Capitol Peak Ė 14,130ft
Distance: 17.2 miles
Climbers: TJ(forbins_mtn), Kelly, Cindy, Paul and Kevin
I donít do too many trip reports but this mountain obviously puts off a vibe that demands respect. Over the last few seasons Iíve gotten to know a few of you in this community, and those that know me understand that this summer was going to be big for me. I turned 30 this past May and had some big goals lined up for this summer:
Run a marathon, climb Rainier, and bag Capitol/Little Bear.
Plans donít always line up and I was thrown a big curveball this year: meeting Kelly. So instead of focusing on just my goals I ended up focusing on getting her a first 14er. After that, she is now just as much of an altitude junkie as anyone I know Ė so watch out! It couldnít have been a better summer, but this climb symbolized the end of summer climbing for me. I needed it as much as Iíve needed anything before in my life. Iíve stared at this mountain. Iíve compared myself to this mountain. Iíve understood that this mountain is on its own level and I needed to know if I was capable of conquering it.
As the summer starting coming to a close I still had Capitol on my mind. Kelly, I and a few different group of friends tried to make plans to bag it starting in July. It seemed every time we had a weekend free Mother Nature would throw us the worst weather pattern in weeks. The first time our group rerouted over to the S Arapaho > N Arapaho traverse, which was good Ė but was no Capitol. The next month was all packed schedules and not enough time to go out for a whole weekend to nab the elite peak. September presented some of the worst summer weather Iíve encountered in the past couple years, but it finally cleared and gave us a two day window to get out there and summit Capitol. Kelly and I quickly facebook messaged a bunch of friends to see if anyone was interested. I had met Cindy last summer on a CMC trip up Ice Mountain and the Apostles, and she had a couple friends who we all met at Cindyís 14er finisher last month on El Diente. The group was set! Five of us planned to hike in the 6.6 miles on Friday, summit Capitol and hike out on Saturday.
We arrived at the TH around 3p. We took my trusty Honda Accord, which has made Lily Lake TH, Grayís TH and a long way up the road to Yankee Boy Basin Ė I love this car! I am proud to say my Accord was the only 2WD at the TH. The view of Capitol from the TH is daunting. The distance seems ridiculous, the difficulty seems too much and the overall energy that it gives off is sheer terror. This is the point that each hiker chooses whether this is for them or not. Our group rose to the occasion and couldnít have been more excited to climb this behemoth.
View from the TH
Kelly, Cindy and I had arrived on our own and decided to hike in to camp. We expected Paul and Kevin to meet us on the trail, as they tend to be two of the fastest hikers Iíve ever met.
My GPS said 6.6 miles at the end of the hike in. It started off as one of the easiest hikes Iíve done in a while. Itís gorgeous country, on an easy path with not much elevation gain in the first 2-3 miles.
Does it get anymore peaceful and gorgeous than this?
The only major concern you need to know is getting from the Capitol Ditch Trail onto the Capitol Creek Trail. Itís painfully obvious when this change needs to happen. At about 3 miles youíll come into a meadow and that will lead directly to a stream. The only options are 1) take off your boots and cross or 2) go up stream about 30 feet and cross on a small log. This is where our trip had its first hiccup. The log rolled slightly on Kelly, which put her in the water. Her boots got soaked, socks were soaked and her spirits slightly dampened. Like a seasoned pro she simply got back up, took off her pack and very tensely changed her socks (and thereís a slight possibility she threw everything up in the air in pure anger ; ) ) After this crossing just go through the trees and you canít miss the very obvious new trail that will lead to Capitol Lake. The only thing that could possibly keep us motivated were more views of the looming death trap aka Capitol Peak
Cindy, Kelly and I
The next 3+ miles offer a little bit more of elevation gain, nothing too extreme but enough to keep you panting and needing some hydration. Keep putting one step in front of the other and youíll eventually end up at one of the most magical and spiritual campsites on planet Earth. The sun was slowly setting while we set up camp and it made it nearly impossible to get anything done.
Sunset on Capitol
While the sun went down I grabbed my flask of Jim Beam and headed to the stream to filter enough water for Kelly and I in the morning, and enough to cook with tonight. We still had no signs of seeing Kevin and Paul and tension was rising every minute as to whether they even made it to the trailhead, whether they were coming, whether they were waiting for us or if they got sick, turned around, got hurt on the trail! The options were limitless and thereís not much you can do when youíre 3 hours from the car and in a spot without cell reception. Our only option was to simply wait. Thatís hard when youíre a control freak and want to fix everything in everyoneís life. While I filtered water I could see Cindy running across the meadow to two hikers. I could sense it was Kevin and Paul. Things were right in the world. This climb was still on!
When I went back to camp I didnít see Kelly. I knew she wasnít feeling too well on our hike in but now I knew something more serious had occurred. She was in the tent, huddled in the fetal position in her sleeping bag and was not very responsive. I immediately tried to help her, but she told me her stomach was severely upset and that she had been battling this the whole day. I went through a list of symptoms and we both agreed this wasnít due to altitude. I let her be for a little while I cooked dinner, as I checked in with her continually throughout the evening.
The camp arose very early the next morning. A few hikers had started 4ish and came back with tales of mountain lion eyes in the meadow. So they all came back and waited for someone else to join their party. Our group wasnít fast to get going. We got up at 5a, made coffee, ate breakfast (and God forbid someone get on the trail without allowing me to take my morning poop!).
We got on the trail 630a and Kelly lasted about 15 minutes. I could tell she wasnít doing well. She looked me in the eyes and told me she shouldnít go on. My heart sank. We have talked about this trek for months and I really wanted to share it with her. We went back and forth about it and she was deadset on going back to camp. We traded hydration bladders as hers had an extra liter in it, and she gave me our GUís and beef jerky. Hindsight is 20/20. She made the right choice. This is a serious climb and you really need to be 100%. Everything past the Knife Edge is death trap material. Sheíll be back. Sheíll be back.
The views going up to saddle of Daly/K2 are amazing; Capitol in front of you, Capitol Lake below you and a valley that is strewn with aspens and beautiful foliage.
Panorama of Capitol
Once you reach the saddle you drop on the backside of the mountain. This is where I think you can take a few different paths. Youíre going to drop down to a gulley then you can climb back up the gulley and traverse the side of the mountain (this keeps your elevation higher so you donít have to regain) or you can just go into the basin and go around to the big gulley that leads up to K2 (this option is way faster, but youíre going to have more elevation gain going up to K2). I know these two options because on the ascent we stayed high. Itís fine and very doable. But on the descent we went all the way into the bottom of the basin (there is a faint trail) and we hauled ass back. We got in front of a group who was a half hour in front of us on the descent. But again Ė you will have more elevation gain this way.
Kevin, Paul and Cindy coming up the talus
K2 up ahead
Power your way up to K2. Itís boulder hopping and not much fun but the payoff is coming. Trust me! The weekend we climbed K2 there was a huge snow/ice patch on the trail leading under K2. We had crossed several climbers the day before who had turned around completely because of this snow. But we had also met a bunch of climbers who simply chose to climb up and over K2. That was our option. It was a great climb, with great rock and I was honored to climb it.
Many ways to ascend K2. Pick a line of solid rock and go for it!
There was a major stoppage on the other side of K2. Groups were turning around, groups were concerned of the troubles ahead and groups were also talking very loudly about a huge rock slide that just happened on the south face of Capitol. I quickly descended K2 as a way to keep our group moving, but Cindy and Paul had other plans. They both expressed that they were having bad feelings at the moment. In those situations there is nothing a friend can say to talk them out of it. You have to let them work through it. You have to encourage them to follow their heart. Itís not good and ok to push someone on this terrain to do something theyíre not comfortable doing. I had complete faith in the three partners I was with on that mountain. I had complete faith that these three mountaineers could work it out. They did. They took about 10 minutes and then mustered whatever they needed to muster and we continued. The climb down K2 isnít a pretty one. Thereís exposure any route you choose. So descend carefully.
I descended right, Cindy and Paul went down that little chute in the center
I added this next photo because I did choose to go under K2 on the descent. It wasnít pretty and it was far from safe. Itís a small ledge and anything that adds instability in that section can turn deadly. GO OVER K2 if thereís snow/ice under it.
snow and ice patch underneath K2
The views that come into play after K2 are the real deal. Youíre faced with the infamous knife edge and than a daunting climb to finish the peak. The knife edge is everything itís cracked up to be, but itís not the scariest thing you face during the day. We scooted most of it, and I walked on the south side for some of it but itís nothing you canít get across. Itís solid rock. Itís at angle where your manhood is going to come away slightly bruised Ė so be prepared for it. While going across the knife edge the world around you will stop. Our day was windy and slightly cold and yet none of us can remember if it was windy crossing the knife edge. Your senses focus solely on crossing safely, and your mind becomes unaware of extraneous influences.
Knife edge and terrain beyond
Posing on the knife edge....it lends itself to awesome photos!
The remaining climb to the summit takes 1.5 hours. Itís slow moving. Itís a system of ledges that lead to the south end of the peak and then straight to the top. Itís the part of the climb that requires the most attention; therefore I took the least amount of pictures. After the knife edge youíll follow the south side of the ridge until you reach a small ledge system. Carefully follow cairns and traverse the ledges. There will be multiple options to ascend gullies that will lead to the south ridge. This ridge will lead directly to the summit.
small ledges that you have to traverse
The whole route from post knife edge to summit is cairned. Have faith in them and carefully take each step. Each step is a possible rock slide, and each step is a possible bad day for the person below you.
Cindy, Kevin, and Paul and myself on the summit!
I couldnít wait to make it back to Kelly. We figured the climb would take us 5 hours roundtrip (whoís the asshole that told us that?!). Instead it took us 8 hours. However, we werenít in any hurry and took multiple breaks to take in the scenery and hydrate. We got back to camp around 3p. The climb ended with vodka, water and Mio Ė quite the glorious backpacking cocktail!
I canít explain how much this mountain meant to my growth and confidence as a hiker, climber and mountaineer. These mountains have turned into something very special to me over the last few years. They have changed my life and will continue to do so. It isnít about altitude for me; itís about challenge and success. We live in a special state Ė I couldnít imagine being anywhere that didnít have this kind of natural obstacle that forces me to grow as a man.
Capitol Peak: weíll be back for Kellyís ascent first thing next summer. Knowing that girl, sheís gonna be staring at weather patterns starting in May Ė so you better be ready for us!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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