| Capitol One - The Finale
“To finish the moment, to find the journey's end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Team: Jeff, Rob, Greg, Dillon, Eric, Tyler, Nick, and Dan
Base Camp: Approx. ¼ mile below Capitol Lake
Approach to Camp: 3hrs 30min
Camp to Summit: 4hrs 40min
Colorado 14er Summit #58
**Captions on top of photos**
**All photos by dmccool, RJansen77, SurfNTurf, dillonsarnelli**
So I woke up early Saturday morning to see that the weather forecast for the weekend had gotten worse (if that was even possible) and fought the urge to bail out and call the whole trip off. Instead, I got some encouragement from Rob and we decided to at least give it a go. So at 8:30am, I picked up Eric and we headed off to Aspen.
We all arrived at our meeting spot - the Aspen City Market - around the same time. After buying a few last-minute overpriced items (thank you for the $7.00 can of OFF Insect Repellant), we hit the road for the Capitol Creek Trailhead under overcast skies.
Arriving at Capitol Creek TH…Rain
We opted not to take the Ditch Trail and immediately began descending down toward the creek.
Aspen Forest after the creek crossing
Cows - I know they were plotting something. Just look at their faces. Look at them.
Jeff using defensive moves he learned during his combat training in Elk country
On and off (but mostly on) rain
Almost to camp, Jeff making his case to be the face of a new Gear Company we might start
Being the resident veteran of the group (he’s 18, by the way), Eric had been on Capitol twice. Given the weather and upcoming landscape near the Lake, Eric suggested we camp a little lower in the trees. There was plenty of space for all of our tents and a decent overhang for shelter and to hang food.
Tyler at camp – eating Mahon (obviously pronounced "man") Cheese
It rained just about the entire evening and long into the night. After some hot meals and optimistic conversation about the following day, we hit the tents around 8:00am. Even as the rain fell and despite the poor forecast for the next day, the guys were really encouraging about the possibility of getting the summit the next day. I have to admit, as I lay in the tent and listened to the rain and high winds, I had serious doubts.
Home, wet home.
We agreed that if we wanted to have a chance at the summit, we would need to get past the easier terrain in the dark and arrive at the start of the technical difficulties at first light. Group consensus was to set alarms for 1:30am and hit the trail by 2:00am.
I couldn’t sleep much. I remember being apprehensive about the relentless rain which finally stopped around 10:30pm. I woke up around midnight and awoke for good from then until my alarm went off at 1:15am. I know Jeff really appreciated my early morning excitement when we could see stars in the night sky. Sorry buddy.
Gearing up in high spirits just before 2:00am
There isn’t much to show about the route in the early morning since it was all done by headlamp. We did miss the standard descent down the gully into the large boulder field and ended up doing a couple ridiculous 3rd and 4th Class downclimbs. Once we saw what the area looked like later in the day, it’s very obvious where we went wrong. Nonetheless, we made it to the K2/Mt. Daly saddle right about first light and were standing on K2 as the sun was rising.
From here, tough decisions had to be made. I arrived at K2 to hear a discussion I was dreading: We might have to turn back due to the weather up ahead. Being just shy of 5:00am, I wasn’t convinced that the day was over. Greg and Eric suggested we make a few small goals moving forward as we keep an eye on the condition of the rock (wetness) while watching what the clouds were doing up ahead.
At this point, Jeff and Nick decided to call it a day. They re-ascended K2 to watch the sunrise. The rest of us pressed on toward the start of the Knife Edge. I lost some confidence knowing such a trusted partner made the call to turn back, but I still firmly believed we had a shot.
Low clouds ahead
At the Knife Edge, our now group of 6 decided that the cloud cover might be improving – at least well enough to head across. From there, we could make a final call whether or not to continue toward the summit.
Eric loving life on "The Edge" Oh, to be 18 again...
Tyler on the Knife Edge. Jeff and Nick can be seen on K2's summit in the distance
While I’m not meteorologist, I firmly believed that the dark clouds up ahead were little more than a low hanging fog layer that hadn’t been lit up by the sun yet. And once the sun rose, we would see that layer burn off some and expose the clear sky above. We had a 6-man discussion at this point as it was our last “safe” point. If we continued on from here, Capitol would block us from our western view and prevent us from monitoring weather for the next 2+ hours. Eric gave us a great time frame, saying it would take us roughly 3 total hours to summit and return to this very point. It was 5:40am. I was confident. Eric – having already stood on Capitol’s summit – decided to turn back.
From the descent off of K2 up until now, I felt that conditions were safe enough to continue. The look in Dillon’s and Greg’s eyes told me they felt the same. Rob and Tyler agreed that they felt confident as well and we decided to make a move toward the summit.
Rob in hyper-drive high on Capitol
As we ascended higher, we entered the low fog layer that was evident all morning. The rock was solid and reasonably dry. The route was amazingly well-cairned. We were moving faster than we had all day through endless 3rd Class and occasional 4th Class moves. It was well within reach.
I swear this rock was solid...
Rob and Dillon eventually overtook me and led the final 250 feet toward the summit. After what ended up being the final 4th Class move on the ascent, I found both Rob and Dillon waiting for me. They graciously stepped aside and gave me the final approach to the summit alone. It was a classy gesture by two amazingly considerate and humble partners. It was a great moment.
About a minute later, Rob and Dillon arrived at the summit.
Who wouldn’t want to share their finisher with this guy? What an awesome partner to have.
We heard voices in the distance – Greg and Tyler had taken the ridge proper (4th Class - typical Greg!) and were making their way to the summit.
Our weather prediction began to come true. While we were still in the fog on the summit, we could see that the clouds were beginning to break and the fog was burning off.
Pierre Lakes Basin and the Capitol-Snowmass Traverse
Let the downclimb begin. I was fairly quiet as we began our descent. Even though we got our summit, we had a long way to go until we were at a “safe point”. We still had to descend rough terrain with no way to check possible weather coming in. The celebration was on hold…for now.
On the descent
Back at the Knife Edge, the mood was already joyful. I’m just gonna say it now: The Knife Edge sucks. It’s not technically difficult (as long as you can handle certain death on either side). It’s just not a fun thing to do. I’m sure those who didn’t scoot along it like a hesitant slug would disagree with me though.
Expert moves on the Knife Edge...
More expert moves on the Knife Edge...
"Old man" moves on the Knife Edge.
"A funny thing happened on the way back across the Knife Edge..." Tyler crossing the Knife Edge after some “finished business”. I'm sure he'll tell the story someday.
Back below K2, it was a foregone conclusion. We did it. The weather held and we were now on what Rob calls “Terra Mas Firma”.
The descent through the boulderfield was long and monotonous, but our spirits were high enough to drown out any negative thoughts.
We found the correct ascent route back to the saddle and quickly descended down toward Capitol Lake.
Once back at camp, we were greeted and congratulated by Jeff, Eric, and Nick.
Rob with his post summit rituals…
…and me with mine.
Final Thoughts - Part One
I can't say this has been some decades-long journey and that it is some kind of bucket-list event in my life. However, I want to be clear: It's a big deal to me. I climbed Mt. Elbert while on vacation with my wife 4 years ago. 2 months later we moved to Colorado. In that short amount of time since 2008, I have been so blessed to find some of the most trustworthy, experienced, humble, and adventurous climbing partners and friends that a guy could imagine. The men in this report are superstars - both on the mountain and off it. Get to know them if you can. Ask their opinions. Heck, even "follow" Jeff on Twitter! They always put their partners first and their personal ambitions second. Gentlemen, I thank you.
Final Thoughts - Part Two
Since moving here in 2008, my wife, Katie, and I have been given the gift of our two boys: Miles (2 yrs) and Max (2 months). My family has put up with me being gone many days and nights to finally achieve this goal of mine. They are so good to me - I can never repay them for allowing me to experience the joy of these amazing mountains. If we can ever stop having children, I know my wife will be an amazing climbing partner. I love you all and I truly couldn't have done it without your love and support.
Max, Katie, Miles, and Dan - July 2012
Now, about those 13ers...