Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
"K2"  -  13,664 feet
Date Posted:  07/22/2017
Date Climbed:   07/17/2017
Author:  mountainman102
Additional Members:   CliminDave
 Climbing Capitol   

Route: Northeast Ridge *Classic*
Capitol Creek TH: 9,420 ft.
Summit: 14,130 ft.
Total Distance: 18.96 miles, Hike From Campsite and Back: 4.4 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 5,389 ft.
Hiking Time (On Mountain): 6 hours and 55 minutes.

Day 1:

Sunday morning, Dave, Joe, and I departed and headed towards Capitol Creek TH. The dirt road getting to the trailhead was rough and narrow and there were many 2-wheel drive cars parked along the side before the standard parking lot. We began hiking from Capitol Creek (9,420 feet) at 16:25 catching glimpses of the peak early on.

Early Views of Capitol (Photo: Joe)

We decided to avoid the 400-foot drop to Capitol Creek by taking the West Side Story Approach. This approach was a gentle class 1 backpack in. The views are beautiful and it is well worth it to hike in the night before. The trail is easy to follow, but we had to take a quick detour around all the cows!

Cows Causing a Detour

We arrived at the campsite at 1925. We were 6.6 miles in and I was amazed with how beautiful the base of Capitol is. The campsites are right below the lake and the designated sites are well marked. Another plus was we did not have to fight off any mountain goats as we did in the Chicago Basin last month!

Views From Camp (Pano Photo: Joe)

Day 2:

We woke up early in the morning to enjoy a warm breakfast and fill our water bottles/camelbacks. We began hiking at 0630 up the well distinguished class 1 trail to the saddle between Daly and ‚K2.' We reached the saddle at 0700 following a few hikers with about 8 behind us.

Looking Back At Capitol Lake as We Approach the Saddle

The views were already gorgeous and I enjoyed every moment of it as the Elk mountain range is just so amazing. We descended part of the way down the other side and began traversing across a combination of snow fields and rocks. We all took axes, Joe brought micro-spikes, and I opted to leave my crampons back in the car. The snow was well tracked over the only steep crossing and I felt no need for anything on my shoes. Joe put on his spikes for the final snow field. The axes were a nice reassurance, but it would have been possible to hike it without them if you are comfortable with hiking in the snow. The snow was already softening up as the sun hits it quite early in the morning.

Myself Traversing Across the South Side of the Ridge (Photo: Dave)

The traverse all the way to the ridge below ‚K2" was class 2 and the snow seemed to expedite our movements. We hiked quite continuously until the very last snow section in the basin between Clark Peak and the ridge between the saddle and ‚K2." The snow became all rock at this point and the rest of the route was snow-free. The talus up the ridge seemed to take a while, but we made it up eventually meeting a few more hikers along the way.

Views of Capitol and "K2"

We gained some elevation along the ridge and then traversed about 40-50 feet below "K2's" summit. We were on some sort of a trail, but we saw another route about 75 feet lower which seemed more defined. I decided since I was so close I would grab ‚K2" and it was well worth it! It was a very quick class 3 scramble to the summit from where were traversing and took maybe a minute or two. Joe and Dave kept skirting around as I enjoyed the great views of Capitol.

Looking at Capitol From the Top of "K2"

I descended the somewhat west side as Dave and Joe had already made it around ‚K2" making sure to avoid the very difficult south side. With some route finding I was down the other side having to make only one class 4 move (the rest being class 3 for the most part). We moved along the ridge reaching the warm-up knife edge (I called it the plastic knife). Next, we got to the well-known knife edge with nobody near us. Dave went first, followed by myself, and finally Joe. Shout-out to Dave for filming me coming across the edge. I found it easiest to keep my hands on the top and feet on the south side (ascending climber's left) all the way. (May need to right click and choose "watch on Vimeo," it was loading quite slow for me.)

The knife edge is very airy and should be approached with great caution, but I did not consider the climbing to be difficult as the rock is thankfully solid, the exposure is just intense. We continued along the ridge to the cool-down edge (I call this one the butter knife as it has one airy move. After a few more feet on the ridge we dropped down the south face and began the long traverse around the face. The majority of the traverse was class 3/3+ with some class 4 thrown in. There were many routes across the face and we dropped below the most distinct trail (which we did not notice until descending). This section was the most time-consuming part of the climb as some of the rock is loose and it is possible to get into more difficult terrain without planning ahead. We choose a gully with a few cairns on it to ascend and regained the ridge. The ridge to the summit was fun finish as we followed a trai to the summit arriving at 1010. The GPS had us at 2.51 miles and we shared the summit with a few other hikers. We snapped a few pictures and a pano of the beautiful views of Snowmass and Maroon Bells.

Summit Pic! (Photo: Joe)
Summit Pano (Photo: Joe)

We ended up leaving behind a few groups of people which ended up slowing down our descent. The down climb took as long as the ascent as we were very concerned about dropping rocks and ended up doing a decent amount of stopping and waiting in order to make sure we were not climbing above anyone. After a long descent to the knife edge, we waited for everyone to cross watching the majority of the climbers in front of us straddle the edge which seemed more ‚awkward" as stated by Gerry Roach in his description of the edge in his guidebook.

Joe Following the Procession on the Knife Edge

We took our turn on the edge and came back the same way we went up. There was one odd rock which stuck out maybe 15-20 feet from the end (going down) where I briefly switched so my legs were on the north side (ascending climber's right) and quickly switched back after I was around. We continued descending, passed the hikers in front of us, and got some glissading in on the first snowfield!

Dave Glissading

We pressed on the descending traverse all the way back to the saddle as the snow had softened even more. We reached the saddle at 1255 and stopped to enjoy the southern views one last time. We reached camp at 1325, took a well-needed rest, packed up camp, and had a bite to eat. The GPS read 5,000 feet of total elevation gain and 11 miles since we started the day before. The hike from the campsite and back was 4.4 miles.

Wildflowers with Capitol in the Background
More Flowers (Photo: Joe)

At 1440, we threw on the heavy packs, and departed camp. We reached the livestock gate at 1530 and noticed the clouds were starting to build. The clouds continued to darken behind us and we thought we may get wet.

Dave Hiking Out

By the time we were about 2 miles out from the parking lot, the sky was quite dark over Capitol, but it was blue over us and it seemed the weather would hold. After reaching the ditch, we managed to herd some cattle down the trail for a little while as it appeared going off the trail was out of the question for them.

Herding the Cows

It was real fun walking through their crap as they impeded our paths most of the way back to the trailhead. We got back to the car at 1740 exactly 3 hours after we left camp which was surprisingly (or maybe not so much as our legs were exhausted), the exact amount of time it took us to backpack in. The GPS marked our total trip from car to
summit to car to be 18.96 miles with 5,389 feet of total elevation gain. This was a tough, yet very rewarding peak. I am looking forward to my next trip in the Elks!

**Note: The GPS was carried by Dave which is why is does not quite go over "K2.' There was also some issue with it (I think it died) right before the campground which is why there is the odd straight line on the track. This also threw off the mileage/elevation just a bit. Sorry about that!

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 3 5 6 8 9 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Comments or Questions
Bear Canisters
07/23/2017 11:52
Thanks for posting. I am going up on Thursday and wondered about needing an ice axe. What about a bear canister? Did you take one of those?


Bear Canisters
07/24/2017 13:59
@MOTownFrau - Best of luck on your adventure! I would bring an ice axe just in case and bear canisters are required by the U.S. Forest Service in this area. Here is a link regarding bear canisters by the forest service. USDA Forest Service Enjoy the climb!

Road conditions
08/08/2017 07:20
Thanks for posting ! How were the road conditions ? Did you guys have any issues driving to where the road ends?


Road Conditions
08/08/2017 08:23
@runner76: The road condition was dry when we drove up. The road is steep and narrow and could be more difficult in the mud. We had no problem driving to where the road ends, but we did have 4-wheel drive in a Hummer. There were some low-clearance vehicles parked at various spots going up the hill. Not sure if they stopped because they could not get any higher or they assumed the parking lot would be full.

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