Ascent of K2 on 2017-09-03

Climber: Jonathan Scislow

Others in Party:Joel Hawk
Date:Sunday, September 3, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
    Elevation:13664 ft / 4164 m

Ascent Trip Report

Capitol Peak is a stunning mountain. The sheer cliff face is intimidating. Also intimidating was the fact that this is generally considered the most difficult 14er climb in Colorado and that 5 people died on the mountain in the 6 weeks leading up to our climb.

My mind had been on the mountain for a full year. When I summited Longs Peak on September 3, 2016 I started to consider Capitol. I made the decision to go for it. From that point, I overhauled my diet, summited 14 mountains in preparation including several long routes at altitude for extended periods of time, and did a 'boot camp' at my local climbing gym to build up endurance.

I was very well prepared and the weather held so the climb went off without a hitch. The only minor diversion was that in the early morning before the sun was up, we lost the route and about an hour of time regaining it. The 14ers website says to only descend a bit off the ridge of the Daly/K2 saddle, but not too low and then angle up when you see K2. In reality, you want to descend quite far into the basin and go straight until you can't anymore before turning hard right and ascending quite some time before seeing K2.

I opted to actually summit K2 since it's only about an extra 30 feet. It's a pretty easy Class 3 scramble. Stay right of K2 on ascent, head up that East side, then descend back via the same way before traversing around the North (right) side of K2. On the summit of K2 I met a couple. The girl decided that 'with the shadow hanging over the mountain' (the people dying), she felt she needed to turn around and try another day. I asked the guy to take a shot of me heading up the knife edge and the photo he emailed me is amazing. I look so tiny about to take on the knife edge ridge and the massive summit block.

One thing to be careful of is the traverse around the north side of K2. It is pretty exposed with some loose footing. I thought this was the hairiest part of the whole climb actually.

The Knife Edge Ridge didn't feel overly exposed to me. The rock is solid and you can walk across large sections of it. A few sections are a bit trickier, but nothing too technical. I absolutely loved it because the views going across the knife edge are spectacular. I wouldn't want to be doing it in anything other than perfect weather though.

The summit block on Capitol was quite a bit more challenging than I expected. It's bigger than it looks, has quite a bit of Class 3 scrambling, and the route finding is not exactly straightforward. Coming across the knife edge all I could think was 'how the heck are we going to get up that'? We took our time and eventually made it up in a looping leftward traverse.

Exactly one year to the date of that Longs Peak summit and the decision to go for it, I stood on the summit of Capitol Peak. With all of the preparation, it was well within my limits. The hard work paid off and added a big layer of comfort to make sure I wasn't over my head.

The biggest hazard on Capitol is on the way down. Almost everyone that has died on the mountain tries to avoid going back over the knife edge. There is a spot that really looks like it is a good path down to Capitol Lake. All it really leads to is steep loose rock followed by a shear cliff. You could see how someone could make this mistake, but if you know to look out for it, the mistake is very easy to avoid by simply descending by crossing back over the knife edge.

If you do Capitol, do it right. Prepare, study the route, study the mistakes those that have died this year have made (descending via any way other than back over the knife edge is extremely dangerous and this mistake is easy to avoid if you know about it), and make sure you're good with exposure and a lot of time at altitude.

The main points to note regarding the route are:
- Descend from the Daly/K2 saddle into the basin, head right under the cliffs keeping low, and go straight all the way across the basin to the wall of rock where you'll turn 90 degrees right and ascend a boulder field for some time before K2 comes into view.
- If you climb K2, do it from the right/East side and descend via the same way rather than climbing up and over it which is dangerous.
- Be extremely careful traversing around the right/North side of K2 because it gets a bit hairy.
- On descent do NOT try to take any shortcuts. Go back over the knife edge ridge and down the standard route.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5090 ft / 1551 m
    Total Elevation Loss:930 ft / 282 m
    Round-Trip Distance:7.9 mi / 12.7 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Headlamp, Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Weather:Hot, Calm, Clear
Perfect Conditions
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5090 ft / 1551 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 4244 ft / 1293 m; Extra: 846 ft / 257m
    Loss on way in:846 ft / 257 m
    Distance:7.8 mi / 12.6 km
    Route:Northeast Ridge
    Start Trailhead:Capitol Creek Trailhead  9420 ft / 2871 m
    Time:1 Days 4 Hours 37 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:84 ft / 25 m
    Distance:0.1 mi / 0.2 km
    Route:East Side to North Traverse
    End Trailhead:Knife Edge Ridge  13580 ft / 4139 m
    Time:0 Days 0 Hours 28 Minutes
Ascent Part of Trip: Capitol Peak (2 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1K22017-09-03 A5090 ft / 1551 m
2Capitol Peak2017-09-03 B1450 ft / 442 m
Total Trip Gain: 6540 ft / 1993 m    Total Trip Loss: 6540 ft / 1993 m

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