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Last year I set out to climb all of the Elk Range 14ers solo by bicycling to and from the trailheads from my apartment in Aspen. I enjoyed the idea and simplicity of doing the climbs this way, although it did make the peaks more challenging.
Most of the peaks did not present any major issues, but Snowmass was a challenging bike ride- mostly due to having a full pack with overnight and snow gear since the climb occurred in late May. Capitol, on the other hand, threw everything it had at me.
At over 25 miles away and 2000' of elevation gain, the Capitol TH was a challenge to ride to. Also adding to the issue was that I only have a road bike, which I learned with careful line choice and hot braking, can handle the descent of the Capitol 4WD road. Last year it took me three attempts to climb Capitol by bike; the first two I was stormed off the peak and the third attempt I was successful only after camping at the lake and getting an early start. Still, I was racing the storm clouds as I pedaled back home, the weight of my pack heavier with each passing mile.
After completing all the Elk 14ers solo by bike this year I set a goal of completing Capitol as a day trip. It bugged me all winter that I was never able to complete it in one day, I just never got the weather window that I needed and before I knew it summer was gone.
My non-standard days off from work ended up corresponding to a decent weather window, so I decided to give Capitol a go. I have been working overnights lately at work, which wreaks havoc on my sleep schedule, but lends itself nicely to alpine starts. The day before climbing Capitol I ran one of my favorite loops outside of town, which will remain unnamed to preserve its uncrowded nature. On the 13-mile 3K-vert loop I felt great and pushed it hard and set a PR of 2:05; one of the fastest times behind local trail legend Rickey Gates. Setting a PR on the course felt great, but I knew my legs would pay for it the next day on Capitol. I went home after the run, ate and packed some gear, and went to sleep at the weird time of 5 PM.
My alarm went off at 2 AM and I felt I had only been asleep a few hours. Surprisingly, my legs felt fresh. After having breakfast and coffee I began to figure out how to best shuttle all the gear I would need on my bike. After a short fight getting my headlamp to stay on my bike helmet, I was off at 3:45 AM. The bike ride down Highway 82 is always eerie in the dark, and I hoped that all the drunk drivers were off the highway. The miles went by and I was soon at the Old Snowmass Conoco, where I refilled with water.
The next part of the ride was a consistent climb, paved for 7 miles then steep on the dirt road for the next 4. Upon reaching the old barn I dismounted and did the hike-a-bike with the occasional short section of riding. Finally, I was at the TH and figured out how to best lock up my bike. After eating a few boiled eggs I changed to running shoes and shorts and donned my one hand-held water bottle and set off on the trail. I tried to figure out a way to carry my phone securely in my running shorts, but could not find a way- my apologies for the lack of pictures!
The trail run to Capitol Lake went well, and my legs felt much stronger than the attempts last year. Once at Capitol Lake I could see a few climbers on Daly Pass; as I started to climb I began to feel the effects of the bicycle ride and previous day's trail run hit all at once. Knowing I still had a lot of climbing and a long bike ride back I played it conservative and speed hiked up the pass. Once on the other side I ran into a few other climbers, played the rock-hopping game, and made great time up to K2.
Around K2 I saw more climbers in 15 minutes than on all of my other Capitol climbs combined! Everybody did a great job of allowing people to pass in the difficult sections. I turned the handheld water-bottle around on my wrist so I had both hands free for scrambling, and began the Knife Edge. After the Knife Edge I ran into a group of hikes from Evergreen and said hey as we scooted around each other, they were definitely having a fun climb.
I was looking forward to the scrambling up to the summit as always, and it did not disappoint. I took a variation that sticks to the ridge proper that trades off more difficult scrambling for less rock fall potential. I was surprised to see that the two rappel anchors from the year before had been completely removed (not that anybody should trust year-old webbing). After the tedious ridge work I finally was on the summit and enjoying a great view of the Elks and Pierre Lakes.
On the way down I ran into a few more climbers and talked to a father and son that did the 14ers self-supported in 25 days! After an uneventful scramble to K2 I started to climb down to the Daly basin. I got a little off route when I left the cairns to get water and never recovered the route. This definitely cost me some time, but I was happy to have a full bottle of water for the tedious rock-hop back to the Daly saddle.
At the top of the saddle it was time to start running again. I wanted to spend some time at the lake, but knew that clouds were building and wanted to beat any possible storms. The miles went by fast and most of the cows moved off the trail with little fanfare... don't get me starting on the grazing lease in the valley.
On the climb up the ditch trail I ran into a group backpacking in that were nice enough to let me pass by running... except their unleashed dog was startled by me running and started to growl. I had to stop and let the dog walk past me as it eyed me, and reminded the owners that dogs had to be on leash in wilderness, which they laughed off and said he was a nice dog. Heard that one a few too many times. OK- rant over...
Once on the smooth part of the ditch trail I started to dig in and finish strong. I passed a few more groups that I saw on K2 and made it back to my bike. After a leisurely transition I talked to a few of the groups at the TH and began the bike ride down. A few of the people were shocked that a road bike can make it down the Capitol TH, but my wheels are still true! Halfway down the dirt road a bear was walking parallel to the road, so I stopped and watched it as it darted across the road and made my uphill time look pathetically slow.
After several more miles of biking I was back at 82, and one of the more dangerous portions of the day ensued: riding back with traffic and rocks shooting up from tires. It was not too bad, but several concrete trucks made me feel uneasy.
I stopped my watch at the Castle Creek Bridge/ Aspen City Limits sign. Back at 4:00 pm for a time of 12 hours, 15 minutes. Here are the splits for the day:
Capitol TH : 2:05
Capitol Lake : 3:32 (1:25)
Daly Pass: 3:50 ( 0:25)
K2 : 4:40 (0:50)
Summit : 5:40 (1:00)
TH : 9:20 ( 3:40) Nice summit break!
Transition and eat 9:40 ( :20)
Castle Creek Bridge 12:15 (Watched a bear on trail, watched SAR helicopter and talked to SAR at airport)
There is the opportunity to take a lot of time off the ride and climb with fresh legs and a focused effort. The trip was so much fun, one of my favorite days in the mountains. I enjoyed talking to the people on the route, everybody had a great story for why they were doing Capitol!
(Note: Photos are not current since I could not carry a camera with me on the run; besides, a phone camera cannot do this peak justice. Thank you to Decklan McGee for letting me use his photos from earlier this summer).
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
I considered the bike, run and scramble the three components. Yes, it would be possible to jump into Capitol Lake for a swim, however, the alpine lake ecosystem is so fragile up there that I thought it was environmentally irresponsible to jump in while covered in sunscreen etc.
I thought you might suggest the scrambling was the third "event". Sounds like a great day! Well done, those are some great splits! Particularly, the time between the Saddle and K2, that’s some intense talus hoping.
So we were the group of 2 that you passed on the ridge, you going up and us going down, just about at the knife edge. And then you passed us on the trail back after we packed up camp. You were rolling along man! Awesome effort
We were the family you ran into at the top of K2. When I saw you with no shirt or pack and only a water bottle, I knew you were moving fast. My wife spoke to you and I guess you told her about your tri to which we assumed you were an elite endurance athlete (which you likely are). So pleased to read your trip report and love your creativity and adventure in challenging yourself this way.
I can feel the soreness. Nice splits, particularly running the day before. Did you drop into the basin after the Daly saddle? There’s a hidden ledge good in late season that shaves a good 20 min off my time; probably a decent amount off yours. Should’ve tapped the bear. Nothing like a good bear tussle to end the day.
Ryan, I sent you a PM for info on the ledge system. Found several other areas to cut down on time too, but the ledge would be huge.
Also, I think you found the answer for a true third component of the Capitol triathlon: Bike, Run, find a bear and wrestle it.
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