Explore Colorado: Capitol Peak

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Jennifer attempts to climb Capitol Peak – the hardest 14er here in Colorado.

Capitol Peak is rated as the hardest fourteener in Colorado by 14ers.com.  Because of the daunting Knife Edge that you have to traverse from K2 to reach the summit of Capitol Peak it is considered class 4 climbing and class 5 exposure based on scale of 1-5.  I headed out with "Sleeping on the Summits" authors and expert climbers Jon Kedrowski and Chris Tomer along with two others to attempt Capitol.  Jon is a doctor of geography, first person to sleep on all of Colorado's 14er peaks, and summited Everest this year.  Chris is a Fox 31/Channel 2 meteorologist, he accompanied Jon on many of the trips for the book, and teaches mountain meteorology seminars at REI and other places throughout the state.  If you consider Capitol, you should go with a guide.  This 14er is not for first-timers.

It is a 17 mile round trip to summit Capitol.  We hiked in six miles on a Friday afternoon and camped at Capitol Lake.  At 3:20 am on that Saturday morning, we began our climb to the summit.  You go up about 900 feet to reach the pass then have to do some bouldering into a glacially cut quarry field, then scramble and climb to the ridge line as the sun was rising.  From there you get amazing views of K2, the Knife Edge, Capitol Peak and Pierre Basin Lakes.  The basin is so deep because at one point there was a glacier there.  While the mileage is only 2.5 miles from Capitol Lake to the summit, the difficulty is high.  Before making ridge line, we decided I would not summit.  I made it to K2.  It took over four hours from the lake for the guys to summit.  Chris and Jon were able to get first-time Capitol hikers Joe and Michael safely across the Knife Edge and back.  Joe and Michael are both experienced hikers.  We did hike back down to Capitol Lake then packed up camp and hiked the 6 miles back to trailhead, which we arrived back to around 3:15 pm.

Here is the checklist of what Chris suggested for an overnight 14er trip:

1) Tent (Lightweight as possible for you, 1-2 person size)

2) Sleeping Bag (Lightweight as possible, 20 degree rating will do but 15 degree rating if you are naturally cold)

3) Dinner for Day 1, Breakfast for Day 2, Lunch for Day 2 (on summit); I'd suggest PB&J, turkey sandwhich, precooked pizza, Ramen Noodles (we can boil water with our stoves), Instant Rice, Packet Tuna, Bagels, Wraps, but I'd stay away from the dehydrated camping meals they sell.  We've just never had good luck with those and avoid them now at all cost.  Also bring bars, gels, etc.

4) Two clear Nalgene bottles to carry water.  We avoid Camelback reservoirs on overnight trips because we will be treating water....bottles make this simple and don't freeze overnight. 

5) Hat, waterproof gloves, extra pair of socks, waterproof rain jacket, waterproof rain paints, sunglasses, sunscreen, ball cap, camera.

6) Headlamp (a cheaper version will do)

*Chris and Jon have Steripens to purify water.  If you do not have one of these, you need it for overnight camping trips.  The pens use ultraviolet light to destroy 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that cause water-borne illnesses.

Watch Jon cross the Knife Edge in about a minute and a half: