| Capitol - winter ascent
Capitol Peak, Winter 2008/09
The idea started somewhere back in 2007, I think it was. The desire to summit a difficult peak in calendar winter. A few conversations later and Josh and I had settled on Capitol Peak. But one thing led to another and the months (and years) slipped by. As the 2008/09 winter began, we again made plans for the trip. This time Walt and Scott got in on the planning. Finally a date was set for Jan 2009. A date that came and went with no climb. We moved that date to Feb, and again the date came and went. With calendar winter quickly coming to an end, we chose the last weekend during calendar winter as "the time." Now there were no more backup dates!
Meeting the Wednesday before we left, we went over gear lists, time schedules and other plans. Not knowing exactly the conditions we would find (we heard a report that 2 feet of new snow had been dumped in the area the day before), we decided to carry harnesses, a rope and other assorted climbing gear. Add two 4-season tents to the mix, and we were all going to be loaded down.
We met Saturday morning (March 14) at 6am here in Colorado Springs, and headed out for a weekend of adventure. The town of Snowmass was surprisingly small, do we had to turn around and head back up towards Basalt to find a Subway for lunch! We were planning to hike in via the West Snowmass Creek approach. Of course the Snowmass Creek Trailhead was snowed in, but the extra distance was only .7 miles, all on trails groomed by snowmobiles (and dog sleds!).
I'm not sure what time we started hiking, but I think the 6.6 miles to where we camped (about a ˝ mile below Moon Lake) took us about 7.5 hours! We set up camp as it got dark. Although the day had been amazing, with clear skies (and Josh even in a tee-shirt!) and warmer temperatures, the darkness brought the cold back with a rush. My toes had been getting colder and colder and so as soon as our tent was up I was in a sleeping bag with hand warmers in my socks! With clear skies overhead, it was a cold night. I think the prediction was for 10 degrees or so. We had some wind early in the morning, but we all stayed warm enough in our sleeping bags.
We woke up at 5:30am. Scott and Walt were still pretty worn out from the day before, and so they made the decision (wiser than we could have anticipated at the time!) to pass on a summit attempt. Josh and I spent the next two hours boiling water and putting it in Nalgene bottles to try and warm our boots up! At 7:30am we headed out.
Finally reaching Moon Lake seemed like quite the victory! However, at this point we made a crucial mistake. Rather than continuing west past the next ridge and then heading south up the valley to K2, we instead turned south at Moon Lake and went up the wrong valley. It did still provide us with plenty of great views as we progressed on up. We finally rounded the corner and glimpsed what we thought was K2 up ahead!
Summiting the ridge just below "K2," we realized all in the same moment that Capitol was a BIG mountain, and that we were NOT on K2!!! But the view – amazing! All the way around from the Pyramid and Bells (both still to be climbed!) to Snowmass (done in 2007 with Scott) and around the Capitol – breathtaking!!!!
The ridge to K2 turned into class 4 (class 5?!?) stuff. Josh hadn't climbed much with "ice axe in hand" and was finding the route a bit sketchy. We saw where we were going to be able to drop off the ridge after a ways, into the valley to the North. But then we did still have a knife edge ahead of us….
Talking it through Josh decided to head back. Now it was really decision time! Was I going on alone, or heading back as well? Well, if you looked ahead at the pictures, you already know the end of the story! I pressed on, looking for a solo winter ascent up Capitol.
Finally reaching K2 I was again greeted with an amazing view. Wow. To stand there before the ridge was an awesome, humbling experience. This is a real mountain! The knife edge was clear of snow on the north, with snow piled up on the south, as we expected. And talk about perfect conditions! The weather was again great, the snow pack was prefect, and the avalanche forecast was basically nil. My approach to the ridge was to plant the ice axe into the crest, kick step into the southern "wall" of snow (I don't know the angle of that snow – easily between 70-80 degrees for most of it!) and repeat the process all the way across. Exhilarating, to say the least!!! Staring down the north face of the ridge as I crossed was quite the view.
The snow continued to be perfect, and the climbing was a blast. I wish I had checked the time from K2 to the summit. Unfortunately I didn't. All I know is that it took 6 hours from camp to summit, all of 2.6 miles (including the detour over the false "K2.") The summit was most satisfying. This makes 14er #50, and #76 of the top 100. (If you don't want to do the math, the round trip distance from trailhead to summit was 16.6 miles according to the GPS.)
The trip down the mountain was a whole new adventure. Time from summit to camp was an uneventful 2 hours. Josh was waiting for me, wondering if he was going to be spending the night there again or not! (I did have a SPOT with me the entire time, and friends and family were "watching" the climb and cheering me on towards the summit!) We packed quickly and made it back to the trailhead in just under 3 hours.
A great dinner in Basalt and a long drive later and I was in my own bed, dreaming of future mountain adventures!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):