Capitol Peak 14,130'

12 August 2012

I’ve been very deliberately working my way up in class and exposure all summer (Kelso Ridge on Torreys, the southwest ridge on Quandary, and more). Well, really since my first hike on Angel’s Landing during my road trip back in 2008. It’s incredible how far I’ve come in terms of confidence, coolness, and general comfort with some of the technical stuff on these peaks, but always with an attentive, cautious eye, and never without a twinge of anxiety. I’m not trying to die up here, but I can’t say I wasn’t absolutely psyched on the possibility of standing on that summit, or maybe it was the opportunity to traverse the knife edge. Either way, I was all about it.

The weather has been crappy the last two days leading into my bid, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a clear sky at 330a this morning. That was all I needed; I grabbed my gear and hit the trail. Of course, it was still pretty dark. I was camped at Capitol Lake, just below the peak, because we were leading a volunteer trail crew on the switchbacks just above the lake. I was taking a day off to visit a friend in Denver and figured I’d just tag the summit “on my way” out. I conquered the steep switchbacks and made the ridge in under 30 minutes. I was rolling but maybe too fast. I dropped onto the southwest slopes and started making my way to the base of K2.

I was blind beyond 100′ and operating primarily on instinct as I navigated a few gullies and a large boulder field. There were some cairns, but not enough to rely on them via headlamp. The crescent moon shining above me was stunning, but useless for all practical purposes. Is that a cairn or a pointed rock?? It was always reassuring to pass a legit cairn. Ok, at least I haven’t screwed up yet. I knew I was supposed to be running below and parallel to the ridge, but I could hardly see the silhouette rising above me, so it was difficult to gauge how much elevation I’d lost or when I needed to turn right and angle up towards the K2 summit. There was very little exposure on this portion of the route, but the loose gullies, shifting boulders, and sketchy rock kept things interesting. Awesome hike.

By far the scariest part all morning was the down climb off of K2. Down climbing is intimidating anyways, but doing a class III/IV down climb in the dark is…well, uncomfortable for me. It was still (kinda) fun. I had bright twilight by the time I made the knife edge and the rest of the technical ridge sections. It was an incredible climb, my favorite so far. It’ll be tough to top, but I have some cool stuff on the to do list, so anything is possible.