Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
"K2"  -  13,664 feet
Date Posted:  09/14/2010
Date Climbed:   09/11/2010
Author:  emcee smith
 Was that easy? Difficult to say for sure   

Capitol Peak

So before this weekend, I had three 14ers left, with two of the more difficult ones, Capitol and Pyramid. For me and these peaks, the weather window of snow free may quickly close, so I was hoping for a great weekend, which is what I got.

I had been worrying about Capitol for quite a while, it seems that the trip reports vary widely from "easy" to quote KeithK to others that say it is a nightmare and rocks give way with just a breath. I had also heard that if you stay on route, there is a lot of trail and not much scrambling, even above the knife edge. As we got closer to this weekend, I reviewed some of the more difficult TRs, put them aside, and then focused on the ones that described the hike as manageable to clear my mind.

On Friday, I flew into Denver, met up with Dave (CarpeDM) in Morrison, and we headed west. The hike in was pretty uneventful, but I think it is one of the more gentler approach hikes to a 14er. The trail seemed soft, mostly smooth, with very few steep sections. We pulled into campsite #5, wedged our two tents here and there, cooked, filtered, etc. and went to bed.

I guess that since I am now a Texan, I have gotten soft, because it was COLD to me overnight. I woke up at 4am shivering, quickly grabbed my thermos of cocoa and crawled back into my bag. Dave had similar thoughts, so we reset our alarms for about 5:45 and snoozed. By 6am we were on our way, only needing the headlamps for a bit of the climb.

Up to the saddle and beginning around the traverse on the back side was easy enough. I don't have a photo, but in the light, there is a distinct trail split where you can go down tight switchbacks in a gully and cross below some cliffy rocks. On the way over, we past this, and ended up down climbing the cliffy areas to reach the cairned path below. On the way back we stayed low and climbed the switchbacks. Either way worked as easy as the other.

Here is Dave thinking about one of the cliffy down climbing areas. Not very difficult, but we definitely went and stayed low

Once we got around to see the rest of the traverse, it looked like quite a long ways, and it felt like quite a long way to get to the corner. We stayed pretty low, avoiding the slabby area to the left and basically went straight for the snowfield on the left side of this photo.

There were good cairns marking the trail, and we made the corner to see K2 above us. At this point, we were in the low part of the wide gully, more near the snow in the photo below. Cairns wanted us to go up and to the right to gain a small rib. This is a good thing, as there are very good flat slabs up there and made the walking easy.

From the previous photo, you can see that we wove back and forth across the slope, following cairns or the visibly easiest way. We felt we were on path, as we crossed 2 wind shelters, and had some bits of dirt trail. This section from the corner to K2 went more quickly than the section on the back side of the traverse, to the corner.

I looked for the bypass around K2, found the way, but there was a bit of snow on the path. I know that I am still a wimp when it comes to hiking, but this part was tense for me. I was kicking steps, trying to stay on rock, and had death grips with my hands. Dave opted for the up and over method.

Since he went up and over, I decided to join him and just after the spot in the previous photo, I went up to the top of K2 as well. Here we rested, gathered ourselves, and headed down for the ridge portion. There is a nice rib off to the north of K2 that was rather easy to down climb, and offered a bit of a crack exit back to the left (on the way down) to get to the notch. Here is Dave on the way down, the crack is still probably a bit down and left in the photo. Fun stuff and a good warm up for what is to come.

So we got into the ridge and here is where Dave and my opinions differ. Note that I am not bagging on Dave, it is just interesting what people are comfortable/uncomfortable with. I had no problems across the ridge; Dave did. The next day I struggled with Pyramid while Dave floated up and down with ease.

It is pretty obvious where to go on the ridge. There are places where it seems not much choice than to drop down, and other times no choice but to stay on top. Here is Dave on one of the drop down sections

And on one of the ridge sections. I think that I am a bit out on the knife edge taking this shot.

Here is Dave starting across the knife edge. I don't know where I was, but I was surprised at how many good stopping points there were on the ridge, and even on the knife edge. It seemed that there was at most 20-30feet of work before a very good, flattish place was there to park my butt on.

Across the knife edge, things got interesting in a different way, as the route looked very complicated. I tried to mark the next photo in green where I think Bill's route goes (roughly) and in orange where our route goes. I know that we were lower than the "route", but there was good trail segments and very noticeable cairns to guide us. Even while on it, we felt low, but liked where we were going. The circle in the photo is where a light cairn on dark rock marks the rib before a large gray gully. I can't see it in this photo, so the circle is an approximate location.

Looking back from about half way on the route. You can see quite a bit of dirt and very reasonable path

And pulled back a little to show more of the overall slope.

Here is the light cairn on the dark rock that I mentioned. I think if you are on the "low" trail, this cairn becomes pretty obvious as you are crossing the face. I am not yet crossed the gray gully, but here is Dave climbing the rib above the cairn.

Again with Dave, I just thought this was a cool shot with K2 in the background.

If you are on the low route, I think the key from the cairn is to climb the rib until you see a comfortable ascending traverse across the gray gully, then exit to the left onto the rib on that side. Perhaps a bad thing about this route is that the gully is loose. This was probably the area I felt the most exposed (along with the snow on the K2 traverse), right in this crossing. Here is a shot from in the gully, looking up to an exit point.

So now I am on the other side of the gray gully, on a rib, and am very nearly back onto Bill's route (probably about 20-30 feet low at this point). Looking back across the gray gully, you can see the light cairn, my approximate route from there up the rib and then across. Dave is the other circle. You can see the loose rock and dirt OK in this shot.

At this point, we were passed by other hikers. It appears that they were on the more standard route. I have tried to show both theirs (standard) and ours (low) to get an idea of the difference

On the ridgeline that Bill refers to, heading up. The climbing was solid again, and fun. Here is looking down on the ridge. There is a lot of dark rock with a small cairn circled. This is pretty obvious on the way down, but is the place to start heading across the face back toward K2

Here is Dave working up the ridge, and starting to come off to the left. You can see in the background, some of the route up from the cairn across the gray gully. I was surprised at this point at how much farther left (looking up) the summit is. Still plenty of work from here, but fun scrambling.

After a bit more scrambling right on the ridge, we arrived at the summit. It felt good, and unusual for me, I wasn't that worried about the down climb.

Now we are on the way down, just below the ridge off of the summit and heading back toward the rib/ridge in Bill's photos #27/28 (we would be around the back in those photos). A bit of a traffic jam.

Dave coming down the rib/ridge and I am either across or just into the gray gully.

And some climbers on the way up that were either on or above the standard route. This looked tougher than what we came up.

I know that it is a jumbled mess, but I am back at the light cairn and looking up across the gray gully. Climbers are circled, potential routes back to me (low route) are in orange, and what I presume to be the approximate standard route in green. Not too long after this photo, the left guy in orange sent a rock down the gully that was scary. I think the right orange route was much more solid and less exposed.

A quick aside about rockfall; we heard a lot of it on this climb. It seemed we were on mostly solid stuff, but we probably had 4-5 different cases of hiker caused rockfall around us on the hike. I understand folks caution on this slope, the rock is loose in spots.

Okay, back to the story, this shot is pulled back a bit to show more of the gray gully and some of the climbers. I don't know what route the other group took up, but they are heading down toward me on the way down. Again, I am sitting next to the light cairn on the dark rock from some of the previous photos.

As Dave is coming across the gully (we purposefully spread out to minimize rockall danger), here is a shot of the group that passed us. They stayed higher than we did on the way back, so they are heading on the upper route while we took the lower

And here is Dave coming across the face. I think this is a good shot showing the traverse conditions, note the relatively good trail on the right side of the photo.

Traffic on the knife edge coming back across. I practically flew across (not walking) and quickly caught up to this group.

As I am waiting, the other group pushed on ahead toward the notch below K2

I made Dave stop and take a photo of me on the knife edge. I am standing in one of the flat spots along the way.

And back to K2 looking down the way. I traversed around and Dave went back up and over. Remember to meander left to get onto the easy slabs down low on your way back to the corner.

Wow, what a mountain. I really wonder if the lower route is what people refer to when they say mostly trail, and mostly class 2 with easy scrambling. Except for the gray gully, the face above the knife edge was not bad at all. As I mentioned, I didn't worry about the down climb on the way up, which I definitely did on most other harder 14er peaks. I don't know if I would call Capitol "easy", but for me it was much easier than I had built it up to be.

I absolutely loved the ridge crossing and the knife edge. It is definitely my favorite stretch of scrambling on any of the 14er routes.

My advice for folks considering (or preparing for) Capitol is this:
-if you are fine with the knife edge on the Kelso Ridge, you will be fine on Capitols ridge
-if you have done S. Maroon, the traversing across the face above the knife edge will be similar to the traversing on S. Maroon, but more solid
-if you have done the El Diente to Mt. Wilson traverse, the exposure on Capitol won't be any worse.
-and finally, don't turn around due to fear until you are just below the area of concern. A lot of it looks worse from even 50 - 100 feet back/below than it does when you are right on it.

Thanks for reading

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Comments or Questions
emcee smith

Easy may not be exact, but it is a very good word
09/14/2010 14:42
Kieth, I think that the fact that one could consider/debate as to whether it is easy is fairly telling. Maybe the fun/coolness factor washes over the difficult/loose spots. Definitely a cool mountain!


devil's in the details
09/14/2010 14:53
Your level of detail in this report is incredible, not just on the route itself, but also in terms of your assessment of the difficulty. This kind of stuff is so helpful for folks who are considering a climb but unsure if they're ready.

Re: loose rock. I found the route to be solid in most places, then I dislodged a boulder in what I believe is the exact spot you show in your photo #23. It didn't go far and fortunately didn't hurt anyone (except me, when it scraped my arm as it went flying), but it was the scariest thing I've encountered on a peak.

Great write-up. Cool shot of you on the knife-edge, too.


Glad to hear you guys made it...
09/14/2010 15:01
We were on the Cap to Sno traverse and saw you guys on the summit! Glad your trip was good and you got the summit. Nice detailed TR too...thx.


excellent photos
09/14/2010 15:35
I'm no student of every Capitol report, but I've read my fair share trying to decide whether to make this a goal or not. Haven't seen better photos or detail to help me decide than this report. Thanks, congrats.

Judge K
Down to 1
09/14/2010 15:48
Great TR as always. So glad to see you had such excellent weather. Can't wait for the Pyramid TR. Any thoughts on when the finisher will happen?


09/14/2010 17:16
Mike has great taste in music!


09/14/2010 18:35
Good to see you get the toughies out of the way, Mike. This TR is incredibly detailed and objective. Very impressive. Have fun up Pikes!!!

Great Job
09/14/2010 22:06
Thanks, Mike! Great report, as always. I'm encouraged to think that I can add this one to my list.

Southern Appalachian

Kelso Flashback
09/15/2010 03:24
”-if you are fine with the knife edge on the Kelso Ridge, you will be fine on Capitols ridge”

Was this one for me?

What if you camped out on the knife edge on Kelso ... wrote a letter to your mama ... called significant others ... waited for SAR ... and finally decided you had no choice but to cross it?????


09/15/2010 13:14
Mike, what can we say?! Your TRs keep getting better and better! So glad you had a super-weather weekend for both Capital and Pyramid. Congratulations on the 1-to-go status.


Thanks, Mike!
11/30/2010 17:28
I gotta agree with everyone about the write-up. This report is definitely a great addition to the available documentation about the route. I think I should get an assist, though, for slowing you down enough for you to get all those great pics.

This was a serious undertaking for me - more so than I had expected - maybe in part because it was the first "climbing" (as opposed to hiking) I'd done since the accident. That pic of me on the Knife Edge ( pic#8 ) pretty much sums up my experience there - clinging on for dear life. Looking back, maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought at first, but I would definitely want good weather the whole day - like we had. I'll tell you one thing: I had the best sleep in a long time last night - as I was finally able to relax a bit.

Oldschool - I'm so glad you guys are all safe and had an exhilerating traverse. That looks extremely intense! I wanted to at least say hi at the lake, but we missed you. I think that was probably your group that was starting out as we were making the decision to keep warm in the tents for a while.


Love it!
02/05/2011 00:22
Nice job! From your conclusion, I'm guessing ”easy” may not be the exact word to describe the climb, but it wasn't all that bad, either? Congrats on getting it done! What a cool mountain!


04/18/2014 19:27
Good job guys Capitol had me sweating for a long time to and seeing reports like this make me kind of want to go back and climb it again to see if it is as difficult as the first time.

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