14er Ski Descents – Capitol Peak – April 20, 2008
Route: West Face
Team: Ted, Al Beyer
“I’m an architect, I like to think outside the box.” That was Al’s reasoning as to why we should try to ski Capitol Peak from the west, knowing that to this day, the few other marginally sensible routes either completed, attempted, or theorized have been on the other side of the mountain. After I insisted we get some more current beta than the aerial photos from 2006, Al got on the phone and suddenly we were racing to the airport with local pilot Hawk Greenway. Twenty minutes later and just as the sunset, we were flying alongside Capitol’s West Face, frantically shooting photos.
After returning home and reviewing the pictures, we agreed we should go for it. We’d get ready tomorrow and pull a 2AM alpine start the following morning. Eighteen hours later after starting we skied back to the car, down the road from the Capitol Creek summer trailhead. The West Face, and my final 14er, had been skied.
The route itself was pretty cool. Were it not for Al who managed to start down with his telemark skis on the wrong feet, resulting in a precarious moment switching them just below the summit, we didn’t take our skis off until we reached the car. We descended our climbing route, first heading west off the summit, down and across the South Face, to the top of the couloir on the west side, which we skied on belay. From there we skied about 2,600 vertical feet down the west side, to 11,500 ft. in upper Avalanche Creek. Though unnecessary, we rappelled down one section (which was side-steppable) near the bottom, and no ropes were used on the ascent. Our best guess is 16+ miles round trip. The pictures can give some more details of the day.
With this, I had completed ski descents of all 54 official 14,000 ft. peaks in Colorado. It was an awesome end to it all. Having started back on May 23, 1999 with Quandary Peak, my original goal was not to ski them all but to simply climb them, in any season, which I completed in 2001. After a few years of lean snowpacks and traveling I realized the goal to ski them all in 2004, after a series of spring trips that netted a dozen plus descents. The next year proved to be a good one as well, and then, Chris Davenport came along in 2006 and really stoked the fire.
In the end, and after nearly ten years, I have to say I loved the whole experience. On any given trip the snow might be terrible and the weather and wind punishing. There could be a half a days driving each way, with early starts, late finishes, long approaches or overnights with huge backpacks. Equipment got trashed, feet blistered, faces sunburned, and lips chapped. My head ached at times from the altitude or dehydration, yet when the day was done, even after the most mindless of slogs on the more boring and uninteresting peaks, it somehow always felt good.
It’s interesting to see this arena of Colorado backcountry skiing evolve through the years. Initially, there were only a few people to talk with about this topic. Through his guidebook and website, Lou Dawson opened it up to anyone interested, but it was Chris Davenport who served as the real catalyst. The attention he brought skiing 14ers has since started a sort of renaissance, though I’ve heard some compare it more to a stampede.
Thanks to everyone involved through the years, especially Al who helped me get it done on Capitol and Christy who partnered with me on 26 peaks (and counting) and threw an awesome party when it was all done. You’re the best!