Colorado 14ers: Capitol Peak

Rocky scrambles and a knife-edge ridge lead up one of the most challenging Fourteeners. Stellar views over the untamed Elk Range are endless.
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Rocky scrambles and a knife-edge ridge lead up one of the most challenging Fourteeners. Stellar views over the untamed Elk Range are endless.

Some Fourteeners are about as eye-catching as anthills, but not Capitol. It’s a mountain’s mountain, all granite precipices and soaring arêtes. If you’re like most aspiring Capitolists, you’ll hike 6.5 miles to a campsite at 11,600 feet beneath the mighty ramparts of the north face, where the daunting view will have you tossing on your Therm-a-Rest all night long. Fortunately, summit day begins easily enough, with switchbacks up grassy slopes to 12,480-foot Daly Pass. After a brief descent, you’ll climb a bump on the northeast ridge ominously called K2. The much-dreaded Knife Edge lies just ahead. This razorback catwalk at 13,600 feet is less than 50 yards long, but it’s a circus act without a net. Experienced scramblers will hand-traverse with fingers gripping the edge (tip: Stay left). Beginners should rope up and scoot across à cheval, riding the beast like a horse. Show-offs will walk across.There’s more scrambling after the Knife Edge, but now at least the exposure won’t make you whimper. At the top, admire the icy Pierre Lakes, neighboring Snowmass Mountain (another Fourteener), and the craggy redrock peaks to the east. But don’t dillydally: The Knife Edge is even dicier in a thunderstorm.-Text by Dougald MacDonald-Mapped by Lisa Heckel

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 12.5

Waypoints

Capitol Peak from the trailhead

Location: 39.2333564758301, -107.083183288574

©Lisa Heckel

Meadow

Location: 39.219539642334, -107.095397949219

Looking south across the meadow just before entering the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.
©Lisa Heckel

Capitol Peak

Location: 39.2078094482422, -107.090896606445

Views from the grassy bench
©Lisa Heckel

Cows

Location: 39.1907806396484, -107.085433959961

Cows grazing along the trail.
©Lisa Heckel

Capitol Creek crossing

Location: 39.198169708252, -107.087844848633

©Lisa Heckel

Creek crossing

Location: 39.173267364502, -107.086242675781

©Lisa Heckel

Gully with seasonal snow

Location: 39.1676445007324, -107.079490661621

©Lisa Heckel

K2 Summit

Location: 39.154468536377, -107.075958251953

©Lisa Heckel

The Knife Edge

Location: 39.1515769958496, -107.080131530762

©Lisa Heckel

Hikers on the final summit ridge

Location: 39.1506118774414, -107.082221984863

©Lisa Heckel

Gully with seasonal snow

Location: 39.1676445007324, -107.079490661621

©Lisa Heckel

Capitol Peak from Capitol Lake

Location: 39.1655540466309, -107.081100463867

©Lisa Heckel

Capitol Lake from the Daly-Capitol saddle

Location: 39.1631469726562, -107.073707580566

©Lisa Heckel

Views from the K2 Summit

Location: 39.1539878845215, -107.076919555664

©Lisa Heckel

CAP001

Location: 39.2342681884766, -107.080596923828

Follow Capitol Creek Trail as it travels SW through sun-dappled aspen groves; Capitol Peak's impressive granite form is silhouetted in the distance

CAP002

Location: 39.2249298095703, -107.093803405762

Stay straight, heading S

CAP003

Location: 39.2211799621582, -107.09529876709

Cross creek that runs across the trail, then follow dirt path through a grassy meadow

CAP004

Location: 39.219841003418, -107.095397949219

Head S into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness; trail begins to climb

CAP005

Location: 39.2079887390137, -107.091102600098

Traverse a grassy meadow spotted with lone boulders; striking views of Capitol Peak lead the way

CAP006

Location: 39.1992301940918, -107.087303161621

Trail enters on the L; 2nd creek crossing ahead

CAP007

Location: 39.1985511779785, -107.088096618652

Cross Capitol Creek, then continue S

CAP008

Location: 39.1910705566406, -107.08570098877

Continue straight @ West Maroon Trail jct.; forest opens up allowing for more spectacular views of Capitol's jagged peak; cattle graze along the trail

CAP009

Location: 39.1737480163574, -107.086242675781

Cross 2 more creeks in the next .2 mi.

CAP010

Location: 39.1676445007324, -107.079650878906

Ascend a small pine-speckled gully with seasonal snow

CAP011

Location: 39.1654510498047, -107.081001281738

Set up camp on knoll N of Capitol Lake. To begin Capitol climb, turn L @ T; head SE for steep ascent to Mt. Daly-K2 saddle

CAP012

Location: 39.1632804870606, -107.073699951172

Cross over Mt. Daly-K2 saddle, then head S on climber's trail, traversing several gullies

CAP013

Location: 39.153980255127, -107.076797485352

K2's summit (13,664 ft.) offers intimate views of Capitol's rocky peak. Begin SW scramble on the ridge connecting K2 and Capitol Peak

CAP014

Location: 39.1528511047363, -107.078796386719

Use your hands to traverse the infamous Knife Edge, a tricky, 100-ft. serrated section of ridge below the summit

CAP015

Location: 39.150260925293, -107.082901000977

Capitol Peak (14,130 ft.): A sea of craggy, snow-covered peaks surround. Savor the rare perspectives from this elusive peak