Peak(s):  Capitol Peak  -  14,138 feet
"K2" - 13,664 feet
Date Posted:  09/01/2010
Date Climbed:   08/28/2010
Author:  KeithK
 That Was Easy   

Capitol Peak (14,130')
August 27-28, 2010
Northeast Ridge from Capitol Lake
Total Round Trip: 18 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 5,300'
Fellow Campers: Lance (comin2getcha) and Caroline (USAKeller)
Orphaned Scrambler Adopters: Chris, Cirille, Scott and Jerry

Words and Pictures cannot replace the experience... get out there and DO it!

I have to see things for myself, to touch and feel and experience the unknown, even if it doesn't seem to be unknown at all. Such is the case with Capitol Peak; hours of poring over the route description, watching the harrowing helmet-cam footage, studying every trip report. For whatever reason, this was one mountain I did not have anxiety over, did not feel that nervous shiver that sometimes arrives the morning of the undertaking. I always knew that I could climb this peak. And I could not have been more prepared when the time finally came...

Caroline, Lance and I made steady, consistent progress along the six-plus mile trail along Capitol Creek, our packs slowly gaining weight, the way they tend to do during that last couple of miles during a backpacking trip. Capitol Peak is one of the rarest of Fourteeners, as it stands above the end of the valley, always looming directly ahead, looking much closer than it is, sheer granite walls rising high above the aptly named Capitol Lake. Other than the Maroon Bells, I can think of few that have such charisma, such a command over their domain. This mountain doesn't hide from the climber, it challenges them head on.

Come climb me, I dare you!

Plenty of chances to get your feet wet... which I wish I could have done during the torturous pack out...

Cows, like polar bears, are very dangerous in the backcountry...

The Ditch Trail cruises nicely for about three miles, reaching Capitol Creek in an open area, where a fallen tree offers the easiest crossing. Several creek crossings are required on this hike, but the low waters of late summer did little to threaten as we negotiated each. The most objective hazard came in the form of a herd of grazing cattle, fat and lazy from a summer spent in the lush meadows and grassy hillsides of the valley. Caroline was fairly terrified, but Lance and I assured her that cows are much more afraid of people, especially people yelling "cheeseburger!" loudly as they pass by. No hikers or cows were harmed during the altercation.

Slickery rocks are no match for my almost worn out La Sportiva soles... (image by Caroline)

Can't we just be there already??? (image by Caroline)

Campsite #3 seems just about right for two tents... (image by Caroline)

One final showcase of the next day's challenge...

Gusting wind provided little in the way of peace, as that all too familiar restlessness plagued my attempts to sleep throughout the night. Still, when 3:00 a.m. arrived, I was ready. Surprisingly, we were all ready to set off before 4:00, some of us more anxious than others. Caroline and Lance have already climbed Capitol Peak, and although the prospect of the repeat was exciting to them, I could tell that my desire to reach the top of this mountain was much greater. And then there was the haunting question of Caroline's knee, which had been bothering her for a few days. She had no real idea what it might feel like after some of the steep climbing began. We sauntered through the meadows at the base of the connecting ridge between Mt. Daly and Capitol Peak, eventually gaining elevation along the good switchbacks all the way up the slope. In less than an hour, we had covered the 900 feet of vertical gain required to reach the saddle, and could begin the very discouraging descent down the other side. In the dark under headlamp, none of us wanted to chance technical terrain higher on the ridge, so we followed the standard route, which becomes a nasty, slick dirt and scree trail down into a gully. This was a far from pleasant section of the journey, but would be over soon enough. Finding the cairned exit ledge, we worked our way along the talus, keeping the moonlit cliffs above us to the right. Discovering the next cairn became a challenge, even with the nearly full moon providing its assistance. The mundane task of walking over the talus would dominate for the next hour, as the sun slowly began to glow behind us. Caroline was, by now, not doing well, and I felt that we really needed to turn back. Lance and I had an eye on the weather, as well, with dark clouds forming across the sky in every direction, and I had very serious doubts about whether I would be coming back to this place next year. After some deliberation, Lance delivered the news, he and Caroline would be turning back, but they wanted me to continue. We had been passed by at least four hikers already, and could see a dozen more behind us on the route. It was a fair bet that I would not be alone up there. Ironically, it was at this very instant that a party of four men caught up to us, and I simply asked to join them. They had no problem with such an intrusion, and I would be humbled by and grateful for their company for the rest of the day.

Exiting the bottom of the scree chute under headlamp...

Caroline captures Mt. Daly in alpenglow...

The sun and skies of the dawning day... (image by Caroline)

Only a few more minutes before we see our first major landmark on the day, K2...

I joined Jerry, Chris, Scott and Cirille (I hope I have that right, based on my only brief glance at the summit register) as they worked along the increasingly larger talus. We were aiming for the back of the basin, expecting to turn right at any moment once the famous "K2" appeared. Rolling slabs cascaded down the right hand side of the basin, eventually mellowing to a pleasant scrambling pitch, and we began to hop from block to block, aiming for an occasional cairn along the horizon. Less tedious than the earlier portion of the route, this climbing was actually fairly fun, and as we gained the ridgeline below K2, it was clear that there was plenty more ahead. Although only a nub in relation to its parent to the south, the bump on the ridge provided a bit of immediate challenge, amplifying the scrambling to class three for the first time all day. After surmounting the first blocks, a shallow trail traverses one of many steep gullies before topping out, only to immediately fall directly toward Capitol Peak's northeast ridge. The introduction was definitely over.

I think the success ratio is pretty good on this version of "K2"...

My first look at Capitol Lake, from the K2-Daly ridge...

The summit of Capitol Peak appears for the first time, well protected...

My adopters led the way down the backside of K2, where we immediately began to realize how serious the terrain could become. The down climbing was a bit "spicy", but I found it to be completely manageable. A class four wall fell to the modest trail below, forcing a few moves facing in with some difficult foot placement, but Cirille kindly coached me down without incident. I could tell the intensity had picked up, as my newfound partners quickly ambled onto the ridge, clearly anticipating that moment that anyone that climbs Capitol Peak for the first time must be ready for, the famous "knife edge". I was ready.

The familiar view of Capitol Peak from the summit of K2...

Beginning the down climb from K2, Chris is already facing in, depicting the immediate difficulty of the task...

A dizzying look down into the chasm between K2 and the ridge, more dizzying if you actually get close to the edge, which I was NOT...

The scrambling begins immediately upon reaching the ridge, climbing straight up the crest for about twenty or thirty feet, before skirting left and around the first obstacle. The first mini-knife edge appears, but is easily traversed on the left; we used the top of the rock as a hand rail, as the exposure here was already the real deal. Around another minor obstacle, the legend itself appears, about 100 feet of angled slab, falling away to either direction with varying degrees of lethality. All of my research, preparation and mental training would bind perfectly together for the next few minutes, as I did not hesitate to attack what might be the single most feared feature on any Colorado Fourteener. I watched the guys easily work their way across the edge, and I did the same. I started out by walking along the left side for the first ten feet or so, where breaks in the rock provide solid, ample footing. Abruptly changing to smooth slab, it was time to deploy the notorious "butt scoot" method that the majority of climbers will use to cross. I had it in my head that I could effectively use my knees and inner edges of my boots to push off of the rock while pulling myself forward, and this technique worked quite well. Other than an obvious interruption at the center of the knife, this method was perfectly adequate for most of the section. To pass the break, there was a perfect spot for my left foot, where I could stand up and swing over the obtrusion, before resuming my more secure strategy. The ridge actually gets wider after that point, and straddling became almost uncomfortable for a few feet. I can see how some can walk across the knife edge, but I wouldn't be one of them. I was as happy as I could be simply crawling from one side to the other. It was exhilarating.

Gaining the ridge, let the games begin...

The moment of truth...

Beyond the knife edge, plenty of dinosaur spine remains...

Traversing the ridge alternated between scrambling along the crest, with some very exposed moves, to dropping down on the left along an easy trail. Before long, we reached what was likely the hardest single move on the route, a mandatory step over exposure on both sides, landing firmly in front of the summit block. The route stays on the ridge crest for only a few dozen feet more, before cairns draw the trail to the left, and a fairly easy traverse ensues. With only an occasional class three move, we worked across the ribs and gullies along the face of the mountain; although somewhat loose and exposed, it was far from being the most difficult climbing I've done, somewhat reminiscent of the El Diente to Mt. Wilson traverse, only easier. It was, however, consuming enough that I don't have any pictures from the face, either coming or going; an unfortunate side-effect of climbing the more difficult Fourteeners, where concentrating on the route takes priority over sightseeing. We began to meet climbers on their way down, including a pair of guys that I immediately recognized, only I couldn't figure out what the Cheeseburglar was doing with aluminum pipes sticking up from his pack. Apparently, his Leave No Trace ethic was much stronger than his "patriotism", and there is no longer a weather beaten, tattered American Flag on the summit of Capitol Peak. "That's so Craig," I thought, as we chatted for a short bit before heading off in opposite directions. Forewarned of the dangerous gully ahead, the group crested a rib and found various ways to negotiate the shallow, steep couloir. I followed Jerry directly across to the other side, where a lone climber was descending. The rest of the guys climbed higher, dislodging a rock here and there, emphasizing the need to be careful along the route. Rock fall potential is definitely high on that mountain. Climbing up the gully to an exit point on the left, we scrambled one after the other along an obvious rib towards the summit ridge, beginning to get excited as we could all sense the top of the mountain nearby. Once again we split up and chose separate lines; I liked the look of a crack, or shallow chimney feature, and gained the ridge with a few solid class three moves. The scrambling on the ridge was surprising exposed, and the summit made us earn it as we all topped out to enjoy the spoils of a serious effort. What an incredible experience.

Class three climbing below the summit ridge...

By request, a look at the Capitol-Snowmass connecting ridge...

I can see my tent from here!

The forgotten Elks to the west...

A chilly wind inspired a short summit rest, and we headed back down the ridge after only about fifteen minutes. I think the weather was on everyone's mind; getting caught in any kind of storm on this mountain would surely make for a nervous, if not disastrous, day. Retracing our moves along the ridge, we dropped onto a bit of trail that traverses below and connects back to the prominent rib that splits the face of the mountain. The down climbing was fairly secure, with the occasional loose bit of rock or scree keeping us all on our toes and mindful of one another. Chris and Jerry chose to traverse the gully high, staying on exposed, solid ledges, while the rest of us dropped down and followed the semblance of trail that eventually leads across to a cairn on the next rib. Fortunately, the descent of the summit block was uneventful, even smooth, as by now there were no more surprises. I was fairly amazed at how good I felt, and how much I was even enjoying the climb. Methodical, confident moves produced steady progress, and we were back to the knife edge in good time, where things ground to a complete halt. A CMC group was practicing roped travel across the edge, and we patiently waited while they cleared the route for us. I didn't mind the break, and took advantage of the time to ask Jerry to carry my camera across and take a few action shots. After all, this is not exactly the sort of thing you do on your everyday Fourteener, and I certainly didn't want to pass up the opportunity to capture the moment.

Queueing up on the knife edge...

I'm not a hero...

Nothing to it, really...

Completing the ridge felt like a relief, as we followed the trail along the edge of K2, hoping to find friendly passage. Unfortunately, the terrain is deceptive, and the trail runs into a steep, exposed gully, with two basic choices, either up or down. Jerry, Chris and Cirille chose down, while Scott chose up. I didn't want to choose, not liking either! I eventually began to work my way up, reasoning that the solid rock would be better than the dirty ledges that I watched the others descend upon. After a few airy moments, and a nervous move or two, I successfully crossed K2, and looked down on nothing but easy talus. Even though there was still a long way to go, and the dreaded up climb back to the Daly saddle, we all felt the sense of relief as the business end of Capitol Peak drifted off behind us. Following cairns and trail segments, we made good time down the slope, before splitting apart again. Jerry chose to head straight down to the basin below, a move I wish I had mimicked. Instead, I followed the rest of the group over a flat area, where cairns drew us into a fairly serious down climb, with plentiful class three moves involved. Through the tedium, I was tiring at last, and ready to get back to camp. The distance between K2 and the Daly saddle is very surprising, comprising a great deal of the total route. Reaching mellower terrain lower in the basin was a welcome relief, and a fairly easy cruise led me to the base of the nasty scree chute that I had been reluctantly anxious to climb. Fortunately, the gully is short, and it didn't take much more than will power to muscle up the short switchbacks to finally reach the good trail above, and the nearly effortless descent from the saddle.

There are other Fourteeners in the area...

Descending from K2...

I am grateful and honored that these guys let me tag along...

Steep filth leads right onto somewhat less offensive dirt through the grassy benches...

Looking down on the trail split into the gully...

I've been lucky to find great partners to climb with, and this day was no exception. I thanked the guys for allowing me to join them, nothing but respect in my voice. All of them are older than me, with Jerry completing his 46th Fourteener on the list of 53, only one week removed from the young age of 64! I was impressed by their skills and ability; all four of them better climbers than me. And more importantly, proof that age does not matter, it's all about spirit and character. We marched down the switchbacks, where I parted ways for good to get back to camp for the long pack out. Lance and Caroline had a head start on me, so I tried my best to hustle out of camp. Of course, hustling after a ten hour day of climbing Capitol Peak is a relative term, and my efforts resembled anything but energetic. A fellow by the name of Mike had taken up residence in the next camp site, and came over to ask me about the climb. I was grateful for the company, and it made the effort seem easier. All the way from Houston, Mike was looking to complete the Elk Range Fourteeners. The conversation made the efforts of packing up camp easier, and I was soon ready to depart for the trailhead, dreams of pizza and beer swirling through my dazed consciousness. I had just climbed the one and only, biggest, baddest of the bad Fourteeners. It felt better than good.

Descending from the saddle, admiring that mountain some more...

The Capitol Creek drainage opens up right into the Roaring Fork Valley, deceptively far away...

Capitol Peak was everything I expected it to be; tough, technical, large and loose. It was also one of the smoothest, most satisfying climbs I've executed. There were no surprises, no "you've got to be kidding me" moments, and no real trepidation. I found the route on the mountain to be almost familiar, even predictable, due to my preparation, and the technical challenge was well within my ability. When I consider the gamut of emotions I've felt this summer, especially the nerves and fears on mountains such as El Diente and Snowmass, it seems remarkable that this particular peak did not conjure up anything close. Sometimes perception and reality are simply not congruent, but on this weekend they blended together perfectly, and it might be the most fun I've had on a mountain, or at least the most fulfilling. I left Capitol Peak with feelings of pride, achievement and accomplishment, and most importantly, an intangible happiness that I've rarely felt after climbing. Why do I climb Fourteeners? Capitol Peak might be the closest experience that can answer that question.

That was easy...

Comments or Questions
Awesome awesome awesome!!
09/01/2010 12:25
SO happy you bagged it! But I'm still so bummed about not making it. Your TR captures the trip beautifully.

And, being terrified of those cows is an understatement!!!

emcee smith
Nice! Not much more to say
09/01/2010 12:32
Good luck on your finisher

09/01/2010 13:11
Looks like you're gonna pull it off, Keith!

Funny, I felt exactly the same way about Capitol, walking away with a ”that was nice” feeling.

rob runkle
The Easy Button
09/01/2010 13:15
Glad you brought ”The Easy Button” (last picture) with ya...

the end is near...
09/01/2010 13:40
for your quest of the 14ers! Congrats brother! I'm so proud of your efforts, it's been fun to watch your grow as a man. I think it's ironic that at the very moment you stood on top of Colorado's ”Capitol” I was in the nation's Capitol on my own spiritual journey. 8/28/2010 was a day that changed both of our lives for the better. See you Sunday for your final step.

James Scott
Well Done
09/01/2010 13:41
Enjoyed the pictures and the writing. This reminds me of my day on Capitol last summer- the anxiety, the first look over K2 at the knife edge, the surprisingly challenging route beyond the knife edge, and the feeling of crossing back over K2 and knowing you did it! And of course, the long walk in and out. Thanks so much for this! Good luck on the finisher!

09/01/2010 13:54
Congratulations, Kieth!

09/01/2010 14:06
What a great read, Keith. I love your writing style. This is such a great accomplishment. Way to go!

Nice job!
09/01/2010 14:12
Great report Keith. I think I met you very briefly a few years ago on Shavano - glad to see you're almost done with the list!

Way to go, Keith!
09/01/2010 14:21
Great trip report that captures the full range of emotions on the heights. Thanks for sharing the adventure, and best of luck on your finisher!

09/01/2010 14:22
Wow, you've sure come a long way in your climbing adventures Keith! I would have tried to join you had I been feeling better and the weather forecast wasn't so rainy. Glad you got in a good window to climb and enjoyed the Cap! I'll be elated to creatively crawl along up there too! Best of wishes on your finisher and getting the all! I hope to join your ranks some day

The effort IS the reward!
09/01/2010 14:35
Glad all returned safe. Beautiful mountain. And thx for the shot of the Cap-Snowmass ridge...heading up there next week to climb Cap and do the traverse over to Snowmass...route looks good! Congrats to all!

It's been a pleasure
09/01/2010 14:48
Keith, it's been a fine ride reading you, occasionally hiking with you; sorry we missed on the Snowmass trip earlier this year. Looking forward to buying you a beer near Nellie Creek later this month! Congratulations!

Age does not matter ...
09/01/2010 15:04
It's all about spirit and character. You're making me misty there, my friend. What an amazing journey for you ... I thank you for bringing me along. Thanks for posting. Take care and Happy Trails!

All in the preparation!
09/01/2010 16:40
Told ya the Wilson - El Diente traverse would be a good warm-up for ol Capitol! Since after that, nothing seems as bad

Glad you enjoyed the mountain! Just one more to go! 8)

Nicely done!
09/01/2010 18:33
Keith - It was good to see you up on Capitol last weekend and I enjoyed our chat on the way out. Congrats! Kyle and I successfully hit the summit of Pyramid Peak the next day and it was hard just as you described....but worth it! Have fun on Bierstadt & Evans this weekend to finish up your list.

09/01/2010 18:47
So all you ”need” is Evans, alright.

Nice Report
09/01/2010 20:58
Congratulations on a solid climb. It doesn't seem that long ago you were the newbie!

09/01/2010 23:21
I always enjoy reading your perspectives. Great job and enjoy your finisher.


cheers to pizza and beers!
09/02/2010 00:37
Great. Day on a great mountain. Enjoyed sharing the climb with you. Thanks for the trip report, really captured the spirt of the climb.
Chris Mattek.

09/02/2010 04:40
Well done Keith! I'm very happy everything worked out for you on this peak! Wish I could be there for your finisher, but I'm sure we'll crack a beer at Wetterhorn =)

I fall a lot
09/02/2010 12:59
I've read your reports from the beginning and you've absolutely killed it in the past few years! Now you're one of 'those people'!

Rock on!

Chicago Transplant
09/02/2010 17:15
Just one more to go! Hard to believe isn't it? Good luck on the finisher!

09/03/2010 10:58
I can't acknowledge every comment without skipping work today, so suffice to say ”THANK YOU”. It's impossible to thank you all enough for the comments, encouragement and support. It has been an amazing journey through the Colorado mountains, and being able to share that in some way and forging some friendships and relationships along the way is a real privilege. And yes, piper, I guess I do have one last ”need”.

Premium Report!
09/03/2010 14:45
Excellent trip report and photos. Great job Keith

Effing Awesome
09/04/2010 23:10
It's a long way from South Boulder Peak to Capital, isn't it? You've done some excellent work along the way.

07/29/2013 18:29
On finishing all the class 3 and above 14ers! Great report. Enjoy your finisher!

   Not registered?

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

Please respect private property: supports the rights of private landowners to determine how and by whom their land will be used. In Colorado, it is your responsibility to determine if land is private and to obtain the appropriate permission before entering the property.

© 2022®, 14ers Inc.