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Last September, my wife and I continued our journey to climb all the 14,000 foot high peaks in Colorado, taking a weekend to backpack in to Capitol Lake, followed by a climb of one of the most challenging peaks in in the state. After a long hike in, we set up camp at Capitol Lake, and went to be early, ready for an early morning for our climb the next day.
After hiking in, we set up camp, then walked a short distance to the lake to filter water in preparation for our climb the next morning. Looking up at the imposing face of the peak, we were nervous, but excited.
The next morning, we left camp at 5 AM, and climbed to a high pass between Capitol and nearby Clark Peak. We arrived at the pass in the dark, and it quickly became obvious that we would need to wait for dawn to proceed. As the sun came up, we could begin to make out the nearby peaks of the Maroon Bells.
Once the sun rose, we were able to find our way down to a large talus field (a large area of rocks ranging in size from 12 inches to moderate sized boulders) to make our way to our next goal, the infamous Knife Edge ridge.
One of the most challenging parts of the climb is a feature known as the Knife Edge. The Knife Edge is a sharp ridge, probably 150 yds long, with small footholds on either side, that requires you to traverse it with your hands on the upper edge of the ridge. The exposure is intense, with more than 1000 feet of exposure on the south side, and 1400 feet on the north. Luckily, the rock is solid, and there is no risk of handholds or footholds breaking loose. It is a nerve-racking traverse.
Some climbers get across the Knife Edge, and decide that there is no way in hell that they’re going back across it. Unfortunately for them, on the other side is a gully that gives the illusion of an easy and direct route to Capitol Lake that bypasses the difficulties of the Knife Edge. The gully quickly steepens, and dumps those who try to descend it off an 800 ft cliff. In 2017 there were a number of parties that fell prey to the siren’s call of the gully, and 6 people died over the course of the summer.
After crossing the Knife Edge, there is still more difficult climbing to go as you traverse and climb across the face of the peak on loose ledges and small bands of rock. The views into the Basin below help keep you focused on the task at hand
Finally you reach the summit of the Peak. The views in all directions are amazing. The next closest 14000 ft peak is Snowmass Mountain, 3 miles to the south. The intervening ridge between Capitol and Snowmass has only been climbed a handful of times, and is rightly considered one of the most difficult and committing climbs anywhere. The 3 mile route takes a highly competent team a couple of days to traverse. It is uniformly described as climbing across a giant mountain of Jenga Blocks, ready to collapse under you at any time. It is nicknamed Satan’s Ridge.
I have no intention of ever trying it.
Another view across the seldom visited Pierre Lake Basin towards Snowmass.
After down climbing the Peak, traversing the Knife Edge, and working our way through the endless talus, we were rewarded with this view of the peak we had climbed. We were back in camp at 3, packed up our tent, and hiked out. A great adventure.