Capitol Peak in a Day
Originally planned as a birthday outing that was tabled when work interfered, Christy, Dirk and I rescheduled the day jaunt up Capitol Peak one week later. A blessing in disguise, the delay put us on the route with just one other party as opposed to the relative mob-scene that reportedly overran the peak the weekend prior.
After a 5AM departure from the trailhead we were up at Capitol Lake in good time, with only one brief stop for a picture or two of a bear making breakfast of a cow that died right on the trail. First seen the week before by some friends, upside down with feet in the air, we had anticipated seeing the bloated bovine, but the wild imagery of a bear pulling it apart was a bonus. The scene would only get more interesting when we returned later that day….
Back on track– Capitol Lake lead to Daly Pass, Upper West Snowmass Creek and finally K2, where the climbing begins in earnest. Overtaking a group of five, we reached the famed Knife Edge– the namesake feature of the route and quite possibly the best known and most challenging crux of all the 14ers– where each of us crossed in our own style. Christy’s last visit here was back in 2001 as a relative rookie, and with the passing of time had some trepidation about the airy traverse, which she later acknowledged was quite overblown. A couple of trips up and down Ama Dablam’s SW Ridge will take care of that.
With the first trip across the knife edge behind us, it was time to shift focus to the secondary purpose of the day– the scouting mission for spring. It’s becoming evermore likely that Christy will, at sometime down the road, be coming up here to ski. We started discussing the options, which for many skiers thus far were right along this route. Even though things look a lot different with snow cover, it was fun to assess and debate the merits of the three different ski options that have been completed here. I hadn’t been up here since Al Beyer and I skied it as my final 14er two springs ago.
Our steady but casual pace put us up top at 11:30, and as we hung out and ate lunch a small single engine plane buzzed us and the summit, barely clearing it. And peering down to Pierre Lakes we could see the camp we claimed for last years birthday trip.
On our way down, as Christy tried to visualize what the ski would look like, Dirk upped the difficulty of his descent by trying to stay on the exact ridge and stand atop every sharp highpoint. He finished the whole thing with a bold balance beam walk back over the crux.
Christy and I returned back over the knife edge in more conservative style.
Later, on the trail back home, we came back on the devoured carcass to find a different bear tearing out some the rubbery innards and delivering them to two cubs. Four different bears in one day might not be uncommon for the DOW to find while patrolling the alleys of Aspen, but to witness that in the wild was a first for us. When the sow took notice of me and seemed to ‘stand off’ in defense of the cubs, we thought we better just get moving along, and out of the way. Unfortunately the sow seemed to have a lame hind leg and limped around and it made us wonder about the family’s welfare come fall and winter.
We returned via the Capitol Ditch trail which has become the more popular route to and from the lake of late due to it’s avoidance of the big 400 foot climb back to the trailhead. Of course you might have to get your feet wet to ford Capitol Creek, but the bridge on the standard Capitol Creek trail was out as well, so considering neither route avoids the water right now, the ditch trail is the way to go.
Back at the car in 11+ hours and in town with margaritas and hour later, it was a good day by all measures.