Capitol Peak
Descent Route: South Face-davenport Beidelman Route
Capitol Peak
South Face- Davenport Beidelman Route
April 20, 2006

*** We skied from the summit of North Maroon Peak Wednesday, but since I neglected to include that peak on my list on this site, and my web guy is climbing in Utah, I?ll send that update out as soon as I can***

I?m not really sure where to start today. The last 48 hours has been incredibly intense, physically and mentally draining, and deeply rewarding. After an 8- hour day on Wednesday skiing superb powder on the North Face of North Maroon Peak, I came home, unpacked, repacked, put my kids to bed, and drove to the Snowmass Creek Trailhead to sleep. Yesterday (Thursday) Neal Beidleman and I skied a bold new route down the South Face of Capitol Peak. Capitol Peak has only been skied once before, via the Knife edge Ridge, by Lou Dawson in 1988. Ours was a seriously committing line. I could go on and on with superlatives, but suffice to say this was the steepest and scariest line I have ever done on skis. For those of you that read the Pyramid Peak trip report a few days ago (we skied the first descent of the East Face Landry Route in almost 30 years) this line on Capitol was much harder, significantly steeper, far more exposed, and mentally exhausting. Just alpine climbing across the Knife Edge Ridge at 13,600? (see photo) and up to the summit was intense enough for me. The fact that we put our skis on and attempted this new line now leaves me shaking my head with a bit of pride, but mostly disbelief. If I never ski another line with that level of commitment and anxiety I?ll be a happy man. In fact, I think tomorrow I?ll go find the easiest fourteeners I can and ski that, just to put it all in perspective.

For the second day in a row I was up at 3:00 a.m. Neal Beidelman and I hit the trail at 3:40 a.m. and made quick progress up through the West Snowmass Creek Valley, arriving at the beginning of the days difficulties, the Knife Edge Ridge, at 10 a.m. Climbing across the Knife Edge Ridge is like walking on a balance beam. At times I had both feet on one side of the ridge, and my axe on the other. At other times I straddled and bear-hugged the snowy ar?te. A fall on either side of this ridge is the last one you?ll ever take. We took an hour to get across this section, and hit the final summit ridge at 11:30 a.m. In the summer the normal route heads out left, across the face and up to the summit. In the winter this traverse looked sun baked and hairy, so we chose to rock climb up to the top, staying exactly on the ridge marking the boundary between the dark and vertical North Face, and the sunny, snow-covered South Face, Over another hour of steep climbing on rock with crampons and axes got us to the summit. This was the hardest alpine climb I have done in the States. I have climbed Capitol Peak four times in the summer, and in winter it is just an entirely different experience.

We reached the summit at 1:30, physically and mentally drained. Neal and I shot the requisite summit photos, signed the register, and prepared to ski. I was excited to get the skis on my feet. I feel much more comfortable and stable in gnarly terrain with skis on. I had spent a lot of time studying and researching the line we were going to ski on the South Face. Pete Sowar from Crested Butte had been eyeing it for years, and had tried to get it done before, without success. I scouted the route from an airplane, looked at it from the ground, and studied photos. With that said, when you are on the face itself, it is a maze of cliffs and traverses, and Neal and I had some difficulty route finding. Anyway, we dropped in off the summit ridge and were immediately faced with several hundred feet of 60-degree turns. When you make a turn at this angle, you actually drop a few feet before your skis touch the snow again. We made it through the upper section of the face no problem, and began our first traverse right, though nasty slab rocks. This was scary and committing. Rounding our first ridge, we were face with another traverse to another ridge. This was the point of no return. Do we push forward into the unknown, on a part of the mountain where no one has ever set foot, even in summer? Or do we put our crampons on and climb back out to the Knife Edge Ridge? You know the answer! We looked at each other and quietly said, ?Go?. Around the corner we went, and then realized that we now had to climb up about forty feet and across to reach the final snowfield that leads you out into Pierre Lakes Basin. With skis finally back on our feet, we skied the exposed, hanging snowfield out into the valley (see photo). The snow here was difficult, with spots of verglassed ice below the snow surface. The sigh of relief I breathed upon exiting the route was probably heard in Tibet. From our first turn off the top, to the last turn out the bottom, we had been exposed to massive cliffs below, basically one big no-fall-zone. I am relieved and happy to put Capitol behind me. For those people who want to ski all of the fourteeners in the future, Capitol Peak will be by far the biggest hurdle.

Neal and I were both proud and humbled by our experience today. After bagging the 2nd descent of the Landry Route on Pyramid with Ted Mahon last week, we were overjoyed and celebratory. After Capitol we were speechless. Finally, one person who would have loved every minute of this route was Doug Coombs. Neal and I dedicate our descent of Capitol Peak to him!

BTW, I also want to congratulate Pete Sowar, Sean Crossen, and their friends on making the third descent of the Landry Route on Pyramid Peak yesterday. These guys are super motivated and have been skiing great lines all over the State.

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