| Uno Mas
Peaks: Capitol Peak(14,130ft)
Mt Daly A(13,300ft)
Mileage: ~19 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,200ft
Capitol from trailhead
Capitol Peak has been something I have been looking forward to for a long time. Let me rephrase that, it has been something I have been looking forward to for the last year. Before that I will admit that I was a little intimidated by arguably to hardest of the 14ers by their standard route. Not knowing if I would ever gain enough experience to tackle the peak, it was always a wild card in my early days of 14ers, not sure I would be up for it. Fast forward a few years and with only two left, it was time to take care of business. The weather forecast was perfect and I couldn't think of a better way to spend the summer solstice.
Mark and I left Denver at 12:45 on Wednesday and made the drive to the Capitol Creek trailhead. The road is easy 4wd for the last bit, and an Impreza made it with no difficulties. Our plan was to meet Shaun up at Capitol Lake in one of the campsites. We started down the ditch trail at 4:45 under clear skies and hot sun. Quickly the trail enters the Aspen trees and it was nice and cool in there, very nice. The trail goes up and down a few times while switching between Aspen forest and beautiful meadows. Oh yeah, did I mention that the mountain is staring you right in your face the entire hike in? Well it does and the North Face does a good job of intimidation.
After 2.5 miles you drop down to Capitol Creek, Mark choosing just to wade through with his boots on, while I elect to go barefoot. The cold water feels great on my feet and other than slipping on the slimy rocks a little, crossing the creek went well. From the crossing it is still 3 miles to Capitol Lake. The day was cooling off at this point and this next section seemed to go by fairly quick and soon we were climbing the switchbacks to gain the bench that the lake sits on.
Reflection in Capitol Lake
Just as we were getting up near the campsites we ran into Shaun who was scouting out sites and we all agreed that site #2 would suit us just fine. I got my bivy ready, Mark his tarp, and Shaun his tent while we got to know each other. It really is amazing how small of a community this really is, as it seems there is only one degree of separation with the people who climb a lot on 14ers.com. After dinner we took a trip to the lake for pictures and to filter water for the next day. Shaun took a dip in the lake and I vowed to do the same the next day if we were successful.
Shaun takes a swim
At camp I was able to recruit Shaun to attempt Mt. Daly in the morning before we headed over to Capitol. To be honest, I hadn’t even had Daly on my radar until the night before when Abe mentioned it, and my 13er addiction took control. I was really looking forward to it because there is pretty much no beta on the route, so we were going to be on our own. We planned to meet Mark afterward at the Daly-K2 saddle, hung our food and went to bed around 10:30 for the 3am alarm.
The alarm went off and I saw Shaun stirring which helped me get my butt in gear. Hitting the trail at 3:15 under starry skies we quickly made it to the split for the trail up to the saddle. This was a bit of a grunt, but we put our heads down and knocked it out. Reaching the saddle just before 4, and it was still completely dark out. Having no beta on the route, we simply attacked it head on and made it up as we went.
Mt. Daly in the morning
First obstacle on Daly taken on descent
Window on Daly's ridge taken on descent
Right off the bat you run into a huge obstacle that we decided to skirt around on the left side. The tough climbing was made more interesting by the fact that the first 40 minutes were in the dark with only our headlamps to show the options we had. Once around that first difficulty we regained the ridge and passed through a huge window to the other side of the ridge. After that there was another large obstacle that we went around on the right side this time. From there on out we more or less stayed on the ridge proper. The first third of the ridge is relatively flat class 3 climbing, followed by a section of class 3 with elevation gain, and finishing with a class 2 walk up to the summit. We pulled ourselves to the summit 5 minutes before sunrise on a perfect morning.
Daly summit with Capitol and Snowmass
Capitol at sunrise
Bells and Pyramid sunrise
Our next goal for the day
The sunrise was spectacular and the views of the entire Elk Range, and especially Capitol were awe-inspiring. We refueled on top for a few minutes and I must say, a pastrami sandwich for breakfast at 5:40am really hit the spot. The ridge had taken longer than expected so we knew we needed to get a move on in order to meet Mark at the saddle. Downclimbing the ridge was much easier having been there before and being able to see, and we made it back to the saddle just before 7, and just as Mark was finishing the switchbacks.
Mt. Daly A
Heading over the saddle the route drops down and we lost the trail a bit and had a tricky downclimb that was a nice primer for the climbing to come. A few small snowfields were crossed with care and the ice axes were very helpful for peace of mind in those sections. Contouring around the cliffs of the ridge we found ourselves in a boulder field and the route we had to take to gain K2 was obvious.
The snow was in decent shape for kicking steps and we mostly stayed on it until it became apparent that the rocks were the faster option. I had forgotten to take my water filter out of my pack after filtering the night before, but now I was happy I did because we saw some runoff starting that would offer a great place to filter on the way down. It felt great to stop conserving water and drink as much as I wanted knowing running out wouldn’t be an issue.
Classic shot from K2
The route then doglegs to the right and after what seemed like forever we finally had the summit of K2 in our sights and were done with snow for the remainder of the climb to the top. It was here that Mark announced he wasn’t feeling up for it today and after talking with him he decided he would head back to camp and rest up for the hike out. The remaining route is not a place to be if you are not on the top of your game, and he definitely made the correct, safe call. Usually there is a path that bypasses the summit of K2, but with snow blocking it, up and over was the only option. The classic view of the rest of the route to Capitol from K2 was just as great as I had expected and I was glad to be seeing it in person this time, and with not a cloud in the sky or anything more than a breeze.
On K2 we met our neighbor from campsite #3, Randy, invited him to join our group, and we ended up sticking together to all the way to the summit and back. Randy was an awesome guy, and at 60 years old, quite the inspiration for sure. Downclimbing the summit of K2 was a little tricky but with 6 eyes we figured out the path of least resistance and were soon looking down into the abyss that falls away from K2, talk about exposure down there!
Shaun on knife-edge
Soon enough we were at the start of the infamous knife-edge and it seemed much longer than I had expected. One at a time we walked right across it, or slowly scooted along on our butts with a leg hanging over each side, I’ll let you decide which. From there the rest of the route was tough to pick out, but as usual once you were closer the correct route showed itself. We followed the route description for the most part, just doing our best to stay as high as possible while avoiding the loose rock/dirt gullies that were trying to take us the fast way down the mountain.
We were all very focused at this point and I feel we worked together great as a team. At all times we made sure to be very aware of where each other were to make sure the rockfall danger was minimized. Towards the summit we chose to just head right to ridge to avoid losing elevation and to move onto larger, more stable rock. At 10:30 we were on the summit of Capitol Peak! The views of the Elk Range were awesome and we took a nice long break to soak them in. The weather could not have been better and we were all in great spirits.
Randy on summit
After the summit break, it was time to head down and we knew we still had a ton of difficult climbing ahead before we reached the safety of the far side of K2 again. For the descent we actually chose to stay on the ridge proper for about 85% of the time. While the exposure to our right was extreme, the solid rock made up for it and we were glad to be avoiding the loose junk below and to our right. If I were to climb Capitol again, this is the route I would take on the ascent as well. From below it is hard to see if the ridge goes or not, but from above it is very apparent.
NE ridge on descent
Crux of ridge downclimb
Soon we were back to the knife-edge and we exchanged cameras in order to make sure the crossings were well documented. We were surprised how tiring crossing it is, but the effort on top of the exposure and concentration had us all very happy to have it behind us. The only difficult climbing that remained was to go up and over K2 again, and having done it once already, it was much easier to figure it out this time around.
Me on knife-edge
On the other side of K2 and out of harm’s way for the most part, we parted ways with Randy and headed down to filter water. The ice cold water was just what the doctor ordered and we started to head back to the saddle. Snow conditions were variable ranging from nice glissade-able to crotch-deep posthole-ing, and everything in between. We were both so stoked to have successfully and safely completed our goals for the day, that even the postholes did little to dampen our spirits.
I had stashed my poles at the saddle earlier in the morning since they already didn’t have any foam on the handles from a previous run in with the pesky marmots so I wasn’t too worried about them. Well Shaun was just ahead of me when we came around the corner and got to the saddle when I heard him yelling. Apparently when he came into view he saw a marmot just hanging out on the saddle, and as soon as he saw him it made a beeline right for my poles. I caught up as he was throwing rocks and yelling at the marmot who was trying with all his might to get my poles from underneath the rocks I had put on them. It truly seemed like he wanted to wait for us so we could see him make off with his bounty, not this time!
From the saddle it was a quick hike back down the switchbacks and we headed for the lake. After going for a swim, taking some ‘I can’t believe I was just up there’ pictures, and filtering water for the hike out, we made it back to camp just before 3pm. Mark was feeling a little better but was very dehydrated and waiting for his iodine tablets to finish working so he was happy we had some water to share. Shaun had decided to spend another night at the campsite, so after some pats on the back and war stories, packing up all my stuff, and saying goodbyes, we hit the trail at 3:40.
The long road home...
The hike out was uneventful other than the few times I almost fell on my face because I was craning my neck back at the peak. Got back to the car at 6:00, and after a few stops for food we made it back to Denver around 11:00. Overall this hike and climb was just amazing. The area around the lake is so beautiful and the mountains offer some great fun. One thing I will say, Capitol gets a lot of hype, and I feel it deserves it all, a very serious mountain indeed. Pyramid, here I come!
Daly pokng out on left, Capitol on right
Thanks for reading!
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