Capitol Peak via “The Green Line”, AKA the “secret chute”.
Chris Webster, Pam Rice, Pete Sowar, Sean Crossen, me. 4.28.08
“You think you’re ready, you think you’re prepared. You know it’s going to be hard. And then you get there and… [silence]” -Ted M., paraphrased from a phone conversation last week after he and Al B. skied Capital.
I’ve had a long time to think about this mountain. We were within 4 or 5 hundred vertical feet two years ago, but the face was too hot. Chris and Pete had been even closer on another attempt. Last year, we never gave it a go- conditions were never what we had hoped they would be. For the past two weeks, we have been waiting, planning, watching, and hoping to get another chance. Saturday afternoon, we took the chance and headed out on the long drive to Aspen. Sean, Pete and I ate at the white house in Carbondale, where Lou came by to wish us luck. Then we drove up to Snowmass Village where Greg and g.r were kind enough to give us some couch space (Thanks guys!). Sunday morning, we started off from the Snowmass Creek trailhead at around 8,300′ with hopes of making it a few miles in to set up a basecamp. We met some guys coming back from a descent of Mt. Daly, so we had a skintrack to follow. They even found the summer trail:
Finally, we broke out of the forest and got a good look at the East face of Daly, which we also hoped to ski if things went well on Capital:
We set up camp right below Daly, next to a little opening in the snow where we could access the creek rather than melt snow. Sean started making fun of Pete and I as we tried to get our campsite perfectly level: “Hey guys, we need a level over here.” We all laughed, and then Chris comes over with his iphone, which had a level
With our perfectly flat campsite, we turned in around 8pm, and surprisingly I slept pretty well until our 2:30 wake-up call. The moon wasn’t huge, but it was still nice to have:
And then the sun came up:
Sunrise on Daly:
Rather than take the scary and time-consuming knife edge ridge from K2 all the way to the summit, we opted to climb our chute first, which would get us close to the summit without much difficult climbing. We headed to a notch in the ridge and dropped down the “one-in-a-million” couloir to Pierre Lakes basin, which is probably the most amazing alpine area I’ve ever been to. Now we got a look at what was ahead- all we have to do is get up there:
At this point, Sean called it a day. While he has tried Capital before, and knew what he was getting into, I guess he had to see it one more time before officially retiring from fourteener skiing, just a little shy of his goal. “I’ve got a kid, it changes you, it just does”, he said. Sean wished us well and we entered the secret chute (Chris and I):
Pete tops out on the secret chute:
Well, we’re closer. Just a few hundred feet to go…
I started leading this section, knowing that I would soon be the weakest link once the climbing got more difficult.
Chris and Pam:
Then it was time for Pete to lead:
Chris and Pam had a conference at this point. While the climbing was well within their abilities, they were having a hard time picturing skiing down any of it. Eventually, they decided to continue. We watched while Pete led this steep snow pitch to regain the ridge, which I then followed.
And then, I cracked. That’s the only way to describe it. I’ve done plenty of exposed 4th class climbing, and I used to be able to lead 5.10 back when I climbed more often, but the exposure and the snow and the loose rock and the awkward skis did me in, and I cracked. From that point on the ridge onward, Chris had me tied in to a little 75′ rope on all the other rock pitches. Quite literally, I would not have made it without him (or Pete and Pam, for that matter). Pam, higher:
Pam nearing the summit:
self portrait on the summit:
At the trailhead, I made fun of Chris for having copies of “The Economist” and “The New Yorker” in his pack. So he decided to put them to good use:
It took 3 hours to get from ~13,600′ to the 14,130′ summit. It was now afternoon, but some high clouds in the morning and a steady breeze had kept the snow from getting too wet. Still, on one of my first turns I sent the top 3″ off the East face in a small wet slide. Sean must have had quite a view of that from the valley floor. This made us nervous, so we made lots of deliberate ski cuts, though nothing ever moved like the first one. Pete:
back to Pete:
Hey look, there’s a cairn under my feet, we must be on route
Pam. Notice our ascent route:
One short rappel through the top of the secret chute, and things felt considerably better. Gotta have a dav shot:
I have no idea how this cornice can stick there:
We did suffer one set back at this point, however. Pete’s ropes dug into the cornice when we tried to retrieve them, and try as we might, we could not free them. Given the time and temperature, we sadly ended up leaving them rather than climbing back up to retrieve them.. They were soon to be retired, but it was still a bummer. So if anyone goes up there, you’ve got some ropes to use, though Pete would of course like them back.
Pete skiing the secret chute:
me, enjoying some good snow in Pierre lakes basin:
A look back at the peak and our tracks:
Here I am heading towards the One-in-a-million couloir, so called because everything else is a wall of rock:
Sean had left before us, so we were excited to have a bootpack out. Pete in one-in-a-million:
Once at the top of the couloir, we had 2,000′ of corn and pow below us to get to the campsite. We decided to make a couple of calls and let people know we were OK:
Pam heads to camp:
We climbed Daly the next day. This is what Capital looks like from there:
Perhaps someday that face will also see ski tracks. The S-shaped N-facing couloir goes from the ridge, it just needs a couple of raps out. Chris took this shot two years ago, and is the best view of our route: