Elks and Beyond -- Jordan White's Traveling, Skiing and Outdoor Adventures

Traveling, Ski Mountaineering and Climbing in Colorado and…

Capitol Peak Skiing “The Plank”

The sun rises through the smoke from the Arizona Wildfire.

The sun rises through the smoke from the Arizona Wildfire.

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.

A peek at where we would spend much of tomorrow.

A peek at where we would spend much of tomorrow.



Anton, Colter, and Ian during the dry approach.

Anton, Colter, and Ian during the dry approach.

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.

Headlamps bobbing as we skin up towards the saddle.

Headlamps bobbing as we skin up towards the 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.

I guess the smoke is good for something.

I guess the smoke is good for something.

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.

The traverse around K2 was a highlight of the climbing for me.

The traverse around K2 was a highlight of the climbing for me.

Colter coming around the backside of K2.

Colter coming around the backside of K2.

The Light was too good to stop taking photos.  Colter again.

The Light was too good to stop taking photos. Colter again.

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.

Heading across the easy terrain directly after K2.  Me almost out of view, and Colter in front.

Heading across the easy terrain directly after K2. Me almost out of view, and Colter in front.

Walking across the sidewalk that made up the knife ridge.

Walking across the sidewalk that made up the knife ridge.

Colter and Ian walking the knife edge.

Colter and Ian walking the knife edge.

Colter out front for his turn.

Colter out front for his turn.

We stopped along the way to make sure Ian's rappel was all set for a seamless transition.

We stopped along the way to make sure Ian's rappel was all set for a seamless transition.

Anton taking his turn during one of the few sections that we spent out on the face itself.

Anton taking his turn during one of the few sections that we spent out on the face itself.

Colter tops out on the summit ridge.  I think he is pretty excited.

Colter tops out on the summit ridge. I think he is pretty excited.

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.

Anton and I at the summit.

Anton and I at the summit.

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.

Ian finishing the scoot across the South Face.

Ian finishing the scoot across the South Face.

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.

Colter making turns down some of the steepest snow on the route.

Colter making turns down some of the steepest snow on the route.

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.

Anton part way across the traverse. It's funny how casual it is to just rest your hand on the slope here.

Anton part way across the traverse. It's funny how casual it is to just rest your hand on the slope here.

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.

Ian on his way to the secret chute.  Nice work Ian.

Ian on his way to the secret chute. Nice work Ian.

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.

Colter dropping into unexplored territory.  I guess we are committed.

Colter dropping into unexplored territory. I guess we are committed.

Anton drops in to the upper line.  The snow was good, but mixed.

Anton drops in to the upper line. The snow was good, but mixed.

Myself a bit down the line.  I'm enjoying this.

Myself a bit down the line. I'm enjoying this.

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.
Jordan:

Yes I'm on my hip in this picture, but it is a cool view down the line.

Yes I'm on my hip in this picture, but it is a cool view down the line.

24

35

Anton:
25

26

Colter:
27

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.

Colter preparing for the climb around the corner.  Pro was scarce at this point so a double ice axe sit belay is what we had to work with.

Colter preparing for the climb around the corner. Pro was scarce at this point so a double ice axe sit belay is what we had to work with.

Anton headed around the corner.

Anton headed around the corner.

All of us standing at the anchor are anxiously waiting our turn to walk “the Plank” into the unknown. Colter takes the dive first.

Colter walking the plank.

Colter walking the plank.

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.

Looking up the first half of the rappel.

Looking up the first half of the rappel.

Looking out to where I hope I will be soon.  The snow.

Looking out to where I hope I will be soon. The snow.

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.

The last section of rappel.

The last section of rappel.

I think I am pretty excited to be hitting the snow again.  That was a fun line.  Now for the out.

I think I am pretty excited to be hitting the snow again. That was a fun line. Now for the out.

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.

Red is ski, green is traverse, Yellow is rap.

Red is ski, green is traverse, Yellow is rap.

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.

The biggest smile I saw on Anton's face all day.  We were on the ground.

The biggest smile I saw on Anton's face all day. We were on the ground.

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 creek crossing in no time.  Boots off and we wade across.  It feels far better at this point than it did last night.  Boots back on we truck on out on the ditch trail.

We hit the creek crossing in no time. Boots off and we wade across. It feels far better at this point than it did last night. Boots back on we truck on out on the ditch trail.

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.

The view from back at the truck.  Until next time Capitol.

The view from back at the truck. Until next time Capitol.

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…

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15 Comments

  1. court June 15, 2011

    very nice. the pucker factor shows up nicely on the last picture, now that we know where the line is.

  2. lodgling June 15, 2011

    Great stuff. Huge congrats on the new route. Looks like you’ve had a very busy spring lapping routes most strive to do once and never go back.

    Also, thanks for the S face “scoot” photo — that has always been a mystery to me re: the standard ski route and had me real confused from the summit of Snowmass on Sunday.

  3. ROd georgiu June 15, 2011

    Great Trip, and way to handle exposure. you had an anchor with 2 axes.how did you retrieve them after the rappel?

  4. Jordan June 15, 2011 — Post Author

    Hey Rod,
    That was just to belay Colter across to better anchors. We didn’t rap off of an Ice axe. That would be scary.

  5. Joe B June 15, 2011

    Nice report man, congrats again! Looks like you guys got some good turns on that new terrain.

  6. pioletski June 15, 2011

    Jordan, this is awesome! Nice job scoping and skiing a new route, congratulations. Glad you weren’t late for work.

  7. Carl June 15, 2011

    Congrats! A captivating descent I’ve been looking forward to hearing more about. Well done guys. And yeah, I can’t believe you made it to work afterward.

  8. janice June 15, 2011

    Great pictures and great writing as always!!

  9. Claire June 15, 2011

    wow….I’m speechless…you guys are incredible. That is such a sick line!!!

  10. Austin June 15, 2011

    Amazing! Great job Jordan!!!

  11. Annah June 21, 2011

    Wow, those pictures are amazing. And, of course, the “highlight” of climbing for you made my stomach do a backflip… looks so steep!

  12. Caroline Potter and Molly Clements December 3, 2011

    Hey Jordan! Remember us!!!! Those pics are amazing!!!!!

  13. alice, molly, and caroline December 3, 2011

    Hi Jordan!!! its alice,molly,and caroline! Great photos and video!

  14. Jordan December 6, 2011

    Of course I do girls! I will see you Presidents day!

  15. john doyle December 24, 2011

    After officially meeting Colter this week (I’d actually met him last summer but didn’t put two and two together until last Tuesday) I decided to reread this trip report. Still very impressed. Colter, if you’d like that print of Capitol let me know.

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