Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Date Posted:  09/06/2009
Date Climbed:   09/05/2009
Author:  James Scott

 Knife edge, Schmife edge!  

I climbed Capitol yesterday.
The whole thing has taken on this kind of surreal feeling to it, kind of grainy and dreamlike, especially the middle part, from K2 to summit to K2. I see myself going across the knife edge, but there are elements missing, namely the exposure.

The day started with three goochers. Fleetmack (Brian, from 14ers) and I drove to the trailhead, and while I tried to get a few hours sleep in my bag, I felt myself getting a cold. It was as if someone was turning up the stereo volume- soar throat, stuffed up head, cough. I felt weak.

Then when we got up, the first thing Fleetmack said to me was, "Look over there. It's a bear." In the 3:00 darkness, we saw the black shape of a large animal, eyes focused on us, about 40 yards away. My response was puzzling: "Well, right now I gotta pee." Fleetmack agreed, and in a demonstration of how little sleep we must have gotten, we stood peeing with what we believed must have been a bear about 40 yards away next to a sign that said 'Danger, Bear Country.' Of course, after a few minutes, we realized it was a cow. But I hope that if I ever do come face to face with a bear, I'm a little more interested in him and my survival

Finally, we looked for a sign that said "Ditch Trail," but there isn't one, so we took the one for Capitol Creek. It was a strong trail, well maintained, so we must have been on the right one, right? At 5:00 we met the junction to the ditch trail, realized our mistake, and I began to think that the gods just weren't on our side this day. Then Fleetmack said something that became my mantra for the day: "You know how you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

There was a (nearly?) full moon, and we could see the silhouetted shape of Capitol getting ever nearer, and finally day broke about the time we reached the lake.
First view:
We got to the lake at 6:30, and reached the saddle minutes after 7:00. Here's our first view of the back side:
The talus field went on and on. Other groups seemed to stay much higher- not on the ridge, but above some of the really steep rock that walls the basin. Finally we got to the end of the talus. Fleetmack on ridgeline to K2:
and K2:
Fleetmack was not "feeling it" at this point, and opted to stay on this side of K2. I didn't want to continue alone, but there were other groups ahead, so I decided to take it one bite at a time. The terrain was loose and exposed rounding K2, which would be the theme all the way to the summit. Suddenly I turned the corner, and caught my first view:

My heart was beating like a race horse. Pictures don't really do justice to the sheer drop, especially just under K2. From here, it was about one part fun, and three parts hyper awareness of all of my movements. The ridge, though, started with solid rock, seemed wide enough, and was all doable. Then came the knife edge:
I was surprised, but I felt pretty comfortable here. Not looking down, I was able to keep my feet on one side and my hands on the top, except for one stretch where I actually straddled the edge, but tried not to keep walking with my feet on either side instead of sitting down. The edge really is sharp. I figured I was keeping somewhat calm, because when I sat and the sharp rock settled itself in my crack, I actually said outloud, "You're gonna have to buy me dinner first."
From there, it was a fun scramble across the rest of the ridge, but then came so much loose terrain, fully exposed, that I left my camera in my pocket and just tried to focus. One bite at a time. Up a rib, then over a thin ledge, up a rib, over a thin ledge. A group coming down, including TaoTeSummit came down, and gave me some route finding advice. On the way up, cairns were hard to locate, and I learned this valuable rule- the looser the rocks are underneath you, the more likely you're off route. I got too low at one point, and dropped a rock three times my size down into the gully below. I felt bad, but I was glad it wasn't me.

Finally, the summit came into view, and at 10:43, I found myself on top of Capitol. Unfortunately, I wasn't too relaxed, I was focused on getting back to K2, and dark clouds started forming right above me. Time to get the hell out of Dodge!
The long walk back to the car:
I told myself that I had to stay at least ten minutes, resting, eating and drinking. I stayed four. On the way back, I was able to take a lot more pictures. There were two more groups coming up behind me, and that helped me relax a bit. I don't know what it is, but when I'm the last one on the summit, I get this frantic feeling like I've done something wrong. As soon as I see someone else following, I figure I'm better off than them, and things start looking rosy. The long journey back to K2:
The kind of loose stuff I was descending to the ridge:
and looking back at the summit from the ridge:
I still had the small task of recrossing the knife edge, but this time I was willing to pull out my camera halfway across. It was disappointing not to get better action shots crossing it, but here's the best I could do:
and a couple just ahead of me at the end of the ridge:

I was relieved to get back to the other side of K2 and rejoin Fleetmack. Ah, solid ground, and finally I can relax enough to take a deep breath, and get a big silly grin on my face thinking of what I'd just done!
The talus field took forever. I had planned on sitting on the saddle and finally eating lunch, but a sudden thunder burst just on the other side of the basin got our attention real good. We ran down the switchbacks to the lake, hoping we weren't going to get caught in a jackpot. At the bottom, the thunder seemed to still be just tuning up, so we stopped to get out raincoats and snap a couple shots. Me, happy, with Capitol behind me:
Fleetmack and I talked about how starting in the dark can be a bummer, because you don't see the great views you normally would during the day. Here's a couple shots of Capitol walking out:
Look what I did!
and from the trailhead:
We got back to the car at 4:30ish. Leaving the trailhead, seeing Capitol so far in the distance looking so formidable, it was hard to believe I was on top of it a few hours earlier. By far, this was the most intense experience I've had on a mountain. Now we had a three hour drive back to Denver, with visions of a Pete's Kitchen breakfast burrito supreme (no onions) dancing in my head.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

09/06/2009 23:15
Congratulations! Wish I could say I went Friday, but with no partner, I decided to do another easy solo climb on my list instead. Harvard/Columbia. I still hope to do this as a day trip soon. So, if I see a bear I just pee. Right?

James Scott

09/07/2009 03:00
If that doesn‘t work, you could try taking a dump. It mostly helps if the bear is really a cow.


Thats Amazing!
09/07/2009 16:25
Wow! this trip looks super amazing!! Its one of those where i wish i was there but then i dont Im glad you didnt fall off and you know die nice personification at the end there i want to know who went to investigate to find out if that ”bear” was actually a bear!


James Scott

Who taught you English?
09/07/2009 21:34
I don‘t know who your English teacher was, but learn grammar. And what‘s with the lowercase ”i”??? The only redeeming point I can make is that you caught the personification. Your teacher must not have been completely worthless.


elephant dinner
09/08/2009 22:14
I stole the elephant line from another trip report on here, FYI. Don‘t want to take credit for the line that I didn‘t make up!

Nice TR, and great climbing with you, James!


Well Sorry!!!
09/19/2009 03:24
I apologize! I didn‘t have time to revise and edit my comment.

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