Capitol Peak-Aspen, Colorado
Around the end of July, plans were made that I would drive from Casper to Glenwood Springs the afternoon of August 29. I would spend the night there, and on the morning of August 30, Greg and Bob would meet me in Glenwood Springs, on their way from Frisco, to the Capitol Peak trail head. I would follow them to the parking area. We planned to walk in to the lake, camp over night, and make an early bid for the summit of Capitol Peak the morning of the 31st. Successful or not, our plan was to return to the cars and home that night (long day).
This promised to be an outstanding trip and I was psyched. Greg teaches several classes for the outdoor leadership program at Pikes Peak Community College, in Colorado Springs, and I had the great honor of studying under him. I enjoyed all my classes with Greg, but especially when we went outside to play in the mountains. Greg has a lot to teach about being outside, and is happy to do so. Its cheap tuition for me and all I had to do was show up.
This is the scene from the parking area. It’s a great shot as it shows almost the entire approach. We would descend a trail, just out of view on the left side of the photo, down about four hundred feet to the valley bottom, then cross Capitol Creek, then turn right and follow Capitol Creek six and a half miles up valley to its end, at Capitol Lake, which is at the base of Capitol Peak, and our home for the night. What a Capitol idea! Capitol Peak is dark in this photo, but can be seen, just left of center, with its steep right side and shoulder, on its left.
This is the start of our decent, along with a typical scene on this trip, which was Greg’s backside.
The area had been wet for some time and trails in bottom of the valley were pretty muddy and mucky. Here we practice our “Leave No Trace” training and stay on the trail and not on the very walkable but fragile grass on either side.
We crossed the valley and Capitol Creek, and then we turned up stream toward Capitol Lake. As we walked up valley, the trail dried a bit, and walking became more enjoyable. This photo is about a mile and a half up valley. Notice the fire ring at the right side of the photo: It’s kind of conspicuous, but what a place it would be to laze away an afternoon?
Closer still, I became very impressed with the ridge we would follow south, and slightly west, to Capitols summit. It was long! The ridge was supposed to be primarily walking but there were some hands over hand areas with lose rock and scree, and one notorious section called the Knife Edge. Yikes!
This is a text book avalanche run. This valley would be interesting in winter. It’s very narrow in places.
Another picture of Bob and me chasing Greg.
In this photo, there are five large pines with sky behind them. For purposes of orientation, the trees are, from left to right, one, two, three, four, and five. OK? Directly behind pine number three is a large knoll. The trail skirts the left side of this knoll to the other side where lies Capitol Lake, and our camp. From camp we ascend east (left in the photo) to the point where the skyline intersects the edge of the photo. At this point we actually go over the ridge, and into the valley beyond. We will work our way up and just the other side of the ridge to a point named K2. K2 is the point on the sky line just right of pine number two. From there we would follow the ridge proper. Well almost.
Capitol Lake is stunning. Camping is restricted around the lake, but it’s not far from the designated camping area. Yes there are fish.
I chose to bring only a bivy bag and a tarp hoping the afternoon rain would be minimal. As you can see, I got lazy and took advantage of this over hanging boulder. It was a mistake, I tell you. If it were a light sprinkle I would be fine. Yeah, right. Mother Nature had the last word on that.
I was forced to dry my sleeping unit, between storms, and relocate.
With the tarp slung between trees, just a few feet above the ground, I was able to get my head and all my gear under it and protected from the weather. I was warm and dry all the rest of the night. Greg and Bob had shared the weight of a nice two man tent. Their comfort was expressed throughout the night with some healthy snoring. Or, perhaps one of them had brought a chain saw.
We rose at four; ate, drank, and were on our way, just after five as we had planned the day before. The ascent from the lake, to the low point where we crossed through to the east side, and started working our way south and west, toward K2 is eight or nine hundred feet up, on a beautiful trail , complements of the” Fourteeners Initiative”. Great job! The photo is looking back from our ascent. At the lowest point of the photo, you can see on the left skyline is where we passed through. It is mostly big, mostly stable rock hopping here.
A brilliant sunrise greets us a little farther up the other side of the ridge.
At about two miles into our day, the ridge broadens and turns a little more west, pointing us toward K2. K2 is the high point in the photo. It struck me here how such a barren landscape can possess such incredible beauty.
Looking North from K2
Looking south, and east, from K2.
Looking down from K2. WOW!
After an extended fuel and water break, close to the top of K2, Bob gets us going again.
Another shot looking south west from an opening in the ridge.
From point K2, we carefully make our way along the ridge approaching the Knife Edge. Oh my! Capitol has been called the hardest fourteen thousand foot peak in Colorado. If it’s not, it is certainly a sustained climb with little time for rest, as the ridge after point K2 is no place to be during anything but ideal weather.
Bob starts the knife edge.
The Knife Edge is a section of the ridge where climbers are forced to the ridge proper. With severe drops to the west, and the east, you grab the top of the ridge and work your feet and hands along ‘till you can once again stand up… sort of.
The remaining ridge, after the Knife Edge, is pretty straight forward and just follows the high ground to a point about four hundred feet below the summit. We cut across the face, to the left sky line, and then follow it to the summit.
Summit panorama. Greg is in the middle.
On the summit, Greg and Bob contemplate their remaining fourteeners.
This is the view of Capitol Lake, and the approach from near the summit
A view to the east, and south, of Pierre Lakes on the way back down
This is on the way back down, at about the same point as the sunrise photo, looking back. One of the few times I was in the lead.
The trail and Mount Daly, just before we drop off the ridge, back down to Capitol Lake.
Back at the lake, we broke camp and headed down the trail just as it started to rain. On the way out, we took a fork in the trail that headed left, out of the valley. The ditch trail contours, mercifully, along the north side of this beautiful valley to the cars avoiding, the four hundred feet we descended at the beginning of the trip. I’m afraid I don’t have any photos of this part of the journey. I had my camera stowed due to the rain. The route was a great hike, through an awesome, seemingly unending aspen grove. Be careful of the livestock on the last mile or so of the trail. At one point, we had no less than twelve thousand pounds of increasingly perturbed bovine amongst us. I was wondering which I feared more; the ridge in a storm, or the cows?
I highly recommend this trip. If I did it again, the only thing I would change is to spend a second night, perhaps farther down, with some cold beer.
Author: Clifford Mallory