Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
"North Snowmass"  -  14,020 feet
Date Posted:  09/27/2010
Modified:  10/04/2010
Date Climbed:   09/27/2010
Author:  Winter8000m
 Cap-Snow Finish - Never Ending Punishment (Noah's Edition)   

The Finish of all Finishes

Climbers: Mike Fyten (oldschool) Noah McKelvin (winter8000m) Steve Gladbach (sgladbach)

This is my description of Day 2 and finish of the traverse. It's a bit more detailed. I hope it's not to boring. This is the last report of the traverse.
The Team. L-R Noah, Steve, Kiefer, Mike

After getting quite far on the traverse, we all stared ahead at what we thought would be a cruise to the start of the final two pitches of 5.5 to the top of North Snowmass. Little did we know, we stared ahead at our worse nightmare. I thought to myself, we can't continue. We needed at least a whole day or more to finish this last part. It looked absolutely scary. These Gendarmes or "Satan's Horns" are the full crux of the route. Were they even possible to climb? The didn't look like it. They looked extremely dangerous and suicidal. That's probably why they have never been climbed through.
The rest of the traverse and crux of the route

After doing some research, I found no reports of anyone climbing the ridge proper threw the crux of the route. Only in 1952 had it been attempted but even them didn't reach into the heart of the gendarmes. All we had to do is finish this last part without dropping into the basin. Sounds easy right? Thinking now, there is a reason no one has ever climbed through that section to what we know of. It's the hardest climbing on the ridge on quite loose rock that is poorly protected.
The rest of the traverse. Extra Credit: spot the Gendarmes!

We all coordinated a date and the last weekend of September was agreed by everyone. This was the last ime for us to finish this thing. I didn't want to go into the winter leaving this undone. I was quite intimidated of these things. I thought the last 3 miles of the ridge was hard. These things looked flat out scary.

Fast forward a bit and a storm hit the mountains a day before our adventure. I called many companied located in Aspen asking for conditons. They reported up to a foot of snow! I almost started crying. (kidding) We talked and called it off. I talked to Mike and we talked about moving it forward a day to a Saturday and Sunday adventure. It also was reported there was not that much snow as I had heard. We talked to everyone and finally the plan and trip was back up in the air. I had my doubts though that we would even get on it. In dry conditions, this thing is really dangerous. In wet conditions?

Kiefer then contacted us later that night and in the morning saying he was to sick to join us but told us to go for it. I was a bit sad and missed having him along on the traverse.

It was down to three: Noah, Mike, and Steve. We carried two ropes for what I thought as a double rope system. There was going to be alot of rope work. I'm glad Mike brought his 10.2mm lead rope. I brought a 8.6mm second rope. We brought about 6 cams and a set of nuts and some slings.

I met up Steve at Twin Lakes by Leadville at what was originally 1 turned into 4 because we were both having struggles getting stuff together.

We got to Lead King Basin at about 7 and were up at campsite 5 at Lake Geneva at about 8. I was curious. Gray's and Torrey's were covered in snow. The Sawatch range seemed to get a dusting. And many mountains by Snowmass were covered in snow on there North Faces. Snowmass oddly was free of snow from what we saw. Sadly, we were going to be climbing on the North Side. We met Mike there who had gotten there earlier since he was coming from Grand Junction. We all smiled and were cracking jokes soon of which will not be said on here.

As I went to sleep I tuned on my IPOD and thought about the next day. How was it going to turn out? I prayed that everyone would be kept safe. I just wanted to finish this thing and never return. I knew from two weeks ago how dangerous it was and this section was going to be way harder and more in likely more dangerous. I wanted to know how the day would turn out so bad.

Soon we started packing up and headed up after a brief breakfast at 5:30 in the morning. I was concentrated. We all were. We got to Siberia Lake and got some more water for the day.
Siberia Lake at sunrise
The traverse looked free of snow? So weird! Soon the sun started coming up and we saw once again Satan's horns. I was trying to spot a way accross them from below but couldn't. Everything looked like 5.10+ slab friciton with no pro.
How are we going to do this?

We made the dreaded ascent from the lake to the ridge which was Elk solid at the bottom but turned into very loose at the top. It was also quite steep. Don't slide off! We got to the ridge finally, the ending point two weeks ago. I looked at the rest of the ridge and after the Gendarmes it looked covered in snow. We just couldn't tell in the dark. Hope of finishing it seemed up in the air.
Here we go...

We started up the ridge where we ended and were trying to negotiate this sub-peak. The only way it seemed was to make a very airy step into this chimney that had very loose rock in it and looked like it would send you down a thousand feet down the other side. It's that steep on the east side. We roped up.

I started off with the lead and was quite intimitaded. Here we go, into the unknown. What are we going to encounter?

I made the airy step and stepped into the chimney and I heard a rock about to slide out right when I stepped into it. I put in a nut as soon as I could, clipped into it and stated," I'm on Belay." Wow! I climbed up the chimney. All the footholds were a tiny bit icy. I topped out and yelled in excitement. The next few feet looked not bad. I went as far as I could, set up a belay and belayed Steve up who was in the middle of the rope. Mike was in the end and cruised up! We all agreed that first step was rather scary.

Mike took the next lead and made a downward traverse down the ridge that kept your attention (5th class). Once again the pro was seperated by gaps of 30-50 feet. It was a no fall zone for everyone. We all joined him. Now it would be nice if the rest of the ridge was like this but we weren't even into the guts of this thing. Now we saw this huge Gendarme. You could not pass left, right, or over the top. The only way I saw was going through it. There was a gap sperating the gendarme that was not that wide. Wide enough that we all had to take off our packs, suck our stomachs in and slide through it. I took the lead and just to get to that slot I had to climb some mid fifth class with ok pro. I stood there right before it and smiled. It also didn't look like a drop off after this slot! I went through it taking my pack off and set a belay on the other side. We all joined and were admitting that was a cool pitch!
Once through Satans Doorway you got this view!
We called the slot "Satan's Doorway." It's the entrance to the guts of the traverse.
Me leading through Satan's Doorway

Steve told us he was taking the next lead. He took off. We still could not see the guts of the gendarmes yet. He did well and set up a belay about 200 feet into it. By this time we had two ropes out to speed up time. The leader would lead with the lead rope and the middle would hook into both ropes while the follower would be at the end of the 8.6mm rope. Did I mention the rope drag was horrendous?

By the time we all got to Steve's belay we were standing on what seemed to be an overhanging bulge of extremely loose rock. Things were sliding. I wanted to get off this belay. I felt like any minute, a couple tons of rock was going to fall off with me on it. Luckily we were on a rope. How much could we trust this protection in this choss rock though? I could see the gendarmes or Satan's horns. Good new is that there looked like a way accross. Bad news is that it looked like the hardest climbing on the ridge and with not much pro at all. Plus, time was flying by. It was taking forever to do this. It was Mike's lead who took one of the two most frightening, dangerous leads on the route. He lead a slightly downward traverse with gaps between the pro of up to 50-75 feet. This traverse pitch was in the 5.6-5.7 range it felt like. The bad thing was if any of us well, it would not be good news at all. There are no ambulances nearby or worse coffins. I followed after Mike and the whole time I was so mentally in it. Thinking to myself ,"You got this, test every hold." On a pitch like this you can't think about falling. Steve then followed after me and I was a bit worried. When he got in talking range I kept encouraging him,"You got this man." He finally got to the belay station and wow, were not even at the heart of the gendarmes yet. Guess what, It was my lead next! I was not as excited as I would be on a solid rock route. Someone has to lead it though.
My lead? SO excited. (Not really)

I lead on with a traverse on a easy ledge leading slightly downwards. I had Mike clip me into a piece right by him as sort of a top rope and I would let him know to take me off it when I get a solid piece in. I don't think I found that solid piece for a 100 feet. Everything was loose. No protection was good. I finally found a nut that I found to be "ok". I was right below the biggest gendarme on the ridge, Satan's horn. It looked like the traverse ended in about 50 feet. We would have to climb this vertical headwall to keep on going. It looked kind of solid and sweet. I yelled," can I take the next lead?" They were perfectly fine with that idea. I climbed a bit up it and made what almost was like a hanging belay. The belay was solid. I just didn't want to lean out in it from how bad the rock was. Mike And Steve soon followed and had trouble finding a spot to even stand. The bad thing was that this headwall when I stood right below it had no pro. I had regreted saying I wanted the next lead.
Starting the Scary lead looking down at the belay. The exposure was constant

I put on my rock shoes and was kind of scared. I didn't know how hard the climbing would be. I would be fine with that if it was protected but this wasn't. This proved to be one of the two scariest, dangerous pitches. Mike lead the last one. Now it was my turn!
The 5.6 R/X headwall

I set off. I found a small placement directly above the anchor. I clipped into it thinking,"hey, maybe this won't be to bad." It was a 5.6 headwall that was still loose. There was massive exposure. The talus at the bottom was right below your feet. I found a small placement in about 10 feet that I'll let you know I didn't want to fall on. The next 50-75 feet were unprotected. The minor protection was there at times but I didn't even bother with it because it was so bad. Who wants to sling a huge flake that's about to come off?

I placed one piece before the belay. I had to climb under this overhang to get to the belay. It looked like after one more pitch, we would be done with these gendarmes! I belayed everyone else up. We were looking straight accross the gendarmes. I don't know how they stand!
Still standing for now...

Mike took the next lead up this slab. It seemed to be 5.7 at first. He got a nut in about 10 feet up and ran up it. It was actually solid. Well 25 feet of it. He yelled that was the last of the gendarmes. We were happy. We still had the rest of the north ridge though. It was getting late. We admitted the fact that a bivy on top of Snowmass might have to happen if we don't hurry up.
Mike and Steve putting away the ropes for now. You can see Satan's doorway and the ugly Gendarmes along with the whole ri

We packed up the ropes when we got to Mike's spot and started off to the base of the last two pitches of which are reported to be the most solid pitches on the traverse. We shot up to the base in actually 20-30 minutes. There was some snow we had to negotiate. I was excited. Two more pitches and I'm off this crap. We put on our rock shoes and scrambled as far as possible. Steve took the first pitch and belayed Mike up. I soloed the first pitch. It was nothing to hard. There was some insane exposure!
Me on top of the 1 pitch
I stopped before the second pitch and was waiting to rope up. We were making time. Mike and Steve actually spotted a piton from the fist ascent of the ridge! This ridge has only been done a couple time I imagine. Not popular. No carins.
Mike on pitch one. Some awesome exposure!

Vertical on both sides! Me halfway up the final pitch! Steve below

I gave Mike the last lead. I was later quit depressed that I did. It was the best pitch on the route. Really solid! Well according to Eldo, Yosemite, and etc. probably loose. I followed Mike and soon was on top of North Snowmass! Steve then followed and joined us. These two pitches were only in the 5.5 range. We did encounter a little snow which made it a little more difficult.

Did we really do this? We all smiled and started to lighten up a bit. Before we were all pretty tense. I got easily angered for some reason one or two times. I thank Steve for dealing with me those one of two times I did. I don't even remember what I was upset with. Something like the rope not being coiled up and making it's own knots when I was climbing.

We slapped hands. We did the impossible. Really, we did. What I thought as impossible before turned possible. I was so happy. For me, this was a dream come true, again. We got a group summit shot and shot over to Snowmass over really snowy ground. (Class 3/4) We got to the top of Snowmass and the gratification of doing this was even more awesome. I stared at the ridge traverse stating to Steve and Mike," We did that!"
Mike with the traverse behind!

Not only had we done it but we had made the first ascent of the ridge proper according to the knowledge that's out there. We had stayed on the ridge the whole time and not dropped off in the basin once. The rating of the ridge? We give it a 5.7 R/X if you don't drop down. It didn't exactly have no pro pitches but just about with how bad the gear was.
We did it! On top of North Snowmass

Me on top of Snowmass Mountain via the most insane route!

We headed down the miserable West Slopes Side at about 5-5:30. For those of you who have done that descent. The ridge is even looser and more exposed. I was tired. We got down to camp and packed up and got down to the car in only 3 hours. From summit to camp and packing up to the car at lead king basin in 3 hours. I was impressed. I still had the long drive home to Denver though. I called off work the next day and got home close to 3 in the morning and woke up the next day thinking the whole trip was a dream.

We are also the second recorded party to do the traverse from Capitol to Snowmass and the fourth recorded party to just do that traverse.

I will never forget this experience.
On top of North Snowmass

This is a huge accomplishment for all of us. Many more to come.
The Cap-Snow Traverse

You may ask why we equait everything to Satan on this ridge. The answer is simple. Satan is the worst of the worst. And this ridge is the worst of the worst.

Again I say,

What's next?


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

Comments or Questions
09/28/2010 02:28

Glad you made it through this in one piece.

Brian C
09/28/2010 03:17
Nice work guys. Glad you could finish it and all made it out safely.

Doctor No
Really nice work!
09/28/2010 04:10
It feels like I was there. I'm glad that I wasn't there.

09/28/2010 06:11
If there has ever been a fall to pull this off this is it. No easy task for even the most seasoned alpinist. Well done fellas, glad you documented it as well. Great job! I suspect this will inspire some others. Way to explore and pioneer, that is what it is all about in my book.

Double WOW!
09/28/2010 14:18
I knew all of you could do it. Looking forward to more group adventures in the future. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!

09/28/2010 14:25
I've stared at that ridge from close up and far away over the years. No desire to attempt it myself, good on ya for sticking to your guns and busting through the truly Satanic sections. Great photos and TR!

09/28/2010 14:34
thanks for the report.

whats next? maybe a ridge proper traverse of the Crestones.

Excellent report
09/28/2010 17:20
Congrats to you fellas on finishing off that ridge. Caleb is right about the fall weather! Couldn't have asked for a better season to do this. Looking forward to perhaps attempting this sucker myself - though maybe not until next fall.

You should be proud of yourself
09/28/2010 17:34
But don't be foolish - it is nothing close to the hardest traverse in the states. Try reading about the Evolution Traverse here to get an idea of other way more difficult ridge traverses:

I second the don't be foolish...
09/28/2010 20:00
Ever heard of the Grand Traverse in the Tetons? We'll here ya go:
The Cap-Snowmass Traverse doesnt even come close in difficulty.

Nice Job
09/28/2010 20:08
It sure looks challenging.

Working off Halladays question on the single push, were the other (recorded) traverses done over two days, or one, or do you not know? Just curious. I realize you don't know about other unrecorded/pre-Google attempts/successes.

Hardest? I don't care!
09/28/2010 21:54
As a member of the Team that did the traverse with Noah and Steve (and Kiefer for Day 1) I don't care whether or not it is the hardest. Let the discussions go on about that....what's the best movie, what is better..gin or vodka...blah, blah, blah. I do think the discussion has merit and we all will have an opinion. My only focus, my only reason to do this, was to tackle a project that grabbed my attention a year ago while on top of Pyramid. I saw it, asked myself....”well what about going from there to there up on that ridge...” and getting it done. It is not the hardest climbing I have ever is the most dangerous I have done. What I am most proud of or happiest about after doing this? No one got hurt and we all came down together. I am proud that all of us had the commitment to do this and stayed with it. It wasn't easy but it wasn't impossible either...that's cool to me.

09/28/2010 22:04
+1 on Mikes comment!

Jason Halladay
For the record, I don't care either
09/29/2010 04:30
I'm glad to see some more comments about history and previous parties experiences on this ridge so thanks for those, Steve. For what it's worth regarding the difficulty, I don't care one way or the other. It was the author's comment in the report stating, ”I don't doubt it's the hardest in the lower 48” that prompted me to suggest some other traverses that might be comparable. If the author truly didn't care (as the post above mine here states) why was the point made in the report? As others have said, none of this really matters but us climbers like to discuss such things.

And to clarify my earlier statement, by single push I don't mean one day, I mean single push no matter how long it takes. Sounds like Samet did that but avoided some of the major gendarme difficulties along the ridge by dropping lower.

All the semantics and subjective talk about difficulty aside, it looks like a tough but cool adventure.

I agree with what Jason Halliday said above me.
09/29/2010 16:33
It's great, but don't over-do it.

Thanks sgladbach,
09/29/2010 19:10
for sharing the recorded history.

And for toning down the sensationalism.

Good work everyone

This reminds me.....
09/30/2010 03:19
...of when Doumall threw out a claim of our possible first ski descent on Culebra's NF. Never seems to go over well when you put it out there. People just don't seem to like that tone regardless of whether it is accurate or not. Anyway it sounds like a damn challenging trip and certainly something that can be admired and inspiring for most of the 14ers readers.

Ted kind of has a point though. I have been fortunate enough to hang out a bit with some of the older folks from the CO climbing community, it's extremely humbling. There are still a truck load of 14er feats that haven't been repeated since the 70's and 80's. This I am sure. And it seems you have to pry it out of most of them. I wish I could share it all, it's hard to believe, but they are not my stories to tell.

As long as it's new to me, then it might as well be new to everyone. The point of the whole deal is that you guys walked into the unknown head first, challenged your abilities, and were victorious. Cool stuff.

10/05/2010 05:01
Agree with Steve. It is not the hardest technically. But this thing was pretty dangerous and was more of the dangerous factor then the technical factor. All together a great memory with great partners.

10/05/2010 05:03
I say, I'll just be happy on solid rock. If this thing would of been solid rock. It would be a classic for sure! but It's not

Hardest traverse?
11/30/2010 17:28
Certainly not the most technical in the United States. However, Matt Samet, who soloed in 2001 and is the only climber known to have climbed Evolution ridge and most of the Cap/Snow proper rated it "possibly the hardest in the United States." There is no record of another climber who has done both traverses.

Cap/Snow is a very loose and dangerous traverse. Evolution is a longer traverse with more technical stable rock. Apples and Oranges.

Thank you Mike and Noah and Kiefer for bringing me along and leading the tougher TRAD pitches.

The route certainly is not the hardest (technically) in the US. However, it's rock may at least qualify it for "most dangerous traverse between two ranked summits in the lower 48."

I'm happy we all safely climbed a "hard" and dangerous route. The safety factor is good enough for me!! Thanks Mike and Noah for leading the toughest pitches!! I couldn't have done this w/o you.

Recorded Cap/Snow Traverse
11/30/2010 17:28

In the AAC library, the 1952 Cap/Snow traverse was aborted at the end of the first day at "Devil's Doorway." It was not finished.

The 1963 route was a 24 hour Outward Bound push from Maroon Peak to Capitol. They made no attempt to stay on ridges between N. Maroon and Snowmass or between Snowmass and Capitol. Apparently, a series of raps got them off N. Snowmass and into Pierre Lakes Basin. They re-gained the ridge at the far end of the basin. They are responsible for the pin found under the final knife-edge below Capitol.

Later Paul Petzholt and his OB student Gary Neptune completed a climb that was not intended to be an attempt at the traverse. It was the first ascent of the North Ridge of North Snowmass. Their route goes up North Snowmass following the north ridge from the south end of the Gendarme section. They are responsible for several pins completing the final 300' to N. Snowmass. It is not clear how they reached the ridge.

Matt Samet completed a one-day solo of the traverse. Apparently, he dropped hundreds of feet under the Gendarmes, bypassing the slowest work but simultaneously adding more 5.7 free solo. It would be nice to have his comments.

I'm certain you are correct about accomplishments which did not reach the AAC library or the internet. Aspenites, especially, seem to do some incredible stuff that gets disseminated by word of mouth. I believe a Snow/Cap traverse w/ a couple raps and ballsy climbers foregoing further ropework (after all, none of us actually took a fall!!) will be accomplished summit to summit in daylight. It will be a man younger man than me, without chlidren , good strength, and sufficient serenity (which is possible w/o children!)

11/30/2010 17:28
of whether or not this traverse is the "hardest" in Colorado, the hardest in the lower 48, or the hardest in the U.S. (since it really doesn't matter that much ), it's an accomplishment to be proud of, and that does matter. Good job fellas!

Well said Jason, Caleb, & folks...
11/30/2010 17:28
Point is that this crew did something pretty cool which not many others have attempted and will likley inspire some others to give it a shot as well. Only reason I through out another traverse in comparison to this one is b/c of the author's statment that "I don't doubt it's the hardest in the lower 48" as Jason alluded to as well as ”This is what putting up a first ascent includes”. Claiming first ascents and whatnot seems to never go over well on forums like this. Fact is no one really cares and I, for one, could care less, but again why make all these claims and ”hardest” traverse statements as well as pursue history reasearch if the author truly didn't care? Come on. You do care.

More comments.
11/30/2010 17:28

I agree. I didn't think it would get carried away. As far as the first ascent stuff, I was stating what I have researched on with the AAJ and other Journals back to the early 1900's. Including the Internet and other resources. I'm not just stating that out of no where. That's what I found.

As far as the "hardest traverse", I can see why it's taken wrong. I just stated what I found along with a couple others that have done the traverse. Fact is it doesn't matter. And who decides what's the ”hardest” you know?

Why did I research the history? Because I saw potential of a first ascent along with perhaps info that would help us out. To me anyways, that's what really inspires me along with having fun! I find it the most rewarding to do something out of the ordinary. It matters to me but no one else. Which is why I said it doesnt matter.

I write my TR's very honestly. My writing is blunt. I'm proud of myself and our group. You can see that with the TR. I'm in no way trying to brag. I'm by far the last person to do that with those of you who know me. Just feel happy and accomplished.

Great discussion
01/19/2011 03:38
To all the climbers involved here, respect. What you did deserves plenty of accolades, as it's well above the general skill level of most people who frequent the site, including me. I wish every thread were stocked with this kind of material from the kind of folks who've "been there and done that" on peaks and routes most folks only talk about. IMO (always right, lol, jk, Steve G) it'd be nice to see some of the narcissists who post "epic" TRs on fairly pedestrian climbs getting this kind of feedback. This climb and the related TRs are sensational additions to the climbing community. Thanks.

Jason Halladay
Looks like fun
02/05/2011 00:22
And it sounds like you all worked well as a group. It's quite rewarding to explore something without having any/much information on it.
Regarding the roped climbing, did you all consider the leader tying into both ropes with a second on each? Sounds like that would have worked out well and be a bit more efficient.
As for it being the the hardest traverse in the lower 48, while it's a difficult-sounding ridge, there are plenty more. Have you looked at the Palisade Traverse, or the Tetons Grand Traverse, to name a couple that come to mind quickly.
As for what's next, perhaps doing the traverse in a single push?

03/04/2012 18:31
Good work, not exactly a walk in the park. Good luck on your future climbs!!!

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