Capitol Peak

21-22 Oct 2001 - by Robert Mullen

Looking for a bit of adventure on a this popular mountain without the summer crowds, a group of us decided to climb Capitol Peak this past weekend. A group of 6: myself, Gabe, Marcel, Mike, Cab, and Jim, were all up for the adventure. After driving to the trailhead from Denver on Friday night we slept underneath a star choked sky with the company of some hunters.

We were unsure as what to expect at this time of year on this mountain, as none of us had climbed this peak before. So, we brought a good amount of gear: ropes, rock pro, ice axe, crampons, and anything else you could think of bringing, including shoes and glasses. We began the hike up to Capitol Lake around 9:30am at a leisurely pace, enjoying the 60 degree sunshine and the particular beauty of late fall in the high country. Commencing the hike at a knoll near Capitol Lake at 4pm, it had taken us 4.5 hours to hike the 6.5 miles. A splendid afternoon spent immersed in the beauty of the Elk Range. The Capitol Lake basin is truly awesome, one of the larger alpine lakes in Colorado, dwarfed by the 2,000 foot North Face of Capitol Peak it provides a scale of grandeur not often seen in Colorado. There was decent amount of snow around the lake and we camped in about 1-2 feet of powder snow.

While lounging around camp around 5pm we saw two climbers descending from Daly Pass. Cab inquired to them about the conditions on the mountain, they said the ridge from Daly Pass to K2 looked good. They also mentioned that crampons were useless as the snow was unconsolidated. After thanking them for their help we debated what gear to bring, there would be 5 of us going up the mountain tomorrow, as Marcel had succumbed to blisters. After a lengthy debate which went from bring everything we brought it this far, to bring nothing we'll climb light and fast, we arrived at an agreement that we found mutually beneficial, bring one rope, ice axes, and some rock gear in case we needed it. Easy for them to say, I would be the one who would have to carry the rope. Although we never needed the rope, it was very reassuring to have it just in case. Plans were set and packs were packed. As the day came to a close, it's fruition brought the most amazing sunset. Altocumulus clouds, like marching sheep draped in pink and red, juxtaposed to the cold gray steel granite of Capitol's north face provided a marked contrast of unparalled beauty. To the north, the alpenglow of high cirrus clouds bathed the sky in a silky light purple, till finally with it's last bit of strength the sun shone it's red brilliance on the steep cliffs of the knife's edge ridge and disappeared. The day was done.

Awaking the next morning at 6:30, we began the hike up to Daly Pass, a steep hike but pleasant in the early morning hours, the mountains in the magic hour, my favorite part of any alpine start. Arriving at the pass around 7:30 we decided to forego the ice axes and take the 4th Class ridge from Daly Pass to the summit of K2, what a climb. Very cool exposure with relatively easy climbing, the vast majority of which was 3rd class and fun!! A little narrow in spots, a handful of 4th or 5th class moves with moderate route finding but highly recommended to anyone looking for a little extra challenge up to Capitol Peak.

We joined up with the standard route and made our way up to the summit of K2. The summit of Capitol still quite a ways off, snow-covered and quite intimidating. Jim decided here that he had had enough and was heading back to hang out with Marcel in camp. The snow certainly made the mountain look quite a bit more surreal, and the photos we had seen were pale representations of what lay before us. The weather was holding out just fine and was for the most part cool, calm, and cloudy all day.

The ridge before us was for the most part snow free and the climbing easy and fun!! The knife's edge is a solid, aesthetic section of rock and with a firm grip and boots smeared, it is a pure joy to dance across. As the ridge came to an end, we saw footprints that angled left and to the snow covered south east face, we also saw a snow free ridge that extended directly to the summit, Dawson's calls it a 5.2 pitch, choosing rock over snow we free soloed the 5.2 section up to the final ridge which extends about 300 feet to the true summit of Capitol Peak. Summit at 12:30pm. Snowmass is an impressive peak from the summit of Capitol and the Snowmass-Capitol Ridge is certainly an eager mountaineering objective. To the north is Mount Sopris, my first mountain, everything happens when you go to Mount Sopris, if you've never been make it your next trip, disappointed you will not be. Further south from Snowmass, the mighty Bells rise from the valley, the sight of my brother Mike's bachelor party, a climb and ski of the East Couloirs on Maroon Peak, another must do. Laying about on the summit, memories flooding back from the years past. "Hey there's Crested Butte, dude I don't know if I ever told you this, but the Butte's sick," former Butte resident Cab chimes in. The Elks are simply breathtaking!!

Ok reality check, we are on the summit and half way done with the climb. We decided to follow the footsteps across the southeast face, rather than down climbing the 5th class rock. The going was very slow but solid across the face and we made it back to the ridge and then back to the knife's edge, then up and over K2. The down climb from K2 seemed different from the rest of the climb, unlike any other section of the climb it was more difficult, requiring more concentration and strength, this section of the climb that I refer to is known as the crux.

The hike back from K2 to Daly Pass was another interesting endeavor, as if we hadn't been through enough, the snow was steep and unconsolidated, with icy rocks underneath, it took a steady mind and steady feet to negotiate this route. We finally arrived back at Daly Pass at 4pm, the cloudy skies turned to stormy skies. After a little bit of glissading, we arrived back at the camp in full on winter storm conditions. The winter wind provides pretty good motivation for packing up and getting out. With some stoves heating up some water for some nourishment, we broke down camp with an efficiency that would have made any military commander proud. The hike out was actually pleasant once we got down below the tree line, we arrived back at the car at 8pm fully spent from an exciting day in the mountains.

It was a challenging and sustained route up this mountain called Capitol Peak. Experienced the way that a mountain should be enjoyed, with your friends and you, solitude with companionship. This is why we do what we do, not to conquer the mountains, but to feel the intrinsic bond between man and the mountain, the connection between the known and the unknown. The mountains give us this opportunity and it is ours to relish.

Aaron Schuman adds:

> we slept underneath a star choked sky

I can't stand it when there are quasars like kudzu, asphyxiating the heavens and blocking my view of the cosmic background. That's why, when I camp out, I carry a spray can of Astrocide (tm), new, from Proctor and Gamble. Clean sky, dark night. Good for heaven and good for earth!

> Experienced the way that a mountain should be enjoyed, with
> your friends and you, solitude with companionship.  This is
> why we do what we do, not to conquer the mountains, but to
> feel the intrinsic bond between man and the mountain, the
> connection between the known and the unknown.  The mountains
> give us this opportunity and it is ours to relish.

I love your prose! Keep it coming!

Chris Macintosh adds:

What a weird mind you have. This really made me laugh. Thanks. Perhaps you should flog this idea to Phil Frank for Mrs. Melmac's use?


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