but I haven't slept up there for the milky way yet...


you got
08/17/2016 23:03
a skill man. great work and love the way you documented the climb.


very nice
08/30/2016 08:58
These are probably the pictures which best depict what it's like to climb a 14er that I've seen. Sometimes those who see pictures just don't "get" what it's like up there, your pictures bring those feelings through profoundly. The progressiveness of the day from night to sun up to midday has been captured entirely. I can feel the cold rock on my hands in the early morning. I can feel the chilly morning breeze above tree line. I can sense my sweaty back and the misery that will soon accompany it when I put my backpack back on after a quick break. I can feel the heat on my neck in the afternoon. You should be very proud of your talent.


Beautiful photos and video
08/28/2017 10:11
Wow - what outstanding photos. The photos and video from K2 with the pinwheeling Milky Way were superb. Your work deserves a wide audience. I loved the comment "In a world of sh*tty GoPro videos this is absolutely refreshing." I second that. I will almost surely never make it to the top of Capitol due to age and agoraphobia, so I appreciate even more being able to see your experience. One question: Did you have to up climb back to get your glissading shot - because that seemed like a long glissade to have to re-climb ...

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