Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Date Posted:  07/20/2009
Modified:  10/24/2009
Date Climbed:   07/18/2009
Author:  jf32

 Capitol Peak - Ridge Direct  

I've been hoping to climb Capitol for several months. I can't tell you how many times I read the route description and wondered if I was up to the task. Aside from gaining some experience that would help me feel comfortable on this mountain I knew that the weather would have to cooperate and I'd need to find a partner or two to help tackle it as none of my regular climbing partners had any interest in this beast.

I wound up inviting myself along on a trip with Rockymtnhigh69 and lordhelmut for a summit bid on Saturday the 18th. Thanks again guys for having me. I wound up hiking the ditch trail approach that Friday and set up camp while I waited for my partners to arrive. On the approach I got to chase off my fair share of cows while Capitol kept getting closer and closer.

Capitol From the trail

Getting Closer

As the sun was setting - this shot was taken from our campsite

We woke up at 3:30 and hit the trail between 4:15 and 4:30. After missing the proper turnoff we hiked through the darkness and wildflowers to find the trail and make the Daly saddle. At the saddle we were going to wait until sunrise and evaluate our approach to Capitol. I had assumed we'd take the standard but lordhelmut had previously taken the ridge direct and said it was manageable. It also would allow us to avoid all the small snowfields which were causing some anxiety as the snow was very firm and we only had one set of crampons. Rockymtnhigh69 decided to turn back as he didn't feel comfortable on either the snow crossing or the climb up to the ridge.
Our climb to the ridge was after the 2nd snow crossing and probably involved some low class 5 moves on steep terrain. In hindsight I wish we gained the ridge from the Daly saddle.

Looking back at Mt Daly from where we gained the ridge

lordhelmut gaining the first 'bump' of the ridge

Once we were on the ridge our path was clear, all we had to do was either stay on it or drop off slightly to either the right or left following the path of least resistance. From this point until our return to K2 we had the pleasure of being joined by fairly constant, dramatic exposure. The rock was more stable than I had feared but still required all holds to be checked before trusted.

A few Shots of us on the ridge leading up to K2
Image #8 (not yet uploaded)


There were 3 main 'bumps' along the ridge with K2 being the 4th and final one before we rejoined the standard trail and the summit approach. The going got easier after the 2nd 'bump' and we were able to traverse across to avoid climbing the 3rd 'bump'.

This is a cool shot of the gully just past K2

There was some loose dirt/rock/snow that made getting around K2 take some time but it was only for a few feet and was definitely navigable.

The next obstacle was the knife edge, a section that has been on my mind for some time. After spending all morning traversing the ridge and dealing with exposure the knife edge didn't require that much additional nerve and we made our way across fairly quickly.

Knife edge shots

Once past the knife edge there was some route finding and difficult climbing remaining. We followed the cairned trail for a bit before rejoining the ridge just below the summit. Climbing back up to the ridge was probably the steepest and sketchiest climbing that we did as the rock wasn't nearly as trustworthy as it was earlier.

Some pics past the knife edge
looking down
We regained the ridge at that notch below the summit

Once back on the ridge we quickly gained the summit
summit shots
The two of us on the summit block
The ridge leading over to Snowmass

On our descent we followed the cairns for the main trail down to the knife edge. Prior to the climb I was really concerned with this section but it proved fine - we moved faster than we both anticipated.

We made it across the knife edge and to K2 rather quickly and opted to take the standard route back as we were hoping the sun had softened up the snow and made the crossings more manageable. I don't have many pics from the return as it wasn't as dramatic and I was pretty tired but me made it down K2, did some glissading and crossed a total of 6 snowfields (one of which was fairly long - a few hundred feet). Once back at the Daly saddle we just cruised down to camp to enjoy some beers before the hike back to the cars.

All told it was 4.5 hours to the summit and about 3 hours back to camp. This hike was the most intense one I've done and required a high level of focus but was absolutely awesome. I highly recommend the ridge approach if you're ok with exposure. (also the 2 most difficult sections we had to climb could be avoided if you gain the ridge at the saddle and stay on the cairned trail past the knife edge).

One last shot looking back at Capitol

Thanks for reading

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

good job
07/20/2009 20:57
Do you think taking the ridge from daly saddle is faster than dropping down and going across and then going back up to k2?


Ridge vs dropping down
07/20/2009 21:01
Not sure it was faster - but it was way more enjoyable - made it more of a climb than a hike. Once the snow melts my bet is that the std route is fastest.


good stuff man
07/21/2009 04:31
nice writeup John, showed the exposure nicely and it was a pleasure climbing with you, real solid day.

good stuff.


Rock On!
07/21/2009 16:07
Congrats on the summit and reaching a major goal.


07/21/2009 18:31
Congrats to you guys for getting her done.. I just wasn‘t getting a good vibe on that mountain that morning.. I just can‘t explain it.. Maybe I was just chicken

Now I gotta venture back up there again soon and do that slog Ditch Trail again.


07/21/2009 21:30
How much snow is left on the mountain. Some friends want to know. My guess is hardly any to even be concerned.


Eh? Eh?
07/21/2009 22:09
There was plenty of hard packed snow in the couloirs.. An axe was was definitely needed.. Crampons would have been great to have.. I was not feeling comfortable traversing the couloirs with trail runners on.. Several other parties down climbed from the saddle into the basin to avoid them entirely which is what I should have done.. Let‘s not forget a man died falling down one last week. So yeah, I felt concerned.. I have a wife at home and a mortgage to pay.. So tell your friends that at a minimum, have an axe.. It would be extremely sketch without one, unless they climb the ridge proper or downclimb into the basin..
Might melt more in the coming days but it wasn‘t a cakewalk last weekend.


07/22/2009 16:01
I agree with Vince, better safe than sorry. We slogged all the way up there, got up and were assessing our options when the sun finally hit. Vince made a wise choice and as long as he‘s ok with it, thats all that matters. That being said, the route John and I ascended is obviously snow free and a fun, thrilling scramble, with the snowfields being used as a descent route, since it had time to thaw out, perfect glissading snow actually. Also, kicksteps have been forming deeper and deeper along these snowfields, making travel easier. Axe mandatory, crampons would be helpful.


August second week
07/22/2009 19:51
can‘t wait to climb. Will i need a axe second week of aug?


2nd week Aug
07/22/2009 19:58
Hey - one guy made the summit using the std with just trekking poles. Personally (for my comfort level) an axe was absolutely needed with crampons a huge plus. If you do the ridge direct you won‘t need either (maybe an axe on the way down - but I imagine you should be fine by then). In a few weeks the snow should melt a bit - I‘d keep my eyes out for more reports or just ask for conditions in the forum to see see what the snow conditions are like. Good luck.


question from a greenhorn
07/28/2009 18:20
2 of us plan to go up Capitol from Moon Lake next week, and your comments about it being easier going by way of the ”saddle” and on the ”cairned trail” left me confused. I gather you consider this the queickest and safest route, and wondered if you could amplify for those of us who just go, and don‘t know much technical stuff, thanks (great submission, byt the way)


re: question from a greenhorn
07/28/2009 18:38
Hey - I‘m not sure of the route you‘d take from moon lake. If you joined the main trail (Northest Ridge) at the Daly saddle then the easiest route would be to drop into the basin and climb K2. We followed this approach initially and then opted to do the ridge. This climb was steep and tough (from the std trail to the ridge). If you wanted to take the Ridge approach (which isn‘t the easiest approach) it would be easier to start at the Daly Saddle.

As far as the cairns, this is past K2. We regained the ridge instead of following the cairns (cairns are for the std approach and the easiest route). I‘d say following the cairns (and this does involve a bit of route finding as they are not obvious) is the way to go past K2.

Hope that helps - keep in mind this is a tough mountain and easiest doesn‘t mean easy.

Good luck and be safe

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