Capitol Peak, Colorado, USA
July 21-24, 2016
We set out on our journey from Denver, heading over Independence Pass and down through Aspen, arriving at the trailhead around midnight.
After setting camp underneath a full moon and amongst the smell of cow pies, we laid our heads down with thoughts of the trek to come. The next morning we awoke to mooing and snarling of nearby grazing cattle. Coming out of our tents our eyes quickly gravitated towards the distant peak; there it was, chiseled onto the horizon, our objective Capitol Peak. What seemed an eternity away, far up in the sky, was the summit we planned to conquer in the coming days.
After rationing out provisions and stuffing our bags we were ready to start our trek. We decided to make the approach via the Capitol Ditch Trail, a bit longer than it’s counter part but lacking the elevation gain/loss. The trail was sloppy, sloshing through mud we made our way across majestic alpine meadows, pine tree laden forests, and stream crossings, all the while having Capitol Peak as the main backdrop, as if constantly beckoning us to ascend. Our 6-mile hike brought us to base camp, short of Capitol Lake. Our camp was nestled just below tree line with pines hugging our clearing and opening up enough visibility to see our towering peak taunting us from a-high.
The next day we awoke early to begin our ascent. The approach began by crossing a flowering meadow with a gradual incline. At Capitol Lake we took up our first of many steep climbs. As we walked over the first saddle we dropped in on a huge bowl shaped talus field. Crossing the field seemed like an endless task, balancing on crumbling rocks, scraping through scree, trying our damn best to keep our knees and ankles in line.
The next climb took over an hour as we crawled over boulders to reach the K2 summit, panorama for days! Getting up to and around K2 entailed some technical climbing, causing heart rates to jump sporadically. After K2 there was a slight dip downward before approaching the famous Knife’s Edge.
After making it to the other side, we were almost at the summit, maybe 3/4th's of a mile up another steep rock face. As we set out on our last pitch, the wind picked up and clouds started moving in on the horizon.
Group decision was to head back just short of the summit. Disappointing for sure, but the correct choice at the time. High mountain peaks are notorious for flash thunderstorms that have left climbers stranded on peaks with lightning hammering down on them.
Using the same path we came up, we headed back to base camp. After hours of hiking we finally entered the pine tree haven of our camp. Tired, beat up and sun burned we ate dinner, sat around the fire and eventually dozed off into the dark night.
The following day we hiked around Capitol Lake, took in views of the surrounding beauty and made our way back down to the trailhead. Driving back through Aspen we stopped by a tavern to have our celebratory burger and beer. Dusted, sweaty, weathered we sat silently reflecting on our adventure. I think we were all a little disappointed of our summit shortfall. I really struggled with this, turning back before a storm that never came; we should have marched on and bagged the peak. But then again, does not reaching the peak mean a failed trip?? I think not. To think so means you have chosen to ignore the beautiful wildlife, the hard earned satisfaction of hiking for 3 days, the friendships that were strengthened along the way, the amazing views from K2, the conquered fear of crossing Knife’s Edge and ultimately the peace that is always found in nature. Successful trip indeed!