July 23, 2006
Capitol Peak: 14,130 feet
With Kevin Baker
Distance (round-trip): 17 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,800 feet
When Kevin Baker e-mailed me with an invitation to join him on Capitol Peak, I could not pass up the opportunity. In 2005, I had been part of a six man team who attempted Capitol on Memorial Day weekend. The two-day trip led us to 12,800 feet and within a mile of the summit, be we turned back due to route-finding mistakes and dangerous snow conditions. I had silently vowed to return to this majestic mountain, and at last the chance presented itself.
We awoke at 1:30, both of us pumped for the climb and ready to get going by two. It was a moonless night, but the stars were out in full, spreading the Milky Way across the sky like a giant speckled blanket. The air was already warm, but mosquito-free for the time being. As we donned our headlamps and packs and started out on the trail, I had the feeling it was going to be a spectacular day.
In the dark, the hours and miles passed surprisingly quickly. The monotony of the pleasant trail put us into a healthy rhythm, and we made good progress all the way to the Daly-Capitol saddle. The final 1,000 feet from Capitol Lake took us only 25 minutes to complete. A check of the time showed 5:30, and the sun was just lighting the eastern horizon and peeking into the Snowmass Creek drainage before us.
We stopped for a break as we reached the ridge before K2. The views of Capitol Peak, Snowmass Mountain and Pierre Lakes were fantastic, especially in the early morning glow of the sun. We took some pictures and I changed into my mountaineering boots, then we were on our way up to K2. Monotonous talus slopes, followed by a short, interesting 4th class climb up solid blocks led us to the summit of K2.
Once on the ridge, our route was apparent for a while, and the exposure of this narrow passageway was exhilarating. We first climbed along a mini knife edge, then rounded some rock outcroppings to come to the main event: Capitol?s notorious knife edge. The whole of this 100-foot long obstacle took much more mental power than physical prowess. The exposure was awesome, and the foot-holds were not quite as plentiful as I had been led to believe. After a short stretch of walking along the edge with my hands on the crest and my feet below, I resorted to the awkward scoot-on-butt-with-feet-on-both-sides technique. After the middle section, I swung my leg back over and used a crack system on the north side to walk my way along to the end of the difficulties.
Kevin followed, and he did not like the awkward butt-scooting idea at all. He walked along the knife edge on its south side, using his feet solely for friction when there were no holds to be had. At one point, he actually crawled up on the knife edge and used all fours to make it to the next holds.
When we arrived on the other side of the knife edge, we both breathed heavy sighs of relief, but we knew our concentration, focus and energy were needed for the rest of the climb. We continued scrambling along the ridge to its final narrow point before joining up with the east face of Capitol. I took to route-finding here, and followed a series of cairned ledges, which contoured low along the face. We crossed several rock ribs, before finally arriving at a dead-end gully. I saw no more cairns, and we both agreed the easiest route from here appeared to be straight up the gully to the southeast spur.
After gaining a good bit of elevation, we contoured to the southeast spur, and from there we had a view of the final climb ahead of us. After climbing a short distance up the spur, we met up with the climber ahead of us, who had already made it to the summit and was on his way down. From there it was an interesting 4th class scramble along large boulders leading to the summit.
We arrived on the summit at 9:30, with three others just seconds behind us. By the time we left the summit, an hour later, about ten people had made it altogether so far, and we passed several more people on our way down. Even Colorado?s toughest fourteener has a good bit of company in the summer!
The views were great, and the weather was holding beautifully. I was ecstatic to finally be standing there, soaking it all in for myself. The hour-long sit was completely refreshing for both of us, but alas it came time to head back home.
After the familiar scramble along the narrow ridge to the knife edge, Kevin and I took a deep breath and went for it. He went first this time, and I took several pictures of his spectacular position. I followed, feeling no less awkward or exhilarated from the movements and exposure than I had the first time.
Glissading would have been fun, except that we were both wearing shorts. So instead, we took the snow slopes with some short standing slides and otherwise normal walking. The snow was much softer now thanks to the hot sun, and I enjoyed descending it.
Finally, we followed an easy trail to the saddle before Mount Daly, arriving about two o?clock. Kevin expressed interest in climbing Mount Daly as well. Though I was feeling great and was tempted to join him, I knew it would be late by the time I got home, and I needed to get going. We sat for a short break, then I wished him luck with Daly and started down the switchbacks toward Capitol Lake.
The views of the lake and peaks were just as gorgeous as I remembered them. This time everything was accented with brilliant-colored wild-flowers all through the valley. I could not stop snapping pictures for a couple miles.
Cows were grazing throughout the valley, enjoying the lush grass and weeds everywhere. There were plenty of flies and mosquitos, but they were great motivation to keep moving, as they only really bothered me when I was sitting still. I made it to my jeep at 4:15 and took one last look at Capitol before leaving the trailhead. What an awesome and unforgettable mountain!
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