Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Date Posted:  01/20/2010
Modified:  02/24/2010
Date Climbed:   01/17/2010
Author:  sgladbach
 Capitol Grants an Early Winter Summit  

Capitol Peak 14,130'
Winter Ascent 1/16/09-1/17/09
Mileage 16.2
Elevation Gain 5790'

Team: Mark Nieport
Kiefer Thomas
Steve Gladbach

Now I Feel Like A Mountaineer!


Mark Nieport "The Kid." (by Kiefer)

Kiefer Thomas "The Kid's Big Brother." (by Mark)

Steve Gladbach "Not the Kid." (by Kiefer)

Capitol is a major stumbling block for mountaineers who yearn to grace the summits of Colorado's Fourteeners in calendar winter. Lou Dawson issued the challenge in his Guide to the Colorado 14ers, Vol. 1 (1994). He called the climb "reasonable' for the experienced mountaineer (though he warned those who take up the endeavor need excellent avalanche assessment skills.) At the time he declared the mountain had never received a one-day ascent in winter.

Well, you can't throw down a gauntlet like that without Coloradoans forming a scrum to grab the ball. Since Dawson's acclamations regarding the winter challenge of the peak and the prized one-day winter ascent, MANY have tackled its obstacles. On the internet, you can find at least four trip reports of successful calendar winter ascents of Capitol; two are accounts of one-day ascents. All four accounts are from late winter; the climbers enticed by spring-like conditions while still achieving a winter ascent. Many more successful winter ascents exist outside cyberspace, unfortunately, the accounts are anecdotal and therefore difficult to utilize for planning a winter attempt.

Until last weekend, there were no successful early season ascents detailed in posted trip reports. Well, the 2010 Martin Luther King memorial weekend extinguished all doubt that the peak couldn't be climbed in early winter conditions. Three climbers, Charlie Nuttelman, Max Nuttelman, and Stefan Griebel topped out on Saturday 1/16/10. Beginning at midnight and approaching on skis, they stood atop the summit before 9 AM. Their ascent was most likely the earliest calendar winter one-day ascent of this incredibly imposing peak.

Charlie ascending at dawn w/ Stefan just below..........Max highlighted against the prized Capitol/Snowmass Mountain traverse

The next day, two of their friends, John Prater and Bill Wright, repeated the feat. Their 12:07 time is currently the fastest documented one-day round-trip time on Capitol in the winter. By the end of my story, you'll learn that this past MLK weekend eight climbers safely stood atop Capitol, whose easiest line has often been deemed Colorado's most difficult standard route on a 14er. All safely returned home with fulfilled aspirations.

I attempted this peak alone on Dec 21st and 22nd of 2009, and failed to reach even K2, which is the end of the approach and the beginning of the technical climbing. On that trip, I worked hard for two days, laying-in six miles of previously unbroken 12"-18" deep track. I managed only to reach 12,200' at eastern base of the K2/Daly saddle. A strong storm on the third day and arctic cold temperatures over the following week put to rest any hope I had of climbing the peak over Christmas break.

After an easy mile, you arrive at the summer trailhead. (by Kiefer)

As you enter the wilderness area, a developed trail climbs way to camp. (by Kiefer)

Kiefer's artistic eye catches what he calls "Mare's Tails." (by Kiefer)

Mark, still on the developed trail, crosses a side-stream. (by Kiefer)

We have to leave the developed trail which has turned NW up Haystack Mountain; the rest of OUR route involves bushwhacking SW toward Moon Lake. (by Kiefer)

Fortunately, a few skiers (including the Nuttlemans) used the route over the following weeks and the remnants of the base remained for MLK weekend. During my December foray into the valley of West Snowmass Creek, it took me 6 hours to reach a camp at 10, 400'. The next day I worked another 4 hours to finish the track to 12,200 under the K2/Daly saddle.

On this trip, 4 hours of not-too-difficult travel brought me to a high camp at 11,220' (a small lake sporting a bald man's halo of trees.) This oasis included running water and afforded the final sheltered area before reaching timberline. Running water in winter is always a nice find since it means time spent melting water can be devoted to resting while listening to a book loaded on your I-pod. On the other hand, it meant my team carried in over four times the fuel we eventually consumed.

At 12PM, I picked my campsite. Minutes later, Griebel and the Nuttlemans, having just accomplished their one-day ascent, skied by and gave a hearty "Hello!" I stamped out a site for our team and settled my tent and gear into a nice little home. Mark had been having nutrition issues for a couple weeks due to some painful and complicated dental work. As a result, he had left the car w/o the needed calories to push his way 6 miles up the approach with a full pack. Kiefer kept him company as Mark suppressed the fatigue and pushed his way to camp. They arrived about 2:00PM and settled themselves into a second tent. Mark took a hot drink and ate a meal before beginning a rest for tomorrow's attempt.

Steve suffers "Tent Envy". (by Kiefer)

Kiefer and I took about another 90 minutes to create a snowshoe track to the 12,200' high point I'd reached a few weeks before. It took me 6 hours of moderate effort to reach the point it had taken two tough days to reach in December. When we returned to our little home, Mark already looked better and he had a second meal and hot drink as Kiefer and I had our first.

Now came the most challenging part of teaming for a difficult peak when there is no definitive leader: the negotiations about when to get out of bed the next morning! Our 5AM-on-the-trail plan had been a three-way compromise and all agreed to abide. I set my alarm for 4AM as it always takes me a while to get going. I slept through my alarm. About 4:45AM, I heard the other tent busily preparing for the day's difficulties and I was forced to confess I was running late. But, by 5:20AM, I'd accomplished my summit-day morning rituals and Mark and I took off up the trail. Kiefer had one more ritual to complete and it took a while as he didn't have any laxative chewing gum. The previous night Mark had explained to us this gum is contained in government issued military MREs.

Adorned in headlamps, the team began the three hour approach from 11,220' camp to the base of K2 at 13,600'. It was snowing lightly and only one or two stars were discernable in the pre-dawn sky, but we had dreams of a bluebird day. We were betting the sun would burn off the cloud cover that had allowed such a comfortable and warm sleep the night before. Kiefer, free of his morning encumbrance, caught up at about 12,200'.

Kiefer catches up at the 12,200' plateau. (by Steve)

We made short work of the climb to our re-equipping site below K2. This turned out to be the coldest stop of the day. We had built a bit of a sweat while quickly pushing our way up the previous 1000' and the wind at this unguarded haunt was a bit stronger. However, it was a very necessary way station. Harnesses were donned and doubled back, ropes and racks were arranged and we crowned ourselves with UIAA approved chapeau. We stashed ski poles and snowshoes. Having completed 24 hours of work which included heavy packs, snow camping, and trail breaking, we were now ready to attempt a climb of Capitol Peak.

Kiefer defeats K2's gargoyle guardian. (by Steve)

We each scrambled over the 20' stone guardian which blocks easy access to K2 and, for the first time today, viewed our task. Though the sky wasn't clear, the route was sufficiently visible. It looked manageable. The route appeared snow-covered most of the way and there was one particularly difficult looking class 5 section 300' below the summit that may prove to be the crux of the day. Mark and I strapped on crampons; Kiefer decided that since he had not brought his, he would go without rather than making the trip to Vail to retrieve them. He hadn't noticed it yet, but hig gaitors had also decided to beg off summit day. Kiefer lead the way as he dropped off K2 traversing its north side to reach the saddle 80' below the summit. Shortly after, Mark took over the lead and I settled into my comfortably secure position between the two who displayed skill and confidence for the rest of the day.

Now over K2, Mark contemplates the real difficulties. (by Kiefer)

Mark is steady on the "Knife Edge." (by Steve)

We all made easy progress to the beginning of the "Knife Edge" proper which Mark attacked with conviction by combining simple walking with minor scrambling. Steve, however, had to admit this wasn't his day to display a completely sanguine disposition. At the beginning of the knife-edge, he happily assumed what Kiefer labeled the "Happy Frog Lotus Position" (probably closer to the doggy-style position) as he straddled the ridge and used his hands to thrust his pelvis forward. He managed a quick but inelegant crawl toward a wider perch. Kiefer crossed with the same confidence as Mark.

Steve assumes the "Happy Frog Lotus Position"

The remainder of the ridge passed smoothly as we reached the lowest spot below the summit. The climb over the first two humps up the ridge went well to the base of some rock climbing that must have been 5.7-5.9. We were lured around this section by the obvious traverse of the previous day's climbers. Once we passed under this difficult section of ridge, a steep snow climb on icy, hidden slabs proved to be the only workable route back up to the ridge. A horn above had been slung, thus indicating Saturday's party also thought the section a little sketchy. Mark free-climbed the 20 meters and slung a higher horn to belay Kiefer and I back to the ridge proper.

To bypass 5.8 rock, an exposed traverse is followed by a difficult climb up to the ridge. (by Kiefer)

Mark first belays Kiefer and then Steve up the icy crux slabs. (by Mark)

Above the headwall, the sky grants a few minutes for views. (by Kiefer)

Mark on the ridgeline. (by Kiefer)

The view down the ridge toward K2. (by Kiefer)

The ridge, K2, Daly, and the Aspen/Glenwood valley. (by Kiefer)

The circumvention of this part of the ridge allowed us to finish the final 250' to the summit with less potential for a 3000' fall. That is not to say, however, that I didn't call for another belay! Kiefer accepted a quick shoulder stand to breach the next 15' move and then belayed Mark and I up. The next 200 yards of ridge were a little hair-raising, but didn't require rope. Kiefer led the final 30' 5th class dihedral and placed a few pieces as he climbed over the final obstacle. A short belay helped me reach the same vantage point and we all walked and scrambled the final 100 yards to the true summit. What a satisfying coup to stand atop Capitol in mid-January!

Steve, Kiefer, and a goggle salesman. (by John Prater)

John Prater and Bill wright

We relished the day's consummation albeit with limited views. We hung about for 15 minutes for the arrival of John Prater and Bill Wright who, like their friends the day before, had attained the summit in a single day. We exchanged the opportunity for summit photos and our party headed down about 10 minutes later.

When I arrived at the top of the highest move, Mark belayed me down, let the other party pass, gave Kiefer a belay and finished with a rappel for himself. Bill, John and I moved down the ridge as Kiefer and Mark finished up with the higher crux. The next ascent-belayed area proved simpler to descend since, from above, we could see the mantle move that made a free downclimb possible. Bill belayed John down the icy, slabby section that surely was the most difficult crux of the day, and then dropped down the section himself.

Climbing down the upper dihedral crux (by Kiefer)

Below the crux slabs, Bill enjoys the fun lower portion of the descent. (by Steve)

While waiting for my party to arrive, I heard a very distinctive metallic clanging noise which changed pitch as the Doppler Effect betrayed the truth of the problem. Even before I heard Mark's "Sh#$", I knew I'd just heard an ice axe rattling down a mountainside. Ostensibly clipped to his harness with the rest of his rack, it somehow fell down the mountain's cliffs during his rappel of the highest crux. Accepting the inevitable, he and Kiefer quickly climbed down to where I waited for a belay over the final difficult crux. Again, Mark belayed me over the slabs and I continued down the ridge as Mark and Kiefer handled the final rope work. A mere 300' off the summit, they stashed the cord for the remainder of the day.

Kiefer is belayed over the slabs. (by Steve)

Mark rappels the slabs completing 5 safe descents of the crux today. (by Kiefer)

An exposed traverse lies below the crux. (by Steve)

Kiefer finishes re-crossing the "Knife Edge." (by Mark)

Reaching Terra mas Firma, the route visibility has deteriorated considerably. (by Steve)

Though the snow was getting thicker and the visibility thinner, the trip down the remaining ridge, across the knife edge, and back over K2 went very smoothly. The team re-grouped at the snowshoe stash and the quick 1.2 mile, - 2800' trip to the tents included the occasional glissade and significantly warming temperatures.

We arrived at camp about 4PM and enjoyed hot drinks and some food as we prepped for the hike out. We said goodbye to our campsite at 5PM then tromped on down to the car. My descent included several falls through the snow which resulted in a snowshoe or two entwined crotch-deep in willows hidden under the softer snow. With a pack, there was a lot of effort involved in the extrication, but I was too stoked to let it bother me. About 1 miles from the car, a snowmobile track guided us in; we all arrived together well before 8PM.

By 9PM we were enjoying chili, thick burgers and exceptional fries in Carbondale. This little diner has become a tradition since making two visits last winter. The first was with Mark following January 2009's North Maroon climb; the second after Kiefer and I climbed Snowmass a month later. Now, the three of us enjoyed a little victory dinner together. We dropped Kiefer in Vail and Mark headed to Fort Collins while I pointed south to Pueblo. Just before 2AM, I pulled in at the Clear Creek Reservoir boat ramp and slept until 6:30AM before continuing my trip to Pueblo. When I safely pulled into the drive about 10AM Monday morning, I finally felt the trip was over (though I've still not finished all my laundry!)

The route map. (by Steve)

Campsite detail. (by Steve)

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

02/05/2011 00:22
Nice work, gentlemen. You have inspired me to go shopping for more gear...


Amazed again.
06/02/2011 14:57
Congratulations to all(eight) this past weekend. I like your comment about being "too stoked to let it bother me." Thanks for the excellent report and thanks to Kiefer (again) for the pictures. On a "lesser" mountain, I may have asked if doing your laundry was the "crux" of the climb. Again, wow.

After looking at your report again I have to laugh that you say, "Now I feel like a mountaineer!" Funny.


01/20/2010 14:07
Congratulations to all, glad the team made it back safely!


Hats off!
01/20/2010 14:40
Many congrats for the Summit! A job well done and a great story depicting the climb with great pics. It is so hard when you are in the thick of it to remember to snap some photos.

Truly Awesome!


Nice work Guys
05/09/2011 17:48
Well done Steve, Kiefer and Mark! you‘ll have to go up there and get some clearer pictures! HAhAHA! Wow. Mountaineers Indeed!


11/30/2010 17:28
Lots of great pics and a great write-up too. Congrats! Had to smile at the "Now I feel like a mountaineer!" too. uhuh


Incredible Perserverance !!
01/20/2010 15:05
Well Done


01/20/2010 15:25
Very impressive. Congrats to all, and thanks for the great report & pictures.


01/20/2010 15:28
Wow, this is the best collection of Photoshopped images I‘ve ever seen! And the story that you‘ve cococted to make us believe that you actually climbed it is amazing, as well!!!



01/20/2010 15:44
man, that looks awesome! Great job on summiting and getting down down safely!

Chicago Transplant

01/20/2010 16:00
Great work guys (all 8 of you!) and an excellent write up Steve! Not a peak for the faint of heart in any season, but especially this time of year. Glad you were all able to safely take on this winter challenge.


What a Scrum!
01/20/2010 16:35
Wow ... some real masterful climbing there guys. What‘s the odds that 8 people successfully summit on a winter‘s day!? Amazing. Nice photos. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!


01/20/2010 16:56
Capitol is looking like it has decent snow coverage this year.

Looks like a great trip. Kiefer you‘ve been getting after it this winter. Keep up the good work, and the great beta


Well Done
01/20/2010 17:05
Nice work crew, congrats!


Son of a Gun...
01/20/2010 17:14
Well done, you guys, quite a formidable winter team for a formidable winter peak.


Well played fellas.
01/20/2010 17:22
Now that is mountaineering!


Hell of a weekend!
01/20/2010 19:09
Had a sweet time up there with ya Steve & Mark. It was a good climb and it felt good to get out on something more then a slog.
Great write-up, Steve! I really like the beginning!
I‘m waiting for late Feb/March!
Good work to everyone!

Ridge runner

02/01/2011 00:24
Congratulations to you three and everyone else who made it up Capitol last weekend! That is one solid feat. Apparently for the three of you it was so easy that crampons, gaiters, and ice axes were optional.
Best of luck to you guys when you head down to Chicago Basin!
BTW Steve, thanks for the Spot messages. I slept much better knowing you guys were down safely.


Capitol Punishment
11/30/2010 17:28
Great writing, Steve. I love the touches of humor you add so nonchalantly. e.g. ”Kiefer, free of his morning encumbrance, caught up at about 12,200'. ” LOL.

Congrats on the successful trip, and it was nice to meet ya on our way out.



Epic trip, Steve!
01/20/2010 21:24
Great write-up. Looked like a fantastic couple days out there. I need to give Cap a shot in winter one of these days for sure. Congrats to all you guys!



Ok now I‘m just jealous
01/20/2010 22:06
Great job everyone on a successful winter summit of a not so easy peak. Glad it went off with out a hitch.


Hat‘s off to ya boys!
01/20/2010 22:13
Great trip report and photo‘s! Capital is impressive and doing in style in winter is a nice notch in the belt for sure. Kiefer and I have talked about doing the Capital to Snowmass traverse and after reading this I do believe he is the right partner for that project. Steve..nice to see you in the news again...since we climbed Massive about a month ago. Glad all made it safe and intact.


01/20/2010 23:02
I‘m with Keith and agree this is the best winter fiction read so far this year! And it‘s obvious someone in this climbing party is related to the Avatar guy so bravo on some outstanding special effects in those photos!

Seriously out of my league. I‘ll be happy to summit this monster in summer dry weather some day. GREAT stuff-


Knife Edge
01/20/2010 23:59
Wow! Mountaineers in my book! Beautiful photos! What a day! Congrats! Kiefer on that knife edge...had a good foothold obviously


01/21/2010 00:09


01/21/2010 00:23
You guys are awesome! Great trip and great trip report! Congrats to all on another ”epic” winter ascent.


It‘ll make for good reading
01/21/2010 01:03
Congrats on the pure winter climb! If the story is as good as the pictures are I have a lot to look forward to.


01/21/2010 01:34
Guys...nice job with getting Capitol! wow..very cool.
Steve, it must feel real good to be done with the Elks.
Good luck with your future trips..


High Watermark
01/21/2010 02:22
I think it‘s safe to say we‘re all impressed with the drive and accomplishments of some of the most notable climbers of the current time... Steve, you remain such a steadfast powerhouse on the Colorado scene and this most recent effort proves you are not content to sit on your laurals. So to speak. And what a team! Kiefer, congrats on your untiring efforts to get this mountain in winter. Capitol (and the Elk range in general) defines a level of moutaineering outside the bounds of typical Colorado 14er climbing... and you guys have travelled this earthly heaven in the most intense month.

What can I say? You guys‘ efforts are friggin‘ inspirational to the rest of us mortals!! If the masses need religion, if we the climbing community need gods, then your efforts continue to feed our passion!! Keep up the incredible work....This is truly a high watermark.


Nice write-up
01/21/2010 02:58
solid work getting a tough one in good style


Mind blower!
01/21/2010 03:11
Really great job guys! The pictures and the write up were amazing. So cool.


Awesome Job
01/21/2010 03:54
and a great write up. Well done guys.


Thanks everyone.......
01/23/2010 03:43
for the words of encouragement. It‘s fun to be part of this community.



Making the myths...
01/21/2010 04:52
I am at a loss for words. Unbelievable. Congratulations.


Would that I could do that!
01/21/2010 13:20
I am with JoeyJ. Out of my league but great to read about. Great report, makes you feel like you are there (sort of).


01/21/2010 14:30
Incredible Weekend. Keifer, I know you‘ve been wanting that one for a while. Good luck with the rest of the winter checklist you guys. Incredible Write-up Steve... you have a knack for even making the inevitable morning cr@p sound elloquent.


01/21/2010 16:29
Fantastic report. Sat in PA I am envious of your winter exploits, and can only live vicariously through them.
A question, it appears you did the K2 ridge both up and down. Is this correct.
As someone who has only summited, solo, in summer I am puzzled by class 5.6/7 rock pitches on Capitol proper. Is this because you could not traverse around on account of avalanche risk?


05/02/2011 14:23
Glad to see everyone‘s hard work paid off this time. Excellent trip report Steve.


Avy risk
01/21/2010 17:42
malcolml1...Exactly correct. In summer, there are several cairned routes which cross a series of bowls as you do a climbing traverse up to the ridge eventualy hitting the ridge very close to the top.

In winter (especially early winter), crossing those bowls is extremely dangerous. Therefore, you need to be on the ridge proper. We risked entering the first bowl for about 30 yards and then cut up. This eliminated the most technical rock (5.8??), leaving only a few low class 5 moves. The crux belay was during the period where we exited the bowl to regain the ridge. The rock under the snow was slabby rock covered in ice and a thin layer of snow.


01/21/2010 23:18
Wow you guys, very well done! Some brilliant climbing, I can just envision the delicate balance between the pucker factor and the flat-out adrenaline you guys must‘ve experienced up there. BRAVO!!!


01/22/2010 00:30
Is it difficult to climb with huge cajones? Great TR


01/22/2010 02:09
Very impressive!!! Thanks for sharing a great report with lots of info.


01/22/2010 02:23
See Colorado MoJo for news, photos, and links from the two one-day ascents, along with this excellent climb. What an impressive weekend on Capitol!


The Men
01/22/2010 02:48
Capital in summer is no easy task. And you made a terrifically difficult and dangerous climb look possible (if you are Superman). Thanks for sharing the memories.


Terrific Report
01/22/2010 15:05
Now this is a good report! Thanks for the taking us along! I look forward to the ”Happy Frog Lotus Position” crossing of the knife edge that is in my future! Thanks for adding the photo displaying the proper technique!


01/22/2010 22:29
Awesome trip, awesome pics, awesome trip report. Nicely done!


01/22/2010 23:58
and I must say I‘m pretty thrilled to see you guys back down alive. I must say I would be proud of every move (including the happy frog lotus move) I‘d made on a mountain like that if I‘d managed to summit and return alive.


As we say in Texas ...
01/23/2010 23:37
... DAY-YUM !!! Heck of a job, men. Piedras mas grandes!
Thanks for letting someone like me who never achieve what you just did have the vicarious experience through your excellent report!


01/25/2010 07:55
well done - grats on a really tough one. Awesome report.


Simply Outstanding
01/26/2010 02:29

Well - there‘s not much to say that hasn‘t been said before. Thanks for taking the time to share your spectacular adventures with mere mortals like us. Steve - your report is inspiring, frightful, and funny - a reminder that sometimes vicarious living is just fine with me. Well done on the winter summit, gentlemen, well done.

Easy Rider

01/26/2010 17:22
must feel good to have that one off your list!


Not too much more to say...
01/26/2010 21:26
than whats already been said. Huge congrats!!



beauty of a climb
01/27/2010 04:30
Incredibly well done, guys. And a great write-up, Steve. Awesome!


into the gnar
01/27/2010 17:10
and back again


Friggin‘ Inspirational
02/04/2010 05:15
Nice work fellas. Congrats! That‘s why we live in this state! Great pics!


Amazing work gentlemen!
02/08/2010 04:57
Inspiring read Steve! Great photos from all. You guys have a way of showing us all how it‘s done. I‘ve not heard of this gum trick. Hmm... Glad you were all safe and successful. Way to go.


02/16/2010 20:31
Wow Steve! Not many on this site have more peaks than posts.
Respect and more respect...

Climbing Texan

Super Job
02/22/2010 16:10
Its guys like you that have inspired me to move to Colorado. Some of those photos took my breath away


Great Report
02/25/2010 03:48
Thanks for sharing your amazing adventure... What a beautiful peak and no easy feat! Even a summer ascent of Capitol is impressive. Style is subjective though (mine is going to be clinging to that knife edge with all four; like Steve)! Great job all around.


well done
01/21/2011 22:57
Well done guys! Glad everybody made it back safely, great pics too. hats off to you. Cap isnt easy even in the summer.

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