Capitol Peak and the Knife Edge

On Saturday, Aug. 04, we climbed Capitol Peak, a 14er (14,130′) in the Elks, just outside Aspen. Since the round-trip distance was 17 miles, we decided to backpack in the night before. I’m getting a little tired of these backpack trips these days since my pack seems to be twice as heavy as normal due to Linnea’s knee injury. The approach was a little over 6 miles up a beautiful basin. We managed to dodge the afternoon storms, stayed dry, and made it up to the designated camping sites just before Capitol Lake. We got our first views of the infamous knife edge, a sharp narrow 100′ section with 2,000′ straight drop offs on the other side. After cooking up supper, we relaxed by lake, wishing I hadn’t forget my fly-rod.


The next day, we got up at 4:30 and set off for the peak a little bit before 5. I think Linnea was still sleeping and we managed to lose the trail in the first 5 minutes. We managed to get back on track and after a warm-up 900′ climb we were at the first saddle point. From there, we traversed under a ridge and then boulder-hopped our way up to K2, a 13K’ point just before the knife edge. It was clear we had all the work ahead of us, starting with the knife edge.


The knife edge was just as described: sharp and exposed. The left side had some ledges you could work your way along, although in the middle it got even sharper and the easiest way was to straddle it. Linnea tried to tip-toe across but had to go down a couple times. I started off on my feet but quickly realized the safer option was to straddle it and lift and pull myself along without trying to look down. A couple times I actually was almost lying on my belly going face first. I don’t know what was scarier, going across it or watching Linnea.


With the knife edge behind us, things were just heating up. The route to the top was fairly ambiguous with several different options. Staying directly on the ridge would be difficult and we opted to go down, traverse under it, and then climb a narrow rib back up, opting not to cross a loose gully, that was described as the easier route. Linnea reminded us of the extreme danger factor, by sending a huge boulder down a gully after pushing off it, leaving a cloud of smoke.


Climbing the rock rib was pretty steep, and we were happy to back on the ridge. From here, we traversed over, wrapped around the ridge and made the final push to the summit. The weather was holding and at the top we collapsed.


Linnea was particularly tired and had to take quick nap. Our quick pace had payed off though and we passed 2 or 3 other groups, putting us first on the top but more importantly minimizing rock-fall potential on the danger sections after the knife edge. The views of course were amazing, with Snowmass Mountain just a little south connected by another sharp ridge. We spent maybe a half-hour on the top before making the dreaded climb down.



On the descent, we stayed slightly higher after downclimbing the rib, and found a sting of cairns leading us back to the knife edge.


Linnea was feeling more adventuresome this time and tight-roped almost all of it. I on the other hand resided to the more conventional straddle frog-hop. Nothing like looking down on either side to vertical drops all the way back to camp.


Back at camp, just before noon, Linnea collapsed. We had a short window before the impending storms and I had fun looking back up our route while Linnea snored away.


On the 20x zoom, I was able to pull in some climbers making their way across the knife edge. The typical pattern was one person crawling across, standing for a quick photo from a buddy right behind, and then quickly reverting to the straddle.


With thunder in the distance, we quickly tore down camp and began our 6.5 mile hike out. It wasn’t long before the rain started with grapple to follow. We found some big trees and took shelter. After a good 30 minutes, the system blew over and the sun came back out. Somehow, it stayed dry for the remaining hike and back at the car it was clear more storms were on the way. Originally, we were planning on climbing Pyramid the following day, but with all the moisture and being completely beat, we decided around 8p to make the drive back to Golden.