HOLD ON! This is the most-difficult of the standard 14er routes; It's long, tedious and dangerous. Climbers have died here, including 5 in the Summer of 2017 so don't take it lightly, don't go if you don't have solid Class 3/4 climb skills and don't go just to check this mountain off your list. It's a serious climb and we want you to make it back safely. - Bill Middlebrook, 14ers.com
is a view of Capitol from the trailhead. Two trails start here: 1) The Capitol Creek trail and 2) the Capitol "Ditch" trail. The creek trail has long been the standard way to approach Capitol, but the ditch trail has become more popular because it avoids the elevation loss and re-gain required on the creek trail. This route description uses the ditch trail which makes the hike to Capitol Lake 6 miles in length.
Walk to the west end of the trailhead parking area and start down the signed ditch trail, which parallels a water ditch - 2
. Follow the ditch for about 1.2 miles to a junction at 9,500' - 3
. Cross the ditch and continue on a good trail. Weave through the forest for a bit and at 9,600', cross a stream and meadow before entering the Maroon Bells Snowmass wilderness. Hike through aspens and clearings to reach a wide-open area above Capitol Creek - 4
. Continue on the hillside for 1.5 miles before descending to a meadow near the creek, 3.25 miles from the trailhead - 5
. Angle left, cross the stream
, and intersect the main Capitol Creek trail on the other side. Turn right onto the Capitol Creek trail and continue south though meadows and forest while Capitol Peak remains visible for most of this hike - 6
. Cross a few small streams, ascend a steep hill near 10,800' and eventually cross to the west side of Capitol Creek, near 11,000'. Continue southeast into more clearings as you approach the Capitol Lake area - 7
. At 11,400', turn sharply right and gain the basin just below Capitol Lake - 8
. There are several places to camp
on the right, before the lake.
Near 11,600' and below the lake, turn left on a thinner trail and hike southeast toward the saddle between 13er Mt. Daly and Capitol Peak - 9
. Grind up 900 feet to reach the saddle
. This is the end of easy, trail hiking. From the saddle, it's possible to turn right and climb south up the Class 4 ridge but this route describes the easier, standard route of circling around the east side - 11
. From the east side of the saddle, begin traversing south. Take your time and try not to lose much elevation as you cross a couple of small gullies and steep terrain. The initial traverse can be a bit confusing because it does not have one obvious trail - don't climb the steep terrain/cliffs up to your right. After traversing 1/4 mile, the route becomes more obvious - continue south across talus - 12
Near 12,700', angle up to the right ( 14
) where you'll see 13er "K2" to the southwest - 15
. Follow cairns or take your own line up rocky terrain to reach K2 - 16
. Climbing to the top of K2
is optional but worth the effort because of the view excellent view of Capitol - 17
. If you gain K2, you can descend approx. 50 feet of class 3/4 rock off K2's west side to regain the route. As seen in 16
, the easiest way (requires careful maneuvering on loose rock) around K2 is to turn right just below the top and swing around to the west - 18
. Once on the west side, Capitol's northeast ridge comes into view - 19
. Drop into a notch and climb onto a rock tower at the start of the ridge.
The remainder of this route has plenty of exposed climbing along the ridge and this is a good place to take a serious look at the weather and make a go or no-go decision - 20
. The summit isn't far away but the remaining climb is time-consuming and not a place to be in bad weather. From the first tower, scramble along the ridge for a bit to reach the infamous Knife Edge and crux of the route - 21
. It's a short, exposed section that requires concentration and solid nerves. If you are spooked by exposure, this area may twist you in knots. Scramble along the crest or walk along the left side while holding onto the ridge. Experienced climbers can carefully walk across most of the Knife Edge. The last portion of the knife ( 23
) becomes quite "sharp" and the easiest way around is to walk along the left side.
Beyond the Knife Edge, scramble on or along the ridge - 24
. Roughly 0.1 mile after from the Knife Edge, reach a notch with a steep gully down to the left. Cross the notch and begin climbing along the left side of the ridge - 26
. Above 13,800' the easiest route is on the upper east face and not on the crest of the northeast ridge. Traverse left away from the ridge crest and climb steep rock to reach a small ridge on the upper east face - 27
. Turn right and ascend more-stable rock to reach the summit ridge. 29
looks back on the route and 30
shows the summit
. On your descent, you MUST return via the same route from K2 - do not try to take a shortcut to Capitol Lake because all of the terrain ends in serious cliffs.