Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Date Posted:  09/17/2019
Modified:  09/18/2019
Date Climbed:   08/20/2019
Author:  jchapell
Additional Members:   Stee
 Ye Olde Capitol   


I read a LOT of Capitol trip reports over the years - some for route finding, some for risk analysis, some for time estimates...this one will be pretty photo-heavy, but hopefully you still find it useful if you're thinking about hiking the Big C, and good reminiscing if you already have.

Capitol was a big decision for us (as I'm sure it is for nearly anyone around here). We have focused almost entirely on class 3-4 scrambles in CO and elsewhere for the last couple years, but the Capitol’s reputation still gave us pause. We were glad to climb with Sean (stee), who has shared great adventures on the Crestones and Lone Eagle Peak. We were back and forth on what peak to tackle, but when Capitol's forecast continued to develop into a perfect day it seemed like the right choice. We opted to backpack to the lake and spend night.

TH to Capitol Lake Campsites

6.8mi, 2409 ft (per gaia, included checking out campsites), 3hrs 30 min


Just steps from the TH

The hike to Capitol Lake was one of our favorite approach hikes overall (probably tied with the hike into Crater/Mirror lake for Lone Eagle Peak), and we hit it perfectly for peak wildflowers.We stayed on the Ditch Trail until it joined with Capitol Creek and figured out a decent crossing given the relatively high water level. The elevation gain was nice and gradual with only a few real climbs and great scenery the whole time - you can see Capitol from the moment you step out of the car.


A large aspen grove early in the hike. This must be incredible in the fall.




Seriously, does it get any better than this?

We had a pretty unique experience when we saw a black bear munching on some grass about 3/4 down the trail. He was probably 100 feet off the trail, and seemed happy to sit and eat, so we enjoyed the experience and continued on our way.


Hey buddy




Stream Crossings


More Flowers


And more flowers

Once we reached the campsites, we checked out sites 5-8 (they seemed closer), but they were full of climbers from the day before. We went back to 1-4. They may be slightly further away, but I think they are actually a better choice, as 5-8 have an annoying hill to climb. We went to dip our feet in the water at Capitol Lake, have dinner by the water, and scope out the ridge we'd be climbing the next day. We watched a dozen or so deer prance around some small snowfields during the sunset alpenglow, then turned in for the night.




Our evening entertainment


The ridge...It almost looks inviting with alpenglow

Capitol Lake to Summit

4:40 mi RT, 2280ft (5 hrs to summit, 3:20 descent to campsites)


We had discussed our departure time for a while, and landed on a 3am wakeup, and would depart whenever we were ready. We left the campsites around 3:45, and after a stop by the lake were on the trail up to the saddle w Mt. Daly. That initial hill was quite a wakeup, but was over soon enough, with just enough moonlight for views through the other side once we reached the top.

We began the traverse around the east side, which included crossing a number of snow-filled gullies. We had debated bringing along microspikes, but were very glad we had them - the pre-dawn snow was very firm and hard packed, and a couple of the snowfields would have been dicy. The scrambling began here and there, as well as some Elk loose boulders.


Even here, these refrigerator sized blocks would sometimes thunder as they rocked under our weight

Eventually, just as the sky began to brighten, we reached a final steep snowfield. We reached the hard right hand turn under K2 (around 12,700) around sunrise, with beautiful alpenglow and neon purple clouds.


The last snowfield - it was steep!


Some crazy clouds during sunrise


Around this time, my wife began to have some nausea struggles from what we assume was altitude issues. It was a rough day for her, as from here on out she wasn't able to keep anything down. She really gritted through to finish a difficult day with almost no calories and feeling low the whole time - what a champ! I definitely would have called it early.


My incredible wife, fighting through altitude sickness.

We got near the base of K2 (with views opening up to the rest of the Elks), with one of the few decisions for the climb: over the top of K2 on solid, but more difficult rock, or traverse around to the right on easier loose rock. We decided to give a shot going up and over and deal with the class 4 downclimb. I'm not 100% positive we were on route descending off of K2, but it felt like solid, stiff class 4 downclimb...never particularly exposed to the whole mountainside like the knife edge, but certainly several moves to pay close attention to.


Ascending K2


Moving down the ~Class 4 backside of K2


Beginning the NE ridge proper after K2

Once off K2, we were very quickly getting close to the knife edge. We had different feelings about it in our party of three, depending on the our current feelings about exposure, health levels, and general feelings about the route. Personally, while I didn’t felt any "heeby jeebies" on the knife edge and really enjoyed it (excellent rock, lots of holds, great exposure, and an incredible position), I was thankful for good conditions – ice/wind/rain would make this a different animal! As others have said, I think the section would be basic class 2 or easy class 3 if not for the exposure. There are a couple points where the position changes are somewhat awkward, from butt-scootch, to higher butt-scootch, to traverse, to other side traverse. These transitions take a little forethought about balance and holds.


After crossing the knife edge and the following "butter knife" ridges, we began the ascent of the summit tower. Up until this point I felt like we had made pretty good moving time, but things slow down here – the route steepens, route finding takes attention, and every step needs to be tested while keeping solid 3 points of contact. The combined conditions lead to a need to remain fully focused - look for the route, evaluate the rock, test its stability, consider your personal balance if something shifts. Repeat, while moving, a thousand times...then ramp up the focus level for the descent. For me, it was impressive that so much rock was (at least temporarily) stable, when EVERYTHING looked like it was disconnected and ready to slide down the big hill.


This is just after the knife edge.


All the scrambled blocks to work through


A steeper section nearing the summit ridge


The views don't suck!

Eventually, we finished the long ascending traverse, wrapped around the back, and climbed up to the summit ridge. The fun returned once on the summit ridge, with some great scrambling until the actual summit itself.



The summit itself is small-ish, with incredible views into the barren Pierre Lakes basin on one side, and the lush Capitol Lake basin on the other. We hadn't seen anyone else on the mountain at that point (and didn't until well into the descent), so lounged on the the summit alone for awhile. It was a nice respite from the moderate intensity of the ascent and upcoming descent.


Summit Crew!

The descent took a lot of time, effort, and focus. At some point we got only 20 feet off route, and had some nerveracking, loose downclimbing to get back on track. Otherwise, it was relatively uneventful until we got back to K2, save for the dozen scrapes on my ankles and calves from rocks flipping into my legs. Since we had gone over the top of K2 for the class 4 variation on the ascent, we opted to try the class three traverse around K2 for the descent. It was pretty crappy - I'd opt for the class 4 up-and-over option.


Practice those dips...


Sean giving some beta on the descent


Hopefully this gives some sense of scale




Back on the knife edge

After a sloshy descent through the snowfields, we finally made it to the Mt. Daly saddle, and eventually down the hill to Capitol Lake. After a quick foot soak and pack up, it was time to cruise the 6 miles back to the trailhead. A few miles, cows, and flowers later we were back at the car.


Overall, I think Capitol had a different feel for each of us. Capitol’s reputation seems well earned - it’s not a death trap, but there is considerable time with very consequential scrambling and hiking. For me, everything through the end of the knife edge was awesome. After the knife edge, there was a lot of mental energy to stay focused on all those loose blocks in an extended no fall zone. I’m glad that we had such a gorgeous overall experience - the approach, wildflowers, Capitol Lake, Pierre Lakes Basin - to accompany the day. The Elks will impress in any conditions, and we were fortunate with a perfect day.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

Comments or Questions

09/18/2019 01:20
One of the best reports I've read on Capitol. Thanks for putting this up.


09/18/2019 07:17
Wonderful documentation and an exceptional photographic journey. This is really well done. And congrats!


I agree!
09/18/2019 07:26
Great report -- lots of excellent shots with informative, interesting narration. Your trip pretty much paralleled my ascent up Capitol back in 2011. What an amazing mountain! If this peak were just a little bit more accessible I would make it an annual repeat. I LOVED it! Skirting around K2 was actually the crux for me -- very steep and unstable rocks to maneuver in. And like you said, after you reach K2 you need to be completely focused on your every move the rest of the way. But what a blast it is! I also found the flower displays along the route to be among the best I've ever encountered.

Thanks for the memories it brought!


Jay & Boston
09/18/2019 07:33
Thanks Guys- It was quite a day on a serious mountain - glad you enjoyed it!


09/18/2019 07:36
Good description! Ya- when we went around K2 on the return, not only was it loose and unstable, but the runout is quite a gully/dropoff down to the lake! Going over the top is definitely a more difficult scramble, but on stable rock with more of a 15-20 foot drop...
I'm glad it brought back good memories, it's definitely one that will be solidified in our minds for a long time!


Great Recap
09/18/2019 11:51
What a trip man! I love all the pictures. I'm pretty sure I wore the same thing on Lone Eagle and the Crestones. Must be good luck!!!


Nice work
09/18/2019 14:09
And great photos! Capitol is a tough peak, glad that you guys got it done. (Good to see that you're going after it, Sean!)

Awesome Report!
09/18/2019 14:16
Beautiful photos and great information regarding your hike and summit. Thanks for sharing!


Photo set up?
09/22/2019 20:42
Incredible shoots, moreso by the variety. You're shooting action directly into sunrises, that depth of field bear shot, and capturing good low light detail. I'm very curious on your set up if you don't mind


09/22/2019 21:24
I'm flattered that you noticed!
I've experimented a lot over the years, and take it pretty seriously (my photography website is linked in my profile). My go to camera setup over the last year+ if it's a hiking trip has been a fast wide-angle mounted on a Sony a7rIII, and a Sony RX100 VI serving as a standard and telephoto lens (it has an equivalent lens of 24-200). For this particular trip the wide angle was a Tamron 17-28mm F2.8.
- The a7riii can shoot directly in the sun without issue, though I usually shoot a three shot bracket if I'm aiming into the sun just in case. Those Sony sensors are incredible! The Tamron is a new wide angle that's super small and quality. It also allows me to shoot overnight/sunrise timelapses, astrophotography, etc - super versatile.
- I find that I'm rarely needing a fast lens for telephoto shots on hiking trips, so the RX100 is a killer tool for long shots (like the bear), and also takes great video. I use it when I'm climbing as well bc it's so tiny and quality.

The a7rIII goes in a toploader on my chest (I'm not a fan of capture clips when scrambling, it's a good way to scratch up your camera and is too fiddly when you're scrambling). The RX100 goes in pocket, around my neck and down my shirt, or usually on a zipper pocket on the toploader. That way either camera can go out/shoot/back in with only one hand, and nothing is swinging around while climbing.

Let me know what you do!

Nice report!
09/24/2019 15:12
What a great report! Also good job! I loved your pics, they were awesome! Me and my buddy almost did Capitol at the beginning of August but decided to go for Maroon because we heard there was still a lot of snow up there


09/25/2019 15:23
Thanks! I bet Maroon was awesome - There was a fair amount of snow by the time we got there, but only on the non-technical portions...up on the ridge it was dry as a bone.


Summit ridge
01/17/2020 19:04
I too have looked at a lot of Capitol TRs, and this is one of the best. And, for whatever reason, I've seen very few pics of the summit ridge - so I really appreciate photos 4, 5, 9, 10, etc. There are a lot of great shots, but those spots on the mountain seem to escape the eye of the camera for many. Summit fever, I suppose.

Our group has our eye on a second attempt at Capitol this summer - made it to the summit end of the knife edge first try before turning back due to sketchy weather. With that in front of us, your written description of the climbing beyond the knife edge is also really helpful. I've known from many TRs and several in-person accounts not to underestimate the difficulty of that terrain, but your description really seems to put it in perspective.


DeTour - Summit Ridge
01/19/2020 18:19
Thanks DeTour! As you plan LMK if you would like me to send you a link to the photo album from our climbing day - it has another couple dozen photos of the summit ridge after the knife edge + a video or two. Best of luck!


High Quality Report
06/11/2020 14:08
Excellent report. Great photos. Good team work, route finding, etc. You didn't overhype, or undersell. Happy medium report was perfect. Look forward to doing it later this summer.

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