Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,138 feet
Date Posted:  03/21/2009
Modified:  04/12/2010
Date Climbed:   03/19/2009
Author:  doumall
 Following in the Footsteps of Legends   

First Calendar Winter Ski Descent of Capitol Peak
Second Ski Descent of Green Line aka Secret Chute

Crew: Jordan White, Joe Brannan

Snowmass Creek Trailhead
Northeast Ridge from Moon Lake
Exit using Pierre Lakes Basin

Spirit of the West Elk Mountains:

Photo: Joe Brannan (doumall)

Many nights I lay in my bed trying to shake the thoughts of this mountain from my restless mind. I would try to think of fence leaping sheep but invariably my train of thought would settle back onto the prospect of tumbling off a 400' cliff with my skis still attached. Skiing Capitol is like a major surgery. You fret and worry days and months before the moment, then you get there, the IV goes in and the task takes care of itself. In the few days beforehand, my stomach twisted and turned. I felt I had no control over my coming fate up on Capitol Peak. However, as the sun dawned Thursday, the skins were stripped and the climbing began, each move was right there in front of me. I had my hands on the steering wheel and control of my mortality. I simply had to follow the path before me. Thank you Capitol Peak, you lent me a most vivid example of life.

I knew Jordan was the guy I would ski Capitol with. Our chemistry in the mountains seems to be the right recipe for success. His attempt to ski this peak last season brought useful first hand beta to the climb. When he called me up from Basalt Tuesday and mentioned that he and Andy Dimmen may ski it in the next few days I had to get time off from work. I couldn't let the only guy I wanted to ski this route with get it out of his system without me. I realized shortly there after it would be a calendar winter descent, the first. Motivation boiled.

Our recent trip up Holy Cross combined with beta from the likes of non-other than the legend Lou Dawson and the invaluable CAIC filled in most of our snowpack information template. We felt confident the snow on the east face would behave given it wasn't too thin and sugary and we beat the heat. A race was born.

Conveying the experience of a day like this one through a computer screen feels like trying to describe, with an image, the rush of flavors which enter your mouth on the first bite of a most delicious perfectly salted top dollar steak. I will do my best.

I felt unusually strong this day. Perhaps I found the optimum loading schedule, or maybe it was just the fire in my belly. The trees faded into the black and when the sun hit my back, the skis slid autonomously up to K2.

Daily from near K2:

Photo: doumall


Photo: doumall

When I hit the corniced ridgeline, the day took on a sharp edge.

Capitol from the K2-Clark ridgeline:

Photo: doumall

I immediately began a hot brew. After I had a silent solo conversation with the East Face, Jordan pulled up next to me and started his own breakfast. After refueling we geared up for the climb, welcoming a change in muscle group. The first of many difficulties was to summit K2 providing perfect steel-meets-rock intro.

Climbing K2:

Photo: Jordan White

The down-climbing on the backside was unchanged from my summer outings. Crampons are amazing tools and once you start to get comfortable with their virtues on rock, difficulties seem to drop a few grades.

K2 Down-climb:

Photo: Jordan

At this point I was content with letting Jordan lead. He had walked this walk before and it showed:

First Knife Edge Crux:

Photo: doumall

Most of the blade presented an easy stroll in the conditions we found it. The point I am working around here (same as previous picture of Jordan climbing it), was one of the few places the early part of the route felt more intense than in summer.

Stepping it up a Notch:

Photo: Jordan

Jordan turns and asks: "Having fun yet?" to which I reply, "You bet!"

Photo: Jordan

Speaking with Andy the day before, he wished me luck and responding to our one day ascent plan remarked: "Just hope everything goes perfectly." Does any day in the mountains every go perfectly? I haven't had one yet. As I crested a hump along the line, I noticed a new expression on Jordan's face, one of desperation. I didn't know what to make of it until he grumbled, "I just dropped my whippet down the North Face." Mountaineering teaches you to take what comes in stride. Nothing ever goes exactly to plan; you must be plastic, willing to take on the shape of unforeseen challenges. We got lucky as the vital tool to our success stuck on a snow bench one rope length down.

Reeling in the Catch of the Day:

Photo: doumall

With quick gear work and Jordan's scrappy climbing we only delayed our summit by 20 minutes. More teetering on either side of a void lay ahead.

Photo: doumall

Only briefly did we feel the need to counter pressure this terrain:

Mixing it up:

Photo: doumall

Jordan approaches his high point on his previous ski attempt. His focus narrows, the task at hand clarifies:

Photo: doumall

After a quick peak down the Secret Chute we pressed on.

Time to share the burden:

Photo: Jordan

Once at front, my climbing took on a new feel. My confidence soared and my desire for this peak grew. Snow conditions were near optimal save for some sugar. I like dessert:

Sparks Fly:

Photo: Jordan

You can smell it, you know its there. Someday I would like to climb rock in crampons at night to watch the fireworks coming off my spikes.

There are two places our route had us hanging out over the North Face:


Photo: doumall

We used a brief face traverse to avoid a near vertical wall of crumbling rock. The climb back up to the ridge from the end of this traverse was the climbing crux. How much do you trust that hidden crampon point perched on granite beneath the sugar? As much as that questionable flake your fingers hold tight?

Crux Climb:

Photo: doumall

Like a no-wipe middle-of-the-ocean surface-buster (giant poop that does not require TP), the sketchy climbing passed without error.

Back on Top:

Photo: Jordan

A close look at the ski route brought me back to earth.

Ski Gnar:

Photo: doumall

A bit of laybacking easily solved the upper pitch of rock slabs.

A Healthy Perspective on Life:

Photo: doumall

We hit the top 10 hours after our muddy parking-lot-trot start on the day.

After a hot pot of noodles, some joking around to calm the nerves, and cranking the tour lock down on the Dynafits, we skied off sparse snow from the summit.

Jordan from the Top:

Photo: doumall

The intial section of the Secret Chute route is a traverse across the top of the South Face. Had I contemplated the dangers of this section prior to our day, I would have had another thing wearing on my mind.

Exposed Skiing Right Out of the Gate:

Photo: Jordan

Although the South Face cliffs are more broken than those on the East, they certainly would show no mercy. We cut the cake with our first jump turns here.

First Turn:

Photo: Jordan

At the far east end of the summit ridge, we confronted the go-no-go decision to complete the ski. Jordan took the reins and sealed the deal.

Into the Mouth of the Beast:

Photo: Jordan

We could only commit to kick turns through here; the exposure and thin coverage were just to daunting to risk it all on a jump turn. To navigate this terrain, we had to edge out onto the spine of snow below and to Jordan's right in the previous photo. The spine was no more than two feet wide in spots and sat atop a vacancy to the south. Here I am, teetering on that spine, a one foot slip backwards and its curtains.

Spine Slide:

Photo: Jordan

I only remember peering toward the edge of the cliff below twice. It was too much to take in, way to distracting, we must remain focused on the skiing.

A 400' Cliff Lays in Waiting:

Photo: doumall

Jordan exhaled loudly, we conversed about the next move and he committed to it. There was no going back now.

Edge of Oblivion:

Photo: doumall

Remember that 'Ski Gnar' pic? This is the work around for that super scary looking mini-bowl feature. The steepness is not well captured in this next picture, but the rock and snow conditions we encountered are:

Everything seemed to calm down after we got a good view of the remaining route. The sketchiest skiing was over. Hey, I think we can make some turns again!

Safe on the East Face:

Photo: doumall

Making it Look Easy:

Photo: doumall

When asking someone about their best skiing experience, you will likely get a response such as: "I got four straight 12" blower days at Snowbird/Alta, Nipple Deep Man!', or "The East Face of Castle Peak, killer corn turns Bro!" Only on a line like this will the answer begin and end with a single turn. After watching Jordan crank a few high 50 degree turns and clear the fall line, I got to make the best turn of my life.

Memory, Serve Me Well:

Photo: Jordan

The rest of the route is mostly traversing which fluctuates between low and mid 50 degree undulating snow gullies. Occasionally you get to make some jump turns.

Almost There:

Photo: doumall

Are we having fun yet?

Photo: Jordan

When your making turns, you're having fun.

Jordan Gets Another:

Photo: doumall

Success is on the Horizon:

Photo: Jordan

Narrowing in on the Secret Chute, the snow cover diminished.

Hand Holds While Skiing?

Photo: doumall

A final bit of steep ground remained. The small saddle for the Secret Chute is directly behind Jordan but is hidden from view due to the drop off.

Almost Home:

Photo: doumall

I certainly stewed over the tumble in this area which almost brought tragedy to the first party completing this line; these turns were made with NASA level error tolerance:

Stick It:

Photo: Jordan

In total, I made 12 jump turns on the route from the summit to the top of secret chute. Ya, I counted

Once we were both safely at the rappel station, a retrospective look back was in order onto the East Face snowfields...

Secret Chute Route, East Face Traverse:

Photo: doumall

...and The Cliff:

Photo: doumall

Whatever created this mountain was kind enough to provide the most perfect rock horn for a rappel.

Ropes are Fun:

Photo: Jordan

We used two 30 meter ropes. This is sufficient. Had we known we could reach the opening below the 60 degree 3 foot wide choke, we would have rappelled with the skis on, but the prospect of hitting the knots while skiing switch in mid choke was not a risk we were willing to take. The next group who skis this route, take note.

Jordan Rapping Through the Choke:

Photo: doumall

Me Clearing the Choke:

Photo: Jordan

On any other day, when not predisposed to skiing off the summit of Capitol, this chute would raise the hair on your gonads. After going through the previous hour of skiing though, it seemed pretty mellow.

Not Such a Secret Anymore Chute:

Photo: doumall

Jordan skied it well, managing the heavy slough en-route to open snowfields below.

Jordan Jump Turns to Safety:

Photo: doumall

This next picture gives a great perspective on the size of the cliff below the ski route.

Spot the Skier? Hint: Under the Sky Scraper

A raised bench was devised for spectating below this impressive cirque. For anyone who loves mountains I must recommend this position in the snow season. The view of Capitol from here is unmatched and cannot be fully disclosed through the internet. Check it out some time.

Success on Capitol Peak:

Photo: Jordan

Watching the first significant wet slide cycle of the season start on south aspects turned us from our number one descent option, the One in a Million Couloir and Moon Lake, to our number two option, Pierre Lakes Basin. I was not the least bit disappointed. Killer views and 4000 vertical feet of corn snow and powder turns were had.

Jordan Begins the Out:

Photo: doumall


Photo: doumall

Photo: Jordan

If you're looking to ski Capitol, I have some advice for you. After going through a healthy progression of gaining avalanche awareness and mountaineering knowledge, go ski the East Face Direct line off of Snowmass Mountain. The steepness is similar to the steepest sections on Capitol only there is almost no exposure and far less vertical. Also, ski Pyramid's Landry Line, which has at least one required jump turn at 55 degrees above a death fall cliff. If you get those out of the way, you may be ready. Better make sure your climbing is up to snuff too.

Thanks for reading! See you out there.

Comments or Questions
03/21/2009 18:40

All in a day
03/21/2009 19:17
Awesome. You guys have some serious drive to get this done in a day. ...feeling extra fat, slow and old after reading this.

James Scott
03/21/2009 21:12
The pictures are amazing! If my wife sees this, I will never be allowed to make an attempt next summer. The only mistake you made is that you didn‘t wear capes.

03/21/2009 22:36
When does the coffee table book arrive in stores...?

03/22/2009 07:53
I don‘t even know what to say; insane. It looks to me like you somehow manage to defy physics with a descent like that. Thanks for letting us feel like a part of it. Your weren‘t walking in the footsteps of legends; you were creating your own.

03/22/2009 13:41
”Like a no-wipe middle-of-the-ocean surface-buster (giant poop that does not require TP)...”. Very poignant. Congrats on such an impressive climb/ski.

I am not worthy
03/22/2009 16:21
I dont even know what I could say. I climbed Capitol and thought how crazy it was for Chris and co. to do this. INCREDIABLE!!!!! Congratulations guys. Thanks for the great report and pic‘s

03/22/2009 23:05
Planning an Elks trip this September, reading this TR fires me up. What is that feeling in my belly I get looking at your report? Incredible.

03/22/2009 23:23
Simply incredible boys... Congratulations.. That is some accomplishment.

This thing won‘t let me change my vote...
03/23/2009 00:18 10 STARS!!! Holy moly, you guys, congrats on an unbelievably incredible adventure! I can‘t decide if these reports make me want to learn to ski, or convince me to keep my sanity!

Glory Days...
03/23/2009 01:56
Awesome pics / story. You should write a book man. I was pretty relieved to get your phonecall Thursday night. So uh, you took a vacation day for this?

Good Lord!
03/23/2009 02:50
Doumall, you and Jordan are absolutely beyond words! My God, the climb of that face with ski‘s is just incredible.
I agree with Keith. This needs a minimum of 10 stars!
The pictures and text are outstanding. This actually may be your best thing yet! And that‘s saying a lot!
I thought your climb & rapel of Ormes last year was amazing but this tops it by a mile!
A HUGE congratulations!!!

Holy Hell!
03/23/2009 04:48
The pics alone would have been an awesome trip report, but your writing added several goose-bumpy grins to it. Well done!

Nice Write-up Joe
03/23/2009 16:58
Glad to have this bugger done.

Chicago Transplant
Very Nice!
03/23/2009 17:09
Even though Capitol is far above my limits, somehow I know exactly what you mean when you said: ”Skiing Capitol is like a major surgery. You fret and worry days and months before the moment, then you get there, the IV goes in and the task takes care of itself.”

I have had lines that the longer I stand and look down them, the more I fret and worry, then as soon as I make the first turn, it just sort of takes care of itself. I flashed back to my own ”Capitols” of the past when I read that line, and it really allowed me to experience the emotions you and Jordan must have been feeling on this climb, thanks for bringing me in. What an amazing ride.

My TR:
03/23/2009 18:14
Can be found here:

Geez Louise
03/23/2009 18:27
Geez Joe!!!!!! I thought I couldn‘t get more scared reading your trip reports and looking at the photos but this one takes the cake. Congrats and all I can is WOW. You really should make a coffee table book or send me the photos and captions and I will! Kathy

thats f‘ing steep
03/23/2009 19:08
Did you or Jordan ever do a write up of either of the Crestones? Maybe I‘m just not looking carefully. I‘d love to see the route you took off the Needle.

Job well done.

03/23/2009 21:30
Neither of us have skied it yet

Nice Axe
03/23/2009 21:43
The first TR to put a lump in the back of my throat as I looked at the photos! So crazy steep that my hands were sweating. Masterfully executed climb & descent and beautifully written TR. Thanks and congrats!

03/23/2009 23:01
that is one heck of a TR. Had to change my shorts. You dudes carry big bag....thanks for sharing

03/24/2009 20:31
If you guys aren‘t sponsored, you should be.

Un Fricken Believeable!!!
03/25/2009 17:30
Un Fricken Believeable!!!

03/25/2009 17:35
I totally know how you guys feel: Just today I was at Keystone and nailed Spring Dipper without falling even once...
In all seriousness, I have no idea how you‘re able to climb and ski like that when you have balls the size of canteloupes.
Is there an emoticon that bows in reverence that I can put up here?
Well done, gentlemen. We are not worthy.
Congrats on such a great accomplishment!!!

03/25/2009 18:56
Not too much to add to what everone else has already said. I have read this report 3 times and I still get butterflies everytime. Those pictures and Incredible!!! Huge accomplishment. Thanks for sharing,,


Thanks for all the comments!
04/22/2009 21:35
Again, thank you all for sharing this experience with me. I really enjoy writing these reports, it allows me to re-live the experience over and over again. Of course, none of this could be possible without the Colorado ski mountaineering leaders from the past. Lou, Chris, Neal, Ted, Al, Frank, Pete, Chris and Pam: thank you for the inspiration.

See you out there.

New Favorite TR
05/05/2009 00:46
It looks REEAALLY scary. Be Proud.

Oh My Dear Lord.
05/06/2009 02:17
Holy Shit. This gives me hope for humanity. What do you even say. Print off that first picture, sell it in an art gallery. And I agree with everyone else, whens the coffee table book coming out?

05/10/2009 23:45
Looks like a dream come true! Amazing.

mother‘s nightmare!!!
07/20/2009 13:05
I‘m a mother...OMG...I‘d kill you for doing that!!

07/23/2009 23:49
I just crapped my pants reading this. You guys are completely insane and amazing!!

Completely amazing!!!
12/09/2009 03:03
Blows me away - nice work!

At a loss...
11/30/2010 17:28
I've run out of descriptive adjectives that accurately describe what you guys are doing and my thoughts and experience when I read your recent ski descent trip reports!
I'm bug-eyed, breathless (I seriously hold my breath while reading and enjoying your photos!) and completely freaked out! This is just from my armchair, not even close to what it must be like at the top of the summit looking down!
What an accomplishment for both of you - to pull this off is totally AWESOME! I'm raising a pint to both of you...
Looking forward to the ski descent details (planning on soiling my huggies )

11/30/2010 17:28
Those last few photos - wow. And the writing - at times, bordering on poetry: "Someday I would like to climb rock in crampons at night to watch the fireworks coming off my spikes." Crazy, the things you think about, up there. Thanks for sharing your dreams with us, guys. We are humbled.

Part II: The Descent - You guys are f***ing nuts.

Wow !
11/30/2010 17:28
What a way to close out winter. Congratulations to you both on this one as well as a full winter season.
doumall wrote, "How much do you trust that hidden crampon point perched on granite beneath the sugar? As much as that questionable flake your fingers hold tight?".
Funny that you should bring this up; it was the answer this very question that turned me back a few hundred yards shy of the top on a solo climb of Gladstone yesterday. Ice, sugar snow, loose rock and crampons what fun.
I hope you two have a great spring...
Be well,

Thank you...
11/30/2010 17:28
... for allowing me to live vicariously through your TR's. Friggin‘ awesome.

11/30/2010 17:28
Joe, this may be the best trip report you've ever written. Congrats to both of you on your incredible achievement!

nail biter....
02/05/2011 00:22
Very nice write-up! I think you will grab the attention of your readers.
I‘m sure you guys are quite proud of this accomplishment, as you should be!
First winter ski descent, that‘s pretty damn cool too.

Nice work on the crux's. (sp?)

Just came across this TR
03/13/2013 18:05
Freaking unreal.

Best TR on site
02/16/2015 01:19
Nice work and thank you.

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