It’s been a couple days since our adventure on Capitol Peak this week. I’m still not entirely sure what to think about the experience.
When I look at most of the high peaks in Colorado I see only 1..2..maybe 3 ski routes per peak. Now what is it that has brought forward 5 total ski routes on Capitol when far easier peaks see only a couple? For me, I look no further than the challenge of it. “The Plank” was just that, a challenge. It was climbing a route that I had been up several times, but it was dropping in to what was virtually the unknown for us.
The route to the summit is becoming all too familiar to me these days. We approach via the Capitol Creek Ditch Trailhead. We pull into the trailhead around 5:30 pm Saturday afternoon and start out with skis and boots on our back while walking in tennishoes. Around the point the trail jumps up and out of the irrigation ditch we drop our shoes and switch to ski boots for the next couple miles of off and on snowbanks. Finally we reach the creek crossing. Boots off, socks off, on our backs and we wade on across. It feels terrible and great all at the same time. It managed to numb some of my current foot issues to where I didn’t feel them for a little while.
Skis and skins on, we walk for another 45 minutes to our campsite for the night which is just before the last headwall climb to Capitol Lake. A quick dinner of Ramen noodles and we are off to bed. After a mostly sleepless night we are up at 2 am. Its time to get going. Up, coffee made, coffee drank, packs ready to go, breakfast, and we are off. It’s 2:45 am. We quickly make our way up through the dense timber and climb a gully in the headwall and find ourselves skinning towards the Capitol-Daly Saddle.
Eventually the pitch is too much for the skins and we switch to bootpacking. One foot in front of the other, and rotating leads brings us rather quickly to the saddle. It is still dark, but the first hints of light are starting to show themselves in the distance. Over the saddle, it is skins off and a long dropping traverse into upper moon basin. Hitting the bottom we start to skin our way up the basin as light is slowly creeping into our white world. We finish skinning just as the sunrise starts to become a fireball in the smoky horizon.
The transistion to booting goes quickly and we find ourselves edging around k2 towards the knife edge ridge. The climbing is very steep but pretty straight forward really. This time of morning is half the reason for getting up. It never gets old to see the sun come up from the high alpine.
Around the main obstacle that is K2 we continue up and across towards the summit. The snow coverage this year makes for rather straight forward climbing compared to other time spent in the same place.
Arriving at the summit we relax for a few minutes, but in reality our timing is fairly perfect for a well timed ski descent and it is time to say goodbye to the spikes for a little while (don’t worry they will be back later) and put the planks on.
Traversing the south face on this line is always a bit of a chore and today was no different. We scoot across and down and then side step back up to the east face drop in.
The drop in here is where the skiing finally becomes skiing. We drop in and make a few turns down the corner until another traverse. The skiing is real here. It is steep and scary, but rather fun with slightly sloughy snow.
The traverse across the east face has started to feel normal. It is quick and straight forward albeit steep. We traverse, staying as high as possible and find our exit to our line down the North Face. Now the adventure really begins.
We say farewell to Ian as he has his eye on the Secret Chute route and we watch as we makes the last bit of the traverse to his line. We relax for a while and wait until we see Ian come out in Pierre Lakes before we drop down the opposite side of the mountain. We are skiing a North Face, so no real hurry. Finally Ian makes it to the magnificent Pierre Lakes. Now it’s our turn.
Colter Drops in on the lower line while Anton and I take the upper line. They both meet up just a little ways down the face.
Despite having spent hours looking at pictures of the North Face, it is still a bit hard to tell just how far down it we are. So we ski short pitches, discussing our whereabouts on the face. The conditions are good. Sometimes firm, sometimes corn, sometimes recycled pow.
Finally we hit what we are pretty much sure is our exit. We transition back to the crampons (see I told you they would be back). The climbing on the corner here is of moderate difficulty but the consequences for an error are great. Don’t look down. We belay around the corner to our rappel.
All of us standing at the anchor are anxiously waiting our turn to walk “the Plank” into the unknown. Colter takes the dive first.
He gets down to what looks like a vertical edge and tells us that he thinks he is going all the way. Excitement builds. The next minute seems like it takes 10. Finally we here a “Yeee Hoooo!!!” He made it. He relays over the radio that the rap had taken him all the way to the snowfield below. Anton clips in to the rappel with an almost giddy amount of excitement.
Having been sitting at a rap station front pointed into rock for about 25 minutes, I am more than excited to get on the rope and out of here, and as soon as Anton is off, I’m on my way down. Down, slow and smooth until the transition to vertical where gravity does the work for you.
Coming off the edge I can see the rope on the ground. Two 8.5 mm, 60 meter ropes and there is only about a meter sitting on the ground when they are fully weighted. Amazingly perfect.
High Fives are a must at this point, but so is speed, as we watch Ice Chunks bounce down the North Face as it starts to heat up a bit. Ropes coiled and skis back on we rip turns down to Capitol Lake where we can see our line from below.
Ian has already made it back around while we were futzing with trying to find a suitable anchor and comes up just below the lake. Handshakes all around. Two lines on Capitol in the same day.
We shuffle our way down to our camp and pack up. I have to be at work in 3 hours. Many miles to go. Anton and I take off as fast as we can move, while Colter and Ian hang out and take their time getting out.
We hit the car at 4 pm. Work in an hour and a half. We toss the gear in the truck and bounce on down the road. I made it to work on time, thank God it wasn’t a busy night.
I have had my eyes on the North Face since about mid April. It took til June to finally make it happen, and I am so excited that it did. It was really something that I wanted to accomplish this year, and the line just appealed to me with its solid mix of mountaineering and skiing. I keep saying that its time for summer, and I’m done skiing, but my friends keep dragging me out skiing. I guess I’m not kicking and screaming though, so I can’t really blame it on my friends.
Back to the drawing board…