Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,130 feet
Date Posted:  12/30/2020
Date Climbed:   09/05/2020
Author:  psa954hiker
 You can safely climb Capitol Peak and enjoy it  

If you wonder if you can find the courage to do Capitol Peak, this report is for you. I had pretty much decided it was out of my league. But with the right factors in place we were able to minimize the risk and maximize our enjoyment with a successful summit. This is a report to tell you what those factors were.

20907_02
Panorama of Capitol Peak from the lake.

The six factors that made this my favorite 14er experience to date are:

  1. Bluebird weather
  2. Fitness
  3. Overnight camping
  4. Class 3 & 4 experience
  5. Grippy shoes
  6. Climbing partners who had summitted before

I’ll build the trip report around these.

  1. Bluebird weather

The forecast for the entire weekend was warm, zero percent chance of rain, very little wind, and bluebird days from Friday through Sunday. This was huge because it removed the anxiety of having to race the clock on the hard sections. We could take our time to route find and also enjoy the moment. We even stayed on the summit for a full hour and 15 minutes.

20907_03
This was our first sight of Capitol Peak not far up the “ditch” trail. Perhaps the most scenic summit approach I’ve ever seen.
20907_04
Note: A ranger stopped us after crossing into the wilderness to make sure we had a bear canister and a permit (which you fill out at the trailhead for free). Make sure you have those. She was serious about sending people back who didn’t have them.
20907_05
Aspens on the way. In 2 weeks this would all have been yellow, but still it was gorgeous.
  1. Fitness

We trained for this mountain because 17 miles round trip with 5300 feet elevation gain and class 3 and 4 scrambling requires a lot from you. Our main training was to hike several 14ers in the months leading up to the trip. We did some 2000 ft gain hikes in June, and then six 14ers on weekends in July and August, leaving a two week rest period before climbing Capitol. In addition, I did a lot of core, one-leg balance and upper body strength exercises. Full-body fitness definitely gives you more confidence on the Knife Edge and beyond.

20907_06
Four miles into it and full of energy.
  1. Overnight camping

Some high performers do the whole trip in one day. That is not us! We are more intermediate level. So we arrived at the campsites near Capitol Lake mid-afternoon and were able to get a full night of sleep before starting the summit attempt in the morning. To us it was totally worth it to carry the full backpack both to get the sleep and because the scenery up there is worth a longer stay. [Note: we got the last of 8 available campsites at about 3:30 pm on a Friday, so plan accordingly if you want to get one of those.]

20907_07
This is the view from campsite 5; just big enough for the 3 tents our group needed.
20907_08
Alpenglow in the evening. Worth an overnight stay.
  1. Class 3 & 4 experience

There is no doubt that class 3 and 4 experience was hugely helpful for everything from K2 to the summit. I don’t think you want Capitol Peak to be your first high exposure experience; it would likely be a bad experience. We started the year with between twenty and thirty 14ers under our belt, but only one of those had a high exposure rating. We had done only three class 3 fourteeners. So here’s what our training looked like:

  • July 11 – Mt. Lindsey by NW Ridge route
  • July 18 – San Luis Peak (as a 14er finisher hike for one of our group members)
  • Aug 1-3 – Crestone Peak, then Crestone Needle on separate days, both from Cottonwood Creek camp (In my opinion nothing on Capitol was harder than these two in terms of difficulty.)
  • Aug 8 – Tabegauche Peak by West Ridge (mainly to stay in shape)
  • Aug 15 – Torreys Peak via Kelso Ridge (to see how we would do on a knife edge. Very helpful!)
  • Sept 4-5 – Capitol Peak

In addition to these climbs we went to a climbing gym twice just to get used to vertical exposure and class 5. You won’t see any of that on Capitol Peak but it made the Knife Edge seem doable by comparison.

Here’s how the summit day went for us.

With good weather guaranteed for the whole day, we didn’t set out until almost 7am, returning to camp at 3pm. So just under 7 hours of hiking, not counting our summit siesta, with the round trip from K2 to summit to K2 taking about 4 hours.

Some photos from the beginning up to K2…

20907_09
Looking back at Capitol Lake in the morning glow on the way to the saddle.
20907_10
Summit ridge from the approach to the saddle. You ascend to K2 from the backside and then follow the ridge as shown.
20907_11
After the saddle behind the ridge. Uneventful travel here. There is a place you need to downclimb a bit if you want to avoid a cliffy traverse higher up. We went down.
20907_12
Boulder field leading up to right turn to K2. Some of these will move but mostly this was a fun warmup for things to come.
20907_13
Heading up to K2 (in the background). Still just class 2 hiking. That changes at K2.
20907_14
We ascended K2. Much more solid than taking the traverse around it. This also marks the beginning of class 3 and 4 scrambling which will be pretty much constant until the summit.
20907_15
Descending off K2 toward the ridge and Knife Edge


20907_23
Coming down the other side of K2

Let’s talk about the Knife Edge. I had always wondered how I would feel at my first look at it. Surprisingly, the feeling was confidence that we could do this. This was largely due to the first 4 success factors being in place, plus the next one, which is…

  1. Grippy shoes

My daughter and I both bought La Sportiva approach shoes for this occasion (the TX4 model for me), testing them out earlier on Lindsey, the Crestones and Kelso Ridge. The superior traction just adds even more confidence on the rock and they weigh much less than boots. Totally worth it.

Here are a few shots of the Knife Edge crossing where we were really glad for the shoes. For the record, I found online GoPro video to be unhelpful in getting a realistic feel for the Knife Edge. Such video exaggerates the sharpness of the ridge. The exposure is real, but it is on either side of you, not beneath you. To me that makes all the difference because on the Knife Edge you can actually sit down and rest, unlike climbing an exposed wall where if you got tired or made a mistake you would drop.

20907_16
The moment of truth. Embarking out onto the Knife Edge.
20907_17
There are actually a lot of features to grab onto and the rock is solid and grippy.
20907_18
This way of getting across is quite stable. As long as you focus on the rock beneath you instead of the air on either side of you it goes pretty quickly.
20907_19
Looking back at about the middle. There are even some places where you can comfortably stand. Notice we are actually having fun!
20907_22
This is what the exposure looks like. Yes, it's substantial, but if you've prepared and don't deal with vertigo, you can still be safe.
20907_20
Another close look at the Knife Edge, this time on the return.
20907_21
Knife Edge from another angle on the return. I think we could call it the Knife Wedge. It’s not as sharp an angle as I was expecting.
  1. Climbing partners who have summitted before

After the Knife Edge is where the route-finding begins. We had two partners who had summitted before. This took away what I think is the biggest reason there are fatalities on Capitol – going off route. I had heard that there is a lot of loose rock to the summit but I found that most of it could be avoided if you stay on track. Also, we had been schooled in the essential truth that you MUST descend the same way you came up, including the Knife Edge. There is no shortcut off the mountain that you will survive. Seriously.

Some photos after the Knife Edge to the summit.

20907_24
Panorama shot not long after the Knife Edge. Capitol Lake below.
20907_25
Ledges on the approach across the face of Capitol Peak.
20907_26
Summit success!
20907_27
The whole group of us. So enjoyable to do this with friends.

So, there you go, friends. I hope this report helps bring Capitol Peak within your reach. It truly is a remarkable adventure if you get the opportunity. By the way, if you stop at Sure Thing Burger in Basalt for your victory meal afterwards, you won’t regret it!

I would just add one footnote about our trip, which is that it almost ended before it even began. On our drive to Capitol we were coming west on I-70 from the Eisenhower Tunnel when a runaway semi-truck passed us on the left pushing 90-100 mph. He crashed not a quarter-mile in front of us, creating a horrific scene of destruction across the highway. If the trucker had been in our lane or if we were 15 seconds further down the road we likely would have been killed. So, for your consideration, I add a seventh factor for a successful summit trip: the grace of God.




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
Jay521

Like it!
12/30/2020 14:33
I really like and appreciate this report. Perhaps there is hope for me yet!


psa954hiker

Thanks Jay521
12/30/2020 14:49
Yes there is hope. I'm 59 and it looks like you've done more of these than me. I'd be more afraid of the hourglass on Little Bear. Haven't done that one yet.


coopereitel

Great!
12/31/2020 08:02
I really liked the lay out of the report, nice! This is a great source. Looks fun


greenonion

Agreed!
12/31/2020 10:30
Excellent report!


ltlFish99
Excellent report
12/31/2020 23:27
That was an excellent report with wonderful photographs.
Thanks for posting this.


psa954hiker

Grateful
01/01/2021 11:00
Hey thanks friends. It's gratifying to know this serves the 14er community. Climb on!


DeTour

Grace of God
01/01/2021 14:07
Nice account! We climbed Capitol a few days before you, using essentially the same formula except #6. I also though Cap was beyond my skills for quite some time, but that can change!

I think we saw the aftermath of the I-70 accident, in our case in the opposite lanes as we were heading eastbound home. Horrific indeed.


psa954hiker

Crash
01/01/2021 14:35
I understand that one family in a rolled vehicle was driven to the hospital but the trucker was airlifted. I never heard the outcome of the trucker but the family looked like they would recover. Lots of people were helping out.


Peak200

Great job
01/05/2021 19:41
We did it 4 days before you
With a group of 4
It was a challenge but very fun


Gandalf69

Super awesome
01/06/2021 11:12
Great photos. It gives the mountain much more perspective when people are in the pictures


MtnHub

Great report..
01/13/2021 17:37
... great experience! Good analysis of the whole trek. Yes, I agree, that with all the right factors -- good overall physical conditioning, warming up on other exposed mountains to get you comfortable and in the right frame of mind, good weather, good partners -- all this makes it very doable for anyone who make this summit a goal. Yes, it holds your complete concentration and focus the entire time you're on the rocks, but what a HIGH! I LOVED every part of this climb! If it wasn't such a long approach, I'd make this a repeat every year! One of my all-time favorite mountains!

Super shot of the ledges. That's exactly what it looked like; having people in the shot gives it great perspective!

Thanks for sharing your experience! It gave me a second virtual tour of it again!


ClimbingFool
Thank you!
01/16/2021 14:47
Such a great report, and what a nice experience to share with your daughter. I plan on heading out to Colorado this summer to visit Capitol and the other 14ers in the Elk Range. Your photos were quite helpful to me.


psa954hiker

Encouraging
01/16/2021 18:32
Hey thanks for the encouragement everyone. Capitol was my absolute favorite mountain from start to finish. So glad to share it with you. I agree with MtnHub, you have to concentrate but it is a HIGH!


tygr
Beautiful Photos
01/25/2021 18:28
Congrats and beautiful report and photo's. I'll have to check some of your other reports...really enjoyed this one. We climbed Capitol on Labor Day 2020 a few days after you. Smoke in the air for us, but we got it done and had to get out quick because major cold front and snow was coming Monday eve and Tuesday. Actually, we got in on Saturday night and there was search & rescue helicopters circling & landing at the lake until like 1am.
Nobody slept so we just hung out at the lake on Sunday and decided to summit on Monday. Awesome experience. Next year...God willing...we're gonna ring the Bells!



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