Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,138 feet
Date Posted:  04/22/2022
Date Climbed:   01/24/2022
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   Britette
 Winter finale on Capitol   

Winter Capitol (#59)

01.23-25.22 with Ann Driggers, Lee and Justin Chardavoyne

Day 1 - the approach - 6 miles, 3k vertical feet, 6 hours

In March of 2021 I made the 2nd attempt at Capitol with Jonathan. We enjoyed trailbreaking in deep snow, had trouble even getting to K2 and called it once we took a good look at the ridge - there was as much snow as in 2019. Skiing deep powder from K2 was great though. By the winter of 2022, I was steadily losing interest in the project. For a skier, winter 14ers are peculiar - summit skiing is not feasible, the rest of the skiing is not that great (in low avalanche conditions), elevated avalanche hazard, and the required effort is higher than for 14ers in the spring. My interests gradually shifted elsewhere - rock climbing and backcountry skiing. This season I was again nursing a nagging knee injury - developed bursitis from strenuous climbing in the fall in Indian Creek. I could barely walk, not to mention hike or ski or climb. By January, I decided to try mellow backcountry skiing, and to my pleasant surprise, it actually strengthened the knee. It finally started getting better, and by mid-January it was good enough for a hut trip and I even hiked couple of 13ers - first big cardio since September. Suddenly, the weather window was starting to look clear, the avy risk was unexpectedly downgraded to green and it was the decision time - should I try for Capitol, again? Thankfully, Ann and her friend were on board and I was able to recruit my ski partner Justin as well. Couple of other people were interested, but the timing didn't work out.

I left work on Saturday and made the familiar drive to Snowmass - by that point, I had lost count of how many times I've been to the trailhead in winter - 2x for N Maroon, 3x for Capitol (and another time just to break trail in '21). The next morning, on Sunday, I met up with Justin in Old Snowmass, had my "last meal" from the gas station and drove to the trailhead. Ann and Lee's cars were already there as they had left a couple hours ahead of us. Early birds.

Here we go again
Starting out
Creek crossing - Justin
As usual, the creek crossing provided some excitement

Miles after the creek continued in a familiar grind, but luckily 1) there was no glop as in some previous attempts 2) we had a solid skin track. In addition to Ann & Lee (who were hours ahead of us), two other skiers had caught up to us after the creek crossing, and since we were slowed down by overnight packs, we told them to go ahead. We were making way better time than usual. Ann's turnaround time was 1pm, so we looked forward to seeing them at some point.

Justin is skiing down into the valley
Winter wonderland

We took a lunch break at the meadow, then shouldered our heavy packs again. In about 30 minutes, we ran into Ann and Lee on their way back from the trailbreaking duties. The good news they were able to get all the way up to above 11k and even stomped a campsite for us . They reported some good skiing up high. At the Daly turn-off we spotted the other couple who decided to ski off the Daly shoulder. Another hour uphill, and we arrived at our campsite, for just 6 hours approach time - definitely a record for me. I boiled water and we settled in our tents to get some well deserved rest. For once, I was feeling optimistic about our chances - so far everything went as smoothly as it can be.

Summit day - 4 miles, 3k vertical feet, 16.5 hours

After a decent amount of sleep, I was up at 4.30 am, getting ready. It was cold. The day high temperature was expected to be only in the teens. By 5.30 am, almost with full moon, we departed the camp and took the familiar route (for me) to the upper basin. I wasn't very cold while moving, but my Delorme, which was in my pack's top pouch, got turned off from the cold ~7am (the fact I didn't discover until the summit). We reached K2 right on schedule, around 9am and I sent a few messages that we are continuing. The view of the ridge was once again sobering, but Justin is not easily intimidated.

By sunrise, we were getting past the moon lake
It's cold
K2 - I had no concept we will be downclimbing it 10 hours later in the dark
Justin on K2

We geared up just before K2 - left skis, skins, a pole, and I also stashed the headlamp in a crampon pouch, since I reasoned we'd be back before dark (in hindsight, this wasn't a great idea). We downclimbed K2 (I finally memorized the easiest class 3 route by doing again this past summer), but roped up for the knife edge. Justin was in the lead and found good gear placements. Mentally, I was doing ok and didn't expect too many difficulties until the crux section that turned me back in 2019.

Start of the ridge - on the return this section will be done in the dark

In 2 hours we crossed the knife edge and were looking at the crux. After the sunny morning, the clouds came in and winds picked up. I got chilly belaying and put on a down parka. Justin was optimistic about reaching the summit by noon or 1pm at the latest, but I was apprehensive, knowing the difficulties that were ahead of us.

Heading up
Me on the ridge
Approaching the prior high point
Ridge exposure from my belay spot
Prior high point ~13,700 ft

I was mentally fried by this point on the prior attempt in 2019 - I was leading the 2 person team with just 6 slings for gear, so having Justin in the lead definitely helped a lot this time, and I had full confidence in his placements. We simul-climbed up to this point, but decided to pitch out the crux, which slowed things down. Not trusting the snow, Justin led directly up the ridge, which felt harder than I remember, and when I followed, I was glad to be on belay. This pitch in itself took us over an hour and we were freezing. We finally reached the top of the ridge, not very far from the summit. Instead of the chimney, we decided on the traverse, as the snow conditions were reasonable. By this point, the ridge felt endless and was taking us a long time, but I knew we were not too far from the summit with the hardest parts behind us. We were trying not to think about the rappel part - nothing on the ridge looked solid for an anchor (or two or three).

Justin leads the crux pitch - rock was brittle and steep
Traverse pitch just below the summit - pointy boulder at the top of the ridge will be our first rappel anchor
Justin was cold
I was cold, but elated

Finally, just before 3pm we stepped on the summit - the ridge from K2 took us almost 6 hours. I had no idea where the time went, it was like a time warp. We were cold, well behind schedule, nerves frayed, worried about anchors, 2 hours of daylight left and it looked like it may snow. We were anxious to get down. We stayed for 10 minutes - just long enough to get some water and food, send a few texts and for me to realize the Delorme was turned off. I turned it back on and put it in my down jacket. Just after 3pm we started the descent.

First rap - the anchor was solid and the 40m rope just long enough to get to our tracks
Justin on the downclimb/descent
1st rappel
2nd rappel
Photo by Ann (notice just 1 headlamp)

I was hoping for several rappels, but the rock quality was suspect, so we kept downclimbing. We were able to do 2 raps in total. By 5pm, both of our phones ran out of charge and the sun was setting - the sunset was spectacular with hues of purple and pink, but I had no camera to capture it! When Justin stopped to take out his headlamp, I realized that I had left mine in a stash on K2. That was pretty unfortunate and slowed things down even more, as Justin had to stop and shine line on me from time to time. But I did cross over the knife edge in the dark. We were back at K2 by 7pm, but then I had a bit of a struggle to downclimb it, as I was out of gas. Finally, we reached the ski stash and I told Justin to go ahead, as he had to get back to the trailhead (while I budgeted to stay another night). I had a lot of trouble skiing down in my new ultra-light Scarpa F1 LT ski boots - the ski that was supposed to take an hour, took over 2 hours. My legs were jello and I later I realized I didn't buckle the boots correctly. By 10 pm I finally made it back to the tent, thoroughly exhausted.

Day 3 - the exit - 6 miles, under 3 hours

It snowed a couple of inches overnight. The last day was almost blissful - I departed the camp ~11am and had some good skiing (even with a heavy pack). I had all the transitions dialed in and only had a couple spills. Long, hard, challenging trip overall and I am happy to be done with the winter 14ers project!

Leaving the camp
In the morning
Good snow & turns
Skiing down
The end

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Comments or Questions
Exiled Michigander
Nice Work!
04/22/2022 13:16
Very impressive! Enjoyed the report and photos!

04/22/2022 18:44
Congrats, Natalie. That had to feel good to get back to your tent after all that!

Bursitis, yep, had the same problem these past few months but maybe not nearly as bad. Weekly dry needling, weekly deep tissue massage, and then finally a shot of cortisone cocktail in my hip has, I think, taken care of it.
Aging sucks. hahaha

04/22/2022 22:58
Darin, you pointed out the main issue, haha. The title of the report should be "I am getting too old for this $hit". Amount of time and effort it now takes to get in shape for something like that and then for recovery is becoming ridiculous! I didn't even mention hip tendinitis, which been bugging me, but wasn't as bad as bursitis. Big fan of massage and dry needling myself. Stay well.

04/23/2022 06:51
Congrats, and thanks for the lesson in perseverance! And great write up.

04/23/2022 15:27
need I say more?

04/26/2022 09:32
You‘re my hero! Cool pictures.

04/26/2022 13:38
It's been fun following your progress over the years.

two lunches
04/28/2022 14:54
SUCKS. starting OMT in June (did I do this intentionally to line up with summer peakbagging? the answer is not no.)

amazing accomplishment Natalie!!

Thanks again
04/28/2022 17:23
@Stephanie - 3rd time in the same knee over last 10 years! I was actually pretty surprised that the recovery took just 3 months this time (was way longer in the past). Strangely, low angle, mellow backcountry touring in January did the trick. I also did my best to cut out the inflammatory foods (sugar, bread) as much as possible - really helped on the previous occasion. Good luck with your recovery!

Congratulations Natalie!!
04/29/2022 09:22
This is a huge accomplishment that most of us will only dream of. hats off to you, well done!

BC skiing as rehab
05/02/2022 01:31
This is a very novel rehab technique for bursitis, though I suspect the exposure to other risks may mean it doesn't catch on . Glad you shared the whole story, what an epic, knife edge in the dark in the winter. Amazing stuff. Congrats again.

05/02/2022 21:14
I love this, super stoked for you!

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