Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,138 feet
Date Posted:  08/10/2022
Date Climbed:   08/07/2022
Author:  MaxmimumMills4
 Capitol Decision   

Capitol has been living rent free in my head since I started climbing 8 years ago. The famous knife edge, the notorious rock quality, and tedious route finding combine to create a irresistible challenge.

My fiancé’s job as a traveling physical therapist means that every 3 months we move to a new city somewhere in the country (rarely back in CO). Recently she got a contract in Glenwood Springs close to my family and I knew it was finally the right time to climb Capitol. Rent was due.

Saturday August 6th

My partner Austin and I left my brother’s house in Basalt for a quick drive over to the Capitol Creek trailhead. The parking lot had only a single space left at 11 AM. There probably isn’t a way to avoid this without climbing Capitol on a weekday (recommended) but something to keep in mind.

Immediately the target is in sight. After snapping a few pics we began the 6 mile approach into Capitol Lake. This has to be one of my all time favorite approaches to a 14er- the terrain is incredibly flat and your goal remains in site for a majority of the hike.

Great views the whole way in
Flat flat flat

We arrived at the lake at 2:30 after stopping a few times to chat with folks coming the other way. We were worried about finding a camp site after hearing how full the basin can get but snagged Camp 3 without any fuss. By 3 PM all campsites were full and folks were spreading out in other semi-sites. We estimate about 30 people were camping in the basin but about half of these weren’t intending on attempting the climb.

We started to set up camp when I realized a critical error- I forgot the tent poles.

Luckily I randomly had two bungie cords and camp 3 has two well spaced trees that allowed us to set up a camp. And my brother says he has the engineering mind!

Mcgyvering a shelter

We spoke with the people in camp 2 and heard they were planning a midnight start. We ourselves planned a 3:45 start based on weather conditions. Would be curious to know how that ended up going for you guys! I am always too excited to sleep before a 14er so I went to bed early at 8.

Alpenglow dreams

Sunday August 6th

The hike began with a Pepcid (thanks to the forum) and we were off. The climb to the top of the Daly-K2 Saddle was a nice warmup for the rest of the day. Once reaching the top we faced our initial decision: Do we go up higher to the ridge proper like we saw other groups doing or stay low below the rock bands? We opted for a mix of the two and crossed the first gully right where the trail ended. Hindsight 20/20 the right decision was likely to drop a little lower below the cliff bands but going midway worked fine; going up higher leads you to the ridge proper and sustained class 4 climbing. We saw several groups turn around when they realized their mistake.

The GPX file is very helpful to guide yourself through the boulder field

Above is a picture of the Boulder field section of the hike. The furthest group back has just gained the saddle. You can see where people have crossed a snow patch after crossing below the rock outcrops. In about 100 feet we will turn climbers right up towards K2.

The climb up towards K2 was uneventful and a nice time to take in the very aesthetically pleasing Mt. Daly.

Boulder surfing

We opted to summit K2 and found the class 4 route to the top solid and clear. Sopris looks small down there in the distance!

Sopris looking good
Snowmass looking imposing as always

Down climbing off the West side of K2 proved a little tricky but soon we were face to face with the gal herself -

It may look like scree.... but it is boulders AND scree.

Capitol’s East face looked incredibly steep and full of scree from this vantage point.

We crossed the mini knife edge without realizing it was the mini knife edge and then faced the true knife edge. I am getting married in less than 40 days and looking at this obstacle that has caused so many accidents gave me pause.

“Am I being selfish?”
“Should I wait here for Austin?”
“Is there ever going to be a right time?”
“Why are my hands so sweaty”

I told Austin I was thinking of turning back.

Austin gave me some time to reflect and I felt a surge of commitment. I COULD do it. It wouldn’t be stylish but I would get across this ridge safely.

Not exactly a back hand spring across but safe.

The rest of the ridge was a combination of staying on the ridge proper, staying to the left, and staying to the right. There are several ways to do the ridge after the knife edge and we didn’t feel like there was ever a problem route finding between the knife edge and the East Face. Below are pictures of the knife edge and the conditions on the rest of the ridge.

Great views overlooking Capitol Lake

After crossing the ridge we followed cairns across the East face. Several other trip reports have mentioned staying high on the East face and I agree. We seemed to have followed the lower standard line across the face, across a gully with nice hand holds, and up to the ridge on the left side of the East face. Route finding took a long time and we ended up slightly below where we wanted to be.

Caption Here

We went around the ridge and ended up below the summit ridge by about 50 feet.

This required some unintended (but fun) class 4 climbing back up to the summit ridge proper and a nice scramble over to the summit.

Some Class 4 to the Summit Block
Caption Here
Satans ridge over to Snowmass.. Not my cup of tea but more power to you!

We downclimbed the summit ridge proper. This picture gives a good idea of the exposure on this section of the climb.

Between the East Face and the main ridge you come across the gully I believe people have tried to take as a direct route back to Capitol lake. As many have said DO NOT DO THAT. By looking at Capitol from the lake you can see all of these cliff out at some point.

Those Gully's lead nowhere good

The downclimb back down to the main K2-Capitol was tedious but uneventful- we found the cairns, crossed the gully, and got to the ridge proper.

By staying either left, right, or center we were able to avoid any serious exposure on this section up until the main knife edge. Once I again I summoned some courage and crossed. Unfortunately halfway through my pants came undone at the clasp but I made it across: this time with a plumbers crack.

Giving the marmots a show
Austin crossing with far more finesse.

Our final truly complicated obstacle was getting around K2.
Because we summited K2 and dropped off the west side, we really had no idea how to get back around to the back side of K2 the standard way. After poking around a few different places on the climber's left side, we decided to simply climb back up K2 and downclimb the chimney we climbed to summit originally.

At this point we were tired and hungry but happy to have made it back to the boulders.
The section between K2 and the Daly saddle was grind. I rolled my ankle twice and it everything seemed to go 10x slower than it did on the way up. The GPX file was very helpful to stay on track in the boulder field.

Finally we made it up and over the saddle and back to camp.


We packed up quickly and landed back at the car by 3:30.

It took us a total of 9 hours from when we left camp until we got back to camp. This includes waiting for people to cross the knife edge, summit time, and a few water breaks but it goes to show just how tedious this route can be. I usually consider myself a fairly fast hiker but not today.

Final thoughts:

Weather weather weather. Like several reports have said, once you are on the ridge it can take several hours to get back to some semblance of cover. And even when you get past K2 the boulder field would take awhile to cross in the event of adverse weather. Plan for a very long window and start early. Most groups we met started around 3:30 from the camp sites.

Excellent route finding skills are a must. Several cairns I thought were rather misleading so having confidence in your own decision making is key.

Seasonal timing. This was a busy weekend on Capitol which means more rockfall than I would have liked. I have heard that a mid September climb can be advantageous due to fewer people but going midweek should accomplish this as well.

In 1 month I am climbing Mt. Marriage. Anyone got a route description for that?

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Picture edits
08/10/2022 22:41
I am missing a couple pictures that will help make a couple of sentences make sense. I will upload these tomorrow

Mount Marriage Route Description
08/11/2022 10:48
Nice trip report. Brought back some very good memories.
As for a route description of Mount Marriage, here are some reflections on what has worked in my 45+ years of marriage - Be kind to and gentle with each other. Let grace abound. Don't wait for the other one to be the first to say "I'm sorry." Forgive quickly and fully. Do not keep score with one another. Keeping score may be necessary in sports but it has no place in a marriage. Give each other grace and then more grace. Never let the day end with anger and never go to bed angry with each other. Talk and walk with each other. And more importantly, talk and walk with God. Relentlessly pursue grace with each other in the same way that God relentlessly pursues you with His grace.

Mt Marriage
09/18/2022 15:50
Capitol route finding is a light warmup for Mt. Marriage. Exposure... insert pic of Honnold in Free Solo. Commitment.. is there a level past extreme? Jokes aside, if you keep up the will you showed on Capitol.. this one has the most glorious summit of all. Excellent trip report, thanks!

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