Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Date Posted:  03/18/2009
Date Climbed:   03/15/2009
Author:  warg

 Capitol - winter ascent  

Capitol Peak, Winter 2008/09

The idea started somewhere back in 2007, I think it was. The desire to summit a difficult peak in calendar winter. A few conversations later and Josh and I had settled on Capitol Peak. But one thing led to another and the months (and years) slipped by. As the 2008/09 winter began, we again made plans for the trip. This time Walt and Scott got in on the planning. Finally a date was set for Jan 2009. A date that came and went with no climb. We moved that date to Feb, and again the date came and went. With calendar winter quickly coming to an end, we chose the last weekend during calendar winter as "the time." Now there were no more backup dates!

Meeting the Wednesday before we left, we went over gear lists, time schedules and other plans. Not knowing exactly the conditions we would find (we heard a report that 2 feet of new snow had been dumped in the area the day before), we decided to carry harnesses, a rope and other assorted climbing gear. Add two 4-season tents to the mix, and we were all going to be loaded down.

We met Saturday morning (March 14) at 6am here in Colorado Springs, and headed out for a weekend of adventure. The town of Snowmass was surprisingly small, do we had to turn around and head back up towards Basalt to find a Subway for lunch! We were planning to hike in via the West Snowmass Creek approach. Of course the Snowmass Creek Trailhead was snowed in, but the extra distance was only .7 miles, all on trails groomed by snowmobiles (and dog sleds!). Image

I'm not sure what time we started hiking, but I think the 6.6 miles to where we camped (about a ˝ mile below Moon Lake) took us about 7.5 hours! We set up camp as it got dark. Although the day had been amazing, with clear skies (and Josh even in a tee-shirt!) Image and warmer temperatures, the darkness brought the cold back with a rush. Image My toes had been getting colder and colder and so as soon as our tent was up I was in a sleeping bag with hand warmers in my socks! With clear skies overhead, it was a cold night. I think the prediction was for 10 degrees or so. We had some wind early in the morning, but we all stayed warm enough in our sleeping bags.

We woke up at 5:30am. Scott and Walt were still pretty worn out from the day before, and so they made the decision (wiser than we could have anticipated at the time!) to pass on a summit attempt. Josh and I spent the next two hours boiling water and putting it in Nalgene bottles to try and warm our boots up! At 7:30am we headed out.

Finally reaching Moon Lake seemed like quite the victory! Image However, at this point we made a crucial mistake. Rather than continuing west past the next ridge and then heading south up the valley to K2, we instead turned south at Moon Lake and went up the wrong valley. It did still provide us with plenty of great views as we progressed on up. Image Image Image We finally rounded the corner and glimpsed what we thought was K2 up ahead! Image

Summiting the ridge just below "K2," we realized all in the same moment that Capitol was a BIG mountain, and that we were NOT on K2!!! But the view – amazing! Image Image Image Image All the way around from the Pyramid and Bells (both still to be climbed!) to Snowmass (done in 2007 with Scott) and around the Capitol – breathtaking!!!!

The ridge to K2 turned into class 4 (class 5?!?) stuff. Image Josh hadn't climbed much with "ice axe in hand" and was finding the route a bit sketchy. We saw where we were going to be able to drop off the ridge after a ways, into the valley to the North. But then we did still have a knife edge ahead of us….

Talking it through Josh decided to head back. Now it was really decision time! Was I going on alone, or heading back as well? Well, if you looked ahead at the pictures, you already know the end of the story! I pressed on, looking for a solo winter ascent up Capitol.

Finally reaching K2 I was again greeted with an amazing view. Image Wow. To stand there before the ridge was an awesome, humbling experience. This is a real mountain! The knife edge was clear of snow on the north, with snow piled up on the south, as we expected. Image And talk about perfect conditions! The weather was again great, the snow pack was prefect, and the avalanche forecast was basically nil. My approach to the ridge was to plant the ice axe into the crest, kick step into the southern "wall" of snow (I don't know the angle of that snow – easily between 70-80 degrees for most of it!) and repeat the process all the way across. Exhilarating, to say the least!!! Staring down the north face of the ridge as I crossed was quite the view. Image

The snow continued to be perfect, and the climbing was a blast. Image I wish I had checked the time from K2 to the summit. Unfortunately I didn't. All I know is that it took 6 hours from camp to summit, all of 2.6 miles (including the detour over the false "K2.") The summit was most satisfying. Image Image Image This makes 14er #50, and #76 of the top 100. (If you don't want to do the math, the round trip distance from trailhead to summit was 16.6 miles according to the GPS.)

The trip down the mountain was a whole new adventure. Time from summit to camp was an uneventful 2 hours. Josh was waiting for me, wondering if he was going to be spending the night there again or not! (I did have a SPOT with me the entire time, and friends and family were "watching" the climb and cheering me on towards the summit!) We packed quickly and made it back to the trailhead in just under 3 hours.

A great dinner in Basalt and a long drive later and I was in my own bed, dreaming of future mountain adventures!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

I am only religious when...
02/05/2011 00:22
I am praying for the strength, skills and balls to do what sounds like a walk in the park to you, Warg. Major props to you and team. Finally sgladbach has some competition .


03/18/2009 18:32
Nice! Congratulations
I hope to get out there this summer, but with less snow. ;-)
(hmm...wait until Gladbach sees this!)


Great report & perseverance!
03/18/2009 20:05
Wow, way to stick with it! Nicely done report and climb


Way to get ‘er done!
03/18/2009 21:04
Though climbing Clark Peak (which is what you were on your way to) can be a fun adventure too (unless your goal is Capitol ). Nice pix .. thanks for posting! Happy trails!


03/18/2009 22:13
Thanks to all for the comments. I did get a good picture of the ridge to Clark Peak. Maybe when I am working on the top 200?! (I am assuming it is on that list?!)


Clark Peak
03/18/2009 22:16
Indeed it is on that top 200 list and a very fun ridge scramble over oddly shaped large blocky rocks. Add it to your ”to do” list.


To do list
03/18/2009 22:33
It‘s on the list!

Kevin Baker

03/18/2009 22:37
Congrats on such a challenging climb solo. So I‘m assuming you stayed on the ridge crest beyond the knife edge? That would be ”safer” than following the loaded summer route, but I can‘t imagine downclimbing that with snow. 2 hours from summit to camp? You must have caught a serious glissade!


picture with route
03/18/2009 23:11
Thanks! I actually did not stay on the crest. Below is a link to a photo with my tracks. The snow was great, so I cut across. But then it didn‘t look so good so I went back to the ridge. Coming back down I stayed on the ridge. It was not nearly as hard as I was expecting it to be. Wish I could have caught a glissade - the snow was just not right. I knew my friend was was waiting at camp, so I was just moving!


03/19/2009 01:07
That just looks freakin‘ scary.


Now I‘ve seen it
11/30/2010 17:28
and Darin's right......I'm jealous! I begged to get this last week of winter off, but my slimy jerk of a boss (just kidding Bigtrout!) wouldn't let me. When I set out last weekend, I was up in the air about peaks. Had I known these guys were headed up, I'd have bribed my way onto the trip. $$$$$ talks, but my pockets are mute.

Congradulations to each on his personal accopmplishment! Extra Mucho Grande Kudos to Warg!!!


Re: Steve‘s comment
03/19/2009 02:48
Steve...what you accomplished last weekend was pretty good too. But I‘m sure the thought of Capitol in winter must create some anxiety...
But hey...if you want a ”dry run” of it this summer to refresh your memory of the route (hint), hit me up cause I want to get this one done.

Warg....congrat‘s again on your solo push.


07/13/2009 02:15
Excellent report and beautiful pics - congrats on summiting - quite the accomplishment!


03/19/2009 18:28
Some people were put together to make beautiful music, some are gifted to give great speeches.... I was made to climb mountains. And I love it! Thanks to all for the encouragement. sgladbach (or anyone else!), I am looking at the Bells, Pyramid and Thunder Pyramid (top 100) after the road opens on May 22....

Chicago Transplant

Nice job!
03/19/2009 22:25
Excellent climb, report and photos! Congrats warg on living out your purpose


03/20/2009 04:27
Great TR and fantastic climb, mate! Wow!


Great effort!
03/20/2009 06:07
Quite an accomplishment. The pics don‘t go it justice. Those that have been up there know what a day it must have been. I am wondering if we won‘t see a ski TR in the near future? Pic 15 and ”the snow pack was perfect” should get some juices flowing.


03/20/2009 15:47
Thanks again, guys. Some may call me crazy, but I stood at the top of the couloir that skiers would use for a descent... crazy! And I‘m not even quite sure how you ski off the top to get to the couloir!!! But I have seen the pictures, so I know it has been done. To each their own level of ”craziness!”


03/20/2009 16:53
Hey warg, I saw your report 5 mins before leaving for Aspen Wednesday, thanks for posting. Yesterday, Jordan and I kept thinking with respect about your solo experience on the climbing sections. Well done! We appreciated your tracks during the moonless night for route finding down in the trees, thanks


03/20/2009 21:38
Great report and pictures!! Thanks for sharing such a great accomplishment.



03/20/2009 21:50
Wow! Capitol Peak in winter...that‘s someting to be proud of and I‘m quite sure you are. Congratulations on an impressive feat, warg!
Your pictures by the way are incredable! Thanks for taking the time and posting this bad-boy!


09/09/2013 00:56
Amazing...simply amazing!

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