Capitol Peak (14,130 ft)
14er Peak Rank #29/53
Often considered the most difficult 14er (or certainly among them), Capitol Peak – featured on Colorado 14ers Map 11 of 16 – lies deep in the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness hidden away from view by most roads. Capitol Peak is not nearly as crowded as many other Colorado fourteeners due to remoteness and difficulty; Colorado Fourteeners Initiative estimated less than 1,000 hiker use days in 2015 compared to, say, Grays and Torreys Peaks in the Front Range that saw more than 20,000.
Named Capitol Mountain by the Hayden Survey in 1874, they did not attempt to summit the peak. From that trek, in the Annual report of the USGS in 1876 by F. V. Hayden, it was mentioned “Capitol Mountain, one of the crowning summits of the range, whose gray, prism-shaped top and precipitous sides forbid access”. The first recorded ascent of Capitol Peak was in 1909 by Percy Hagerman and Harold Clark (Clark Peak [13,580′] shares a connecting ridge to Capitol Peak, while Hagerman Peak [13,841′], further south, shares a connecting ridge with Snowmass Mountain – another Elk Mountains 14er). These two led many expeditions into the Elk Mountains and recorded many first ascents including Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells.
The hike to Capitol Peak usually begins at the Capitol Creek Trailhead (elevation 9,480′) at the north end of the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness. The approach from here is a long one, and many choose to camp instead of hiking the peak in a day trip. From the trailhead, one can take the Ditch Trail #1963 or the Capitol Creek Trail #1961 south where they eventually meet connect up with each other (after 3.1 miles along either trail). Following the Capitol Creek Trail after the Ditch Trail joins it, one will arrive at Capitol Lake (elevation 11,592′) after another 3 miles of hiking. Camping at Capitol Lake is in a limited number of designated sites only, and this is the usual base camp for those who wish to climb Capitol Peak early the following day.
From the lake, the route to Capitol Peak climbs steeply up to near the summit of K2 (13,664′ elevation) after 1.6 miles. From here, one must cross one of the most well-known and challenging areas of the standard route: a Class 4 (hard scrambling / simple climbing) highly-exposed feature known as the ‘knife-edge’ along the northeast ridge – shown in the photo below. The summit of Capitol Peak is gained after a challenging 0.5 mile Class 4 traverse from K2.
Though Capitol Peak is mercifully free of the loose, rotten red rock of the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak, it is a very dangerous peak. So for those peakbaggers out there, it is prudent to build-up experience, fitness and mountaineering skills before attempting this mountain. In addition, all climbers should remember and take precautions for these Colorado high country environments: respect your physical limits, drink plenty of fluids, watch the weather closely, don’t be afraid to turn back even if near the summit and don’t forget your 14ers maps and compass. Capitol Peak is one of the two fourteeners featured on Outdoor Trail Maps Colorado 14ers Map 11 of 16.
Directions to Trailhead:
To reach the Capitol Creek Trailhead, turn west onto Snowmass Creek Road off of CO Hwy 82 at the small town of Snowmass, CO. After 1.75 miles on Snowmass Creek Road, turn right onto Capitol Creek Road and continue 8.2 miles to its end where you’ll find the trailhead.