Capitol Peak, June 06

After a couple days rafting in Dinosaur National Monument, we went backpacking for a couple nights on Capitol peak. Capitol is one of the western-most 14ers and we figured since we over there already, might as well check it out. We were both sporting brand squeaky new hiking boots - not a very bright idea on a 3 day trip, but oh well, Moleskin works. The view from the tailhead is actually very good; this is because the hike starts by dropping 400 ft to the valley and then heading up. The sign at the trailhead also noted that the bridge was out on Capitol creek, and use the Ditch Creek Trail. I unfortunately didn't look closely enough at the map provided and thought the fork was some ways down the trail, not, as it actually was, at the trailhead.

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So after wading across the recently formed beaver resevoir (according to another sign) we arrived at the bridge, and contemplated our options. Jumping looked unlikely. So did trying to stay on the bridge while wading. Eventually we bit the bullet, switched to Tevas, removed pants, and waded the horse ford area. Water was moving fast, but never much more than knee deep. but damn was it cold
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After the bridge, it's a fantastically scenic ramble up the Valley. About 3/4 of the way up,we met the only other people in the area heading back down. They were hiking with overnight packs, in Tevas, although had trail-runner shoes hanging from the packs. They said they'd been turned back by a lot of deep, soft snow. So when we came to that bit, we elected to boot kick straight up a steep, sunny, hard slope rather than wade through the softer snow in the woods. First time we've used the ice axes since moving to this state.
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The lake was mostly frozen, wussed out on the swim. Had to go down a bit for a camping spot off snow, and with some shelter from the wind. Judging by the signs which show numbered, organized camp sites, this is a pretty busy and popular spot when the snow leaves, but we had it to ourselves.

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Saturday we took a shot at Capitol. We had read the Roach description once or twice, and left the book in the car (you'd think Roach would print a book on nice, light paper, small font, but nooooo, it's like carrying a brick around). Capitol is famous for the 100 ft long "knife edge" near the summit, so we were all set for that, but we weren't set for everything between us and the knife edge.
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Our first mistake was trying to stay too high. We did a lot of steep snow traversing - bit of a pucker factor given the rock below, lack of crampons, etc. Tiring of snow, we moved up onto the rocks, and found ourselves on a narrow, class 4, loose, exposed knife edge. too early for that, so back down to the snow to do what we should have done all along - drop into the valley and head up behind the main ridge. It was during this time that I looked over at the snow field about 1/4 mile away and a bit above us and saw a big brown something galumphing along up there. It was definitely brown, moose or elk colored, but was clearly not a moose. Which left only one guess; a good sized brown bear. What the heck a bear was doing on a snow field at 13,000 I have no idea. As we watched, he hit a soft spot and nose-planted in the snow. That made us feel a little better. Then he dissapeared over a small ridge. That didn't make us feel very good at all.....
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In yet another example of lousy route finding, I got off the snow too early and back on the rock, which hadn't looked bad, but turned out to be a lot more borderline class-4 with lots of loose lousy rock. And a bear lurking somewhere nearby. We got through the rocks, and found the bear's tracks, but never saw the bear again. Second pic shows the ice ax for reference of scale. Each track was pretty similar in size to my boot print in the snow. BTW, the new boots were workin just fine.
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The weather was decent, but not great; here's the only picture of the famous marroon bells, not exactly shining in maroonness today:
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But this was a cool shot down into the valley between Snowmass and Capitol. Ironically we had chosen Capitol over Snowmass peak because Roach mentioned a "hazardous stream crossing on Snowmass at times of high water".
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So, a bit later than planned, we're sitting on top of Peak 13,664, and the only thing I remember from the Roach description is "rest here and ponder your destiny" or something to that effect. It was in fact a rather grave ponder. While we had been prepared for the final knife edge, we weren't really prepared for what we saw; close to 1/2 mile of pure class 4, exposed, loose, scrambling. With the occasional snow patch to keep things interesting. It was already late. Our nerves were already frayed from the scrambling we'd done off route,and the prospect of 2+ hours of high pucker factor was just a bit too much. So we called it a day from there, and took the easy way down the snow.
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Pretty nifty knife-ridge between Snowmass and Capitol
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Looking back out the approach valley
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The rocks and terrain are pretty photogenic. From a climber's perspective, however, they're loose, nasty sh*t, good for little but a brisk scare.
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Good trip overall, and someday perhaps we'll go back, a little later in the season, and knowing how much pucker factor to expect

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