Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Date Posted:  07/27/2020
Date Climbed:   08/15/2019
Author:  jvirene
 Capitol- Ending the Season Right   

Capitol Peak

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Introduction: On other mountains, I write trip reports. They tell a comprehensive and thorough story that captures my experience hiking and hopefully sheds some light and wisdom as I recall the adventure. Capitol is different though, and because the experience was unique, I want my trip report to be unique as well. By the end of this report, I want all my readers to get a better understanding of my vision and how I want to use the mountains as a canvas for my creativity as an athlete and mountaineer.

Preface: The summer following our senior year of high school was quickly coming to an end. Within two weeks, both Philip and I would be back to the confines of our respective classrooms. The seemingly endless freedom of being in the fresh air of the mountains, where all that matters is staying safe and reaching your objective would be replaced with stress, deadlines, and assignments.This would also be our last adventure that we would embark on before we’d go our separate ways off to different colleges; Philip attending Boulder, and myself at CSU, rivaling schools in Colorado. We wanted to end our summer with one final, epic trip in which we attempted the hardest mountain that we had ever climbed.

Preparation: One of my favorite parts about this trip is how smoothly everything went due to excellent preparation. A motif in a lot of my reports is how impactful preparation (or lack thereof) is on the flow and success of the trip. We prepared perfectly for this trip and were very happy with the results. Because I was familiar with the route up to K2, and that both Phil and I had a good bit of backpacking and hiking experience under our belts, we knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into and prepared accordingly. For this trip, I brought all of the standard backpacking necessities (tent, sleeping bag & pad, etc....) and appropriate gear for the ridge up Capitol (helmet, 2.5 liters of water, rain shell). The weather looked flawless as well, no rain or clouds in the forecast. We both familiarized ourselves with the route leading up to the summit and had obsessively watched many YouTube videos to ensure that we understood everything. All that was left to do from this point was to go out there and do it.

The drive: We left Morrison at around 2:00 PM and were unamused with the first 2 hours up the 1-70 corridor, a route that we had taken so many times that it felt like a commute. Once past Vail however, this portion of 1-70 was further than we usually drive on the highway, so we enjoyed vaguely familiar scenery. We hauled through the desert-like landscape past Vail going through Eagle, and then enjoyed the drive through Glenwood canyon, and arrived in Glenwood Springs soon enough. Once at Glenwood Springs, we made our way south towards Carbondale, and I felt stoke building as we made our way closer to the trailhead. Philip’s Mazda CX-5 loved the bumpy dirt road towards the top of the trailhead and without much further effort, we made it. I stepped out of the car, and came face to face with our objective, looming miles ahead. Capitol peak stood proudly overlooking the landscape miles ahead, calling Philip and I.



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Capitol looming in the distance.
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Trailhead photos.

The approach: One tiny fault in our planning was how late we left town, as we arrived at the trailhead at around 6:00, not giving ourselves much time to hike up to the lake and setup camp before darkness would set in. This was not a major issue, but while at the car, we knew that we would have to get moving soon. I threw my pack on, and then impatiently watched Philip throw together his dual-pack setup. Once ready, we had the "lets do this attitude" and began descending the trail down to the creek. I pointed out to Philip where I had seen a bear the previous year, hoping to maybe see another one on this trip. We reached the river crossing that marked the end of the descent down the trail and heard the distant “moos” of the cows get closer as we passed through the private land.

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Phil admiring Capitol
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Hiking through the valley

Soon enough we ran into the cows who were peacefully grazing nearby the trail. This hike was very pleasant since we did it in the evening, when the temperatures in the mountains are a cool 60-70 degrees. We pressed onwards, hiking through aspen groves and these meadows filled with colorful wildflowers. We reached the end of our approach to Capitol Lake as the sun was setting.

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Sunset from near the campgrounds.

I felt more strained on this approach compared to that of Snowmass, I think because the trail up to Capitol Lake is, on average a bit steeper. Nevertheless, the temperatures, beautiful scenery, and solid trail made for a smooth and enjoyable hike.

Capitol Lake: The sun was beginning to set for the evening as we were only about ½ a mile away from the lake. As if on cue, it had just set by the time we reached our campsite. We had to set our camp up in the dark but were grateful that despite our late start to the day, we did not have to hike with our headlamps and navigate through dark forest. Darkness swallowed the entire area by the time we finished dinner.

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Capitol Peak from the campgrounds at around 8:45. You can't complain about this view!

There were only 1-2 other groups at the campsites, and I was very pleased with the solitude and peace that we enjoyed that night. In pitch dark conditions I gazed at the stars above, remembering how beautiful they are without the light pollution from nearby cities. The dust of the milky way covered the entire sky.

Though both Philip and I were anxious and excited for the day ahead, we knew that proper sleep would be a factor in ensuring our success, so we went to bed, ready for the next morning to arrive. I ended up actually being somewhat tired from the approach and slept fairly well until I heard the 4:00 alarm beckoning for us to get up and get ready. I was surprised at how well I slept because I am usually too excited the night before a hike to get any good sleep. I'm thankful that this was not the case on this trip. We did some quick preparation including a brief breakfast. The cool night air and excitement got me up quickly, I was ready for the day.


The hike: We started our hike at around 5:00 and hiked from our campsites to the slope that leads to the K2-Daly saddle. We saw some deer peacefully sitting beside the trail, enjoying the sunrise from higher up on the mountain. While the sun slowly creeped its way into the sky, we made our way up the somewhat steep slope up the mountain to the saddle, anticipating the climb ahead. Morning alpenglow made for beautiful scenery while we slogged up this portion. By the time we were at the saddle, daylight was in full swing.

Once on the saddle, I realized I had forgotten my sunglasses at camp. Not the end of the world but the brightness had me wishing that I wasn’t so absent-minded with my foggy 4AM brain. We dropped down the saddle, continuing our way along the standard route towards the boulder field that goes up K2. There were a couple snow crossings that we had to traverse. My incident on Snowmass made me wish I had some sort of traction or an ice axe, but the crossings were short, and it was obvious that many other groups had done fine with just trail runners, so we also made it across without issue.

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Sunlight began to pour onto the mountains.

Once across the patches of snow, we made it to the Boulder field, ready to get onto some more difficult terrain. We got through about thirty minutes of rock-hopping and made it to the class ¾ that goes up K2. From this point onward, we knew that we had to be alert, dialed in, and ready to embark on an amazing climb.

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Phil on the last section of trail up to K2.
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Working our way up the summit block.

Climb: I’ll break this into sections to ensure there is no confusion as to our location on the mountain and be thorough with every section.

K2: The initial obstacle was the summit block of K2. Some parties choose to skirt around the mountain, but we were more familiar with the route that goes up, and we wanted to warm up our scrambling, so I climbed up the class three first, followed by Philip. The rock is bomber on the summit block, so we enjoyed our quick warmup and topped out face to face with the king of the Elks, Capitol Peak. The summit of K2 also offers an incredible, albeit, somewhat intimidating view of the remaining route up to the summit. Phil and I stopped to check out the route, and build up our stoke for the climb up to the summit. After a brief break for water, we also assessed the weather, conditions were bluebird- not a cloud in the sky, you couldn’t have asked for better, so we knew we were proceeding. The down-climb from K2 is only a little bit spicy. It is definitely class three with a couple class four moves if you do it right. We took this portion of steep down-climbing slowly but were completely comfortable working our way towards easier terrain on the ridge.

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The remaining ridge-line up to the summit from K2.

Knife Edge: The knife edge comes soon after the K2 down-climb, and Philip and I were very ready to see what all the hype was about. Philip went first, and I closely watched while recording as he began to send it. We both did a combination of 3-4-point contact and attempting to walk across. Philip walked across a good portion, while I preferred the seemingly safer option of a more prone traverse. I still did one part of it walking. While on the edge, I looked at the exposure on either side. It was a slab of granite that just drops off on either side- exactly how you'd picture a knife edge, though I did not feel unsafe at any point and was unfazed by the exposure.

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Philip.
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Me

The ridge: Once across the knife edge, the route continues along the ridge for a bit before it starts to gain elevation. This portion was low third class- making its way across with little elevation gain and went by pretty quickly. The rock along this portion is likely the last part before it begins to get a lot looser and more sketch. Rockfall becomes a much bigger factor beyond this point, as rock can be sent down from climbers above.

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A section of climbing past the ridge

Once we were at the part of the route where the ascending begins again, we were passed by a couple of very experienced climbers, who had started from the trailhead, and would summit well before us. We followed their route, which closely hugged the ridge proper up to the top. Per their advice, though the climbing was much more technical class four than the standard route, it was certainly a lot more fun. It was crazy to see how quick these two worked their way up the ridge, unfazed by the exposure, and confident in their holds. It was really awesome to see these guys completely show us up with their superior athletic prowess and climbing ability. Phil and I had seemingly just found our new role models! Throughout the ridge up to the summit, I felt very comfortable on the rock. I had confidence in myself and my ability, which I feel, helped my mental game throughout the long day on exposed and loose rock. We continued following these two hikers up to the summit. They reached it well before us, but we found them on top soon enough. We didn't take our phones out for pictures for this part due to the high exposure and having too much fun on the class four scrambling. Though here is our line up to the summit.

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We hugged the ridge pretty closely, then decided to traverse back to the standard route.

The summit: Phil and I worked our way towards the last portion of the climb, which works its way through some large rock to a small, rocky summit. We saw the other groups resting on top and knew that we had made it. Both of us were very stoked at our accomplishment and enjoyed the incredible views along with some snacks and water while we rested. We also talked with the other hikers, who all seemed very experienced in the mountains. We got some insane pictures at the top, but nothing that my iPhone 8 camera would ever be able to do justice to. I can try to capture it, but you really have to see the views for yourself and experience them with your eyes to appreciate the beauty. Here are some summit views anyways.



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Shots of Satan's ridge, again stay tuned.
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Capitol Lake and Mount Daly from the summit.


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A really cool summit shot


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People have tried descending the mountain down this and have been cliffed out.

From here, we knew that we still had a long day that would demand our focus and physical exertion ahead of us, so we knew that we should begin our descent.

The down-climb:

Summit ridge: I felt that climbing up the mountain was a lot easier than descending. When you are climbing up, you are facing forwards, towards the rock. This is a lot more of a natural body position and so I felt safe and comfortable. You’re also looking at the rock ahead of you and not the hundreds of feet of exposure below that you see while down-climbing. We also knew how loose and unstable the rock was, so descending took extra time, so as to ensure that we did not send anything down the mountain or endanger others. Regardless, I still enjoyed the descent, but was way more attentive and dialed in than while I climbed up. Philip and I carefully descended back towards the ridge, feeling much more confident about the rock when we got off the long pitch that goes up to the summit. During the down-climb of this portion, I was still confident in myself, but couldn’t shake the pang in my brain that a portion of my fate rested in the mountain and the holds that I used to descend. One wrong step could send a large rock down.

The ridge: Most of the ridge was very straightforward, including the knife edge. The ridge leading up to the knife edge went by very quickly, and the class three climbing was very enjoyable. Once we had reached the knife edge, I again stopped to take a video of Philip as he walked across. As I was recording, I saw him misstep and quickly drop to all fours. This definitely gave me an adrenaline rush, but I knew that he was skilled enough and could make it across. Once he was across, I was up. My walk across in the morning was not as much of a flex, so I wanted to do it right this time and get a video of a more sustained walk. I began the tightrope style walk across the ridge, but past a certain point, I knew that my safety was the most important, so again, I did the combo of three-point contact and walking.

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Last portion leading to the ridge

K2: We reached K2 and by this point, I was a bit mentally exhausted, and ready to get back to solid ground. Philip decided to re-ascend K2, while I opted to skirt to hiker’s left to avoid any more climbing and exposure. I was done for the day! Phil’s route was much quicker, and he watched as I struggled to traverse a loose, rocky gully back towards the route. We met up and were both thrilled to be “out of the woods” off of the most serious portions of rockfall, climbing and exposure.

Boulder field & Saddle: We hiked down the rock field from K2, and then proceeded towards the saddle. By this point, both of us were a bit tired, but mostly just excited about a successful ascent of Capitol Peak without any issues of any kind. Both of us were a little surprised at how seamlessly both the ascent and descent off the mountain went by. On other trips by this point, we’d have run into issues of one kind or another. We figured that with how experienced we were by this point, our preparation, conditions and everything had just lined up perfectly, and all our hard work had payed off. We got some gorgeous pictures at the K2-Daly saddle of Capitol Lake and the surrounding mountains, then proceeded down the slope back towards our campsite.

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Halfway down from the K2-Daly saddle

Capitol Lake: We reached the junction for the Capitol Peak route and decided that we would go hang out at Capitol lake to rest and enjoy the scenery. We saw a couple of people, and it felt amazing to when they asked, say “yea we just came back from the summit of Capitol”. We admired the amazing summit of the mountain from the lake and got some more awesome pictures. We then, rested for a bit longer at camp before we reached the consensus that we were ready to head back.

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Trail junction
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A shot of Capitol from the lake, taken after we conquered the mountain

The return: After packing up all of our gear, we were ready to say goodbye to the mountain. This would mark our last alpine adventure for a few months before ski season would start, so it was a bit of a sad goodbye. We got a couple more pictures, then began the 6-7-mile hike back out to the car. Capitol Peak watchfully stood in the distance as we slowly grew further away from its summit. Though we were both very tired, Phil and I enjoyed the beautiful hike back to the car just as much as the hike up. I took in the fresh air and scenery, knowing that I’d be back for more; maybe not in the near future, but not too long from this point. It was a bit hot, since we started hiking at around 2:00 in mid-August. We did not experience the true pains of a long hike until we were ½ a mile away from the trailhead. This is where it gets steep and is all exposed to the hot sunlight. Without stopping, we hauled our way back to the car and were both dripping in sweat by the time we reached it. Once my pack was off and we cooled down, what we accomplished finally set in. Philip and I celebrated in the car with the A/C blasting. We then made the four-hour drive home feeling satisfied and accomplished.

Review: Capitol peak was honestly one of the sickest mountains that I’ve ever climbed. It is truly an adventure that is worth doing. The summit of the mountain offers some gorgeous views of the Elk mountains and surrounding ranges. As far as the difficulty goes, I thought that it was a bit exaggerated. Yes, it is a long day on a technical route, but with adequate skill and preparation, it is very doable. This was Philip and I’s first class four route, but we had lots of experience on class three, and felt ready to move up. The scenery on the approach and the mountain itself is something you need to experience with your own eyes to see the insane beauty of this region. I enjoyed the scrambling; it was technical and always interesting. If someone asked me to do Capitol again, I'd say yes without a second thought, it is one of my favorite hikes to this day.

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Alpenglow on Capitol.

My advice to anyone who wants to climb Capitol:

  1. This trip taught us how easy hikes can be with proper preparation. If you prepare properly by bringing all the right gear and familiarizing yourself with the route, it minimizes outside sources of difficulty that will make your trip less fun.
  2. Check the weather. The route is pretty committing and having the weather turn sour past the knife edge would put you in a bad situation, just avoid this.
  3. Have good experience climbing on technical terrain. The climb will be a lot more fun if you feel comfortable throughout, and the best way to do this is to attain the proper experience! I enjoyed the hard stuff because I knew that I wouldn’t fall or screw up so I was able to just enjoy it.
  4. Unless you’re an insane athlete, just camp overnight, you get more time to enjoy the beautiful views and Capitol Lake. This also distributes the mileage and stress on your body over 2-3 days, so your body and mind will feel fresher on your climb.
  5. Just go out and do it, these mountains are sick and they’re here for us all to enjoy so go enjoy them.






Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
ltlFish99
Excellent report
07/27/2020 14:35
That was a great report, with wonderful photographs.


JQDivide

Unique
07/29/2020 09:31
Of all your TRs this is at the top end of them. Nice work.

"I want my trip report to be unique as well."

All of your TRs need to be unique.
If they are not, you're just wasting our time by repeating the route description or what others have said.
Joel


jvirene
Re: Jqdivide
07/29/2020 09:43
Read my trip report on the sawatch peaks. If thatâs not unique idk what is ðŸ. Sometimes I canât win and honestly Iâm fine with that. I write all these with good intentions and they tell cool stories and everyone else seems to like them so thatâs enough for me ðŸ˞.


jvirene
Epic ridge
07/29/2020 09:43
You can also take the route up to the summit from the Daly saddle- you follow the ridge the whole way. Next time I do Capitol I'm trying this



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