Capitol Peak lived up to the forewarning that it would be one of the most difficult of all my mountain endeavors in Colorado. This peak required physical endurance, mental strength, and trust in my abilities. Moments after getting off of I-70 in Glenwood Springs, this behemoth came into view. From first sight, I perceived Capitol Peak’s dominance over its surroundings, even amongst a mountainous skyline. It was practically written out of a fairytale. Surely there was a castle up there with a princess trapped inside or perhaps a monster waiting to do battle. This grey cliff face stood tall and stoic in a forest of green trees daring someone to attempt to conquer it.
With last week’s snow melted and yesterday’s rain washing out any leftover scree on the trail, I had chosen the perfect day to make an attempt. Again, my car couldn’t quite make it to the trail head, so I parked as far as my car could go and began my hike about 1.5 miles from the trail head. Once at the trail head, I had a 17 mile journey ahead. I stopped to review my route once again, as well as read the cliff notes of the challenges and best views.
As I began, I was surrounded by beautiful aspen and evergreen trees littering the hillsides and filling the air the fresh oxygen. I cannot remember a single moment from the highway to the base of the final climb when I ever lost sight of this 14’er reflecting back at me its cold, grey, emotionless face. I had a sinking fear in my gut as I approached. I couldn’t shake the thought that I was from Florida, the “flatlands” of the United States, and that after less than 35 days as a Colorado resident, I was about to tackle the most difficult mountain I would face. I reminded myself with each step closer to the summit that this challenge would push me and also encourage others. Mentally refocusing was a difficult task, because no matter which way I turned on the trail or which grouping of trees I made my way through, Capitol Peak never seemed to lose sight of me. The highest point of the peak was never hidden from view as it sat there stalking me.
Capitol Peak was not all daunting and terrifying. One thing I found amusing was the “wild” cows that roamed the private property and the trail in the park. I am unsure of the arrangement between the property owner and the park,but I enjoyed keeping company with these massive cows. There were hundreds of the gargantuan beasts which stood even with my shoulders.
As I continued my hike, I approached Capitol Lake at the base of the mountain. First,I evaluated the weather. So far, it had been overcast but no rain or high winds, so the climb was a go. Second, I observed my surroundings– 100 foot tall trees by the lake, the deep greens of the wild grass. Any sane person who attempts this climb usually camps here amongst this beauty at the base of the mountain for the night, preparing for just the summit portion of the trip the next day. Perhaps I lack sanity, but I will push my mind and body to the limit whenever possible, so no camping for me. From there, I began the quick and painful approach to the top.
As I climbed the gulch up to the saddle I crossed behind the mountain to the boulder field and rock -hopped my way up to the ridge of Capitol Peak to face the “knife ridge.” As I crested the gulch, with perfect timing, the clouds parted and dissipated just long enough for my final approach to the peak. I searched for cairns to guide me along the path through the field, and as I made it to the ridge, I was left with an amazing view.
Pictured below (about 250 feet in front of me) is the “knife ridge”and as you can see, one false move could result in more than a thousand foot fall. With no anchors or way to stop in a harness, crossing requires balance and a small amount of athleticism, but perhaps more importantly, mental fortitude. Once across the knife, the last portion before the peak is a long, slow scramble littered with several rock climbing sections along the way.
I packed up my phone and began my attack of each of the climbing obstacles one at a time as they stood in my way. Finally, as my arms were starting to fatigue and the body aching from the thin air at altitude, I made it to the summit. Enjoying the view of where I had just come, I sat and enjoyed a well earned lunch. I took pictures from the peak and once again, packed my phone away for the climb down. As the skies started to cloud up again, I knew rain was on the way and that I would need to put a little pep into my step.
On my way down, the lush, green grass which I passed transformed into beautiful yellow wildflowers surrounding the trail! It was a perfect little gift from nature saying well done. The chances of rain appeared to increase as I descended the mountain until the sky finally opened up and began to gently rain. I hiked the remaining 7 miles in the drizzling rain.