Capitol Peak: The Knife Edge

Capitol Peak

Saturday morning dawned bright and early. We were ready to tackle Capitol Peak!

I’m typically not one for disclaimers on blog posts, but I’ve gotten quite a few emails and tweets regarding our Capitol Peak trip. Yes, a climber died last week on the same peak we tackled over the Fourth of July weekend. Mountaineering is inherently dangerous, no matter the precautions, so please be careful if you decide to head out there!

Capitol Peak

**If you missed reading parts one and two, check ‘em out here or here**

We finally got moving around 6:00 and almost immediately began the steep climb up to the saddle between Capitol Peak and Mt. Daly. Most of our day’s route would take place on the back side of the ridge, so we actually couldn’t see where we were going until we crested the saddle. However, this stretch of trail was a tough way to get started so early in the morning: the switchbacks covered 900 feet of elevation gain in just under one mile!

Capitol Peak

Capitol Peak

We crested the saddle just as the warm sunshine hit the ridgeline and took in the spectacular view in front of us.

Hiking Capitol Peak

Will and I also decided now was the time to stop and put on our climbing helmets. The remainder of the day would be spent on loose, rocky slopes or snowfields where falling debris is quite common. Since both of us would like our skulls to remain intact, we slapped those suckers on our head and left them there for the rest of the day.

Capitol Peak

Right off the bat, we made an error in route finding that would haunt us for the rest of the morning. We began to traverse across the ridge but got hung up for a brief moment where the trail seemed to disappear. We pondered our options for a few minutes, but chose the path we had seen a climbing team take in front of us. This trail meant we would continue with class III-IV climbing for most of the morning, which was slow but lots of fun.

Capitol Peak

However, after 15-20 minutes, our route petered out and we were stuck with some very sketchy and exposed moves. If we had ropes or harnesses, it would’ve been a different situation, but we didn’t. We debated our options and realized we would have to backtrack back to the beginning and find an alternate route. This was easy enough to accomplish, but it meant that we lost at least an hour of valuable climbing time. With storms that roll in before lunch, we didn’t have a surplus of bonus time, so we both knew that our error in judgment would likely cost us the summit later in the morning (foreshadowing!)

Capitol Peak

After down climbing the entire rock face, we ended up in the valley on the back side of the ridge. A half dozen snowfields littered the ground, so we set about the somewhat tedious task of crossing the slippery slopes.

The warm morning sun had slightly melted the snow so it was slick, and without crampons, we both had to be extra careful with our steps. Additionally, the beds of snow sat on top of talus fields (large rocks and boulders), so we had to constantly test our foot holds to make sure we wouldn’t fall through and slam our legs on the rocks hiding below. Will fell through one section of snow, garnering a glorious war wound on his shin, complete with the dripping blood to prove it. Since he wasn’t seriously injured, we decided he should flaunt that sucker with pride!

Capitol Peak

After what seemed like hours, we finally cleared all of the snow fields and made our way out of the valley and back up onto the ridge. I was itching to see the Knife Edge by this point, but first we had to clear K2. Aptly named, K2 is a little bump of rock on the way to summit of Capitol Peak. K2 is known as such because it actually requires some technical climbing skills and some climbers claim that is more difficult than the Knife Edge itself.

Will and I discussed and we both agreed that we wanted to go up and over K2 instead of trying to skirt around it. This was an awesome decision because the few tech moves were a lot of fun and nothing out of our comfort zones. Down climbing the back side to reach the trail was a bit sporting, and I had some difficulty getting down. It was a steep rock face with plenty of grips, but my legs were too short to reach anything! Will ended up climbing down and coming over to spot me, but he was under strict instructions not to help unless it looked like I was going down!

Capitol Peak

With K2 behind us, we finally laid eyes open the Knife Edge of Capitol Peak! The Knife Edge is a 150 foot jagged rock edge on the way to the summit that scares the living daylights out of climbers.

Both sides of the Edge have a sheer vertical drop with tons of exposure. Many climbers will just grab the top of the ridge and smear their feet below, but even that is a little sketchy: if you miss a hold, you’re looking at a good 2,000 foot drop!

Will was able to cross the ridge using this technique, but I didn’t trust my grip. Instead, I decided to straddle the ridge and scoot across that way. I have zero fear of heights, so I enjoyed being in such a secure position. After all, I could sit smack on the Knife Edge and take in the views!

Capitol Peak

Capitol Peak

Capitol Peak

Unfortunately, this was also when I realized that the batteries in both my GoPro *and* Sony Action Cam had died. Seriously, how disappointing! I had lugged both those cameras up Capitol Peak just so I could grab some sweet footage. Alas, the cold night temps had killed the battery juice, so I was stuck with the knowledge that I had packed cameras up a mountain for no good reason. Luckily, I did have my iPhone, so I pulled it out and took this quick video, just to capture what it’s like from up there:

Y’all, I can definitely understand why people freak out crossing the ridge—the exposure is insane!

The rock itself is very solid, but you definitely need to be trusting in the rock and in yourself. Both Will and I were confident and didn’t have any problems crossing the Knife Edge, but not everyone felt the same. We met quite a few climbers that took one look at the ridge, changed their minds, and turned around and hiked back to basecamp. It’s definitely one of those climbing cruxes where you need to decide what is best for yourself.

Capitol Peak

Luckily, Will and I both felt exhilarated on the ridge and loved every second of our crossing! However, we reached the end of the Knife Edge and realized that a massive storm was blowing in towards the summit of Capitol Peak. It hadn’t gotten bad yet, but we could see the black sky developing and the wind gusts were increasing.

We chatted and both agreed that per usual, no mountain is ever worth the risk. There is no quick descent off the Knife Edge, so if you’re up there when a storm blows in, you’re fairly screwed. So, although we were only 45 minutes from the summit, we both agreed without hesitation that it was time to turn around. Granted, I was kicking myself for our route finding error earlier in the morning, but there is no point dwelling on what could have happened, you know?

Capitol Peak

The hike down was relatively uneventful. We crossed the Knife Edge a second time, skirted around the base of K2, and ducked down behind a rock shelter to have a quick lunch before finishing our descent. It wasn’t until we reached the saddle of Mt. Daly that we felt confident in relaxing, knowing that we were only 900 feet away from basecamp and had a shelter to hide in if the rains came.

Capitol Peak

In the end, Capitol Peak was exactly what I was hoping it would be: a physical and mental challenge that pushed me out of my comfort zone but well within the limits of my abilities. Naturally, I’m dying to go back to actually nab the summit, but that day will have to wait. I’m eye balling a couple other adventures in the near future!

Capitol Peak

********************

When is the last time you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone?

40 Comments

  • Reply Miz at

    I am SO SO SO LIVING VICARIOUSLY.
    right now Im mired in mamahood and while I do push myself out of my zone of comfy all the time–it’s not in that/your kind of way these days.

    soon
    again
    my time will come.

    • Reply heather at

      I do wonder how my life will change when I have kids– obviously, I would NOT be taking them up this peak!

  • Reply misszippy at

    Wow-stunning scenery! You are so brave to tackle it…you area always impressing me.

    • Reply heather at

      Aw, thanks Amanda 🙂

  • Reply Madeline @ Food Fitness and Family at

    Seriously stunning scenery! I have always wanted to get into climbing but there aren’t mountains nearby to try haha. Maybe one day when I move back to PHX.

    • Reply heather at

      It’s fun 🙂 I’m not big into rock climbing with ropes, harness,etc, but I do like mountaineering-style climbing!

  • Reply Rachel @ Betty LIVIN at

    Wow! That was some brave mountaineering! I don’t think I could scramble that edge like you did. Way to go!

    • Reply heather at

      Thanks Rachel!

  • Reply Kaitlyn at

    I am needing a good push- myself- out- of -my -comfort- zone adventure. I am hoping that the next couple of weeks plans will produce that. Bummer about not making it to the summit, but at least you experienced what everyone had been talking about. You make it look easy.

    • Reply heather at

      Honestly, if you can check your mental self-doubt, it really isn’t hard. You’ll have to try it one day!

  • Reply Ingunn at

    You’re a badass! I’m ridiculously scared of heights, so I get shaky and clumsy at the slightest hint of exposure, which is obviously the least helpful reaction to have. 🙂

    I put all my electronics/batteries in my sleeping bag with me if I know it’s going to get cold, especially on multi-night trips.

    • Reply heather at

      I usually do the same with batteries but apparently I forgot this time…argh 🙂

  • Reply Katie @k8tlevy at

    Oh man, I would DEFINITELY have been one of those people who took one look at the ridge and turned around. That’s insane! I think the hardest part about exposure like that is being able to manage your fear. I wouldn’t have confidence in my ability to cross the Knife Edge, even in the best conditions!

    It sounds like you both made some really smart decisions throughout the trip with getting turned around, timing, etc. It’s so important to stick to your turnaround time! It’s been a blast following along with all three posts. Each left me eager for the next one! And of course, Will’s photos are ahhhh-mazing!

    • Reply heather at

      You are SO right re: managing your fear. The route truly isn’t technically hard if you’ve been in this game for a bit, but it can be tough to talk yourself off the ledge. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t bother crossing because who knows what will happen if you freak out mid-crossing, you know? When you come visit, maybe we’ll find a comparable adventure!

  • Reply buff guy james at

    So beautiful! I just may have to take a hike up there. I need to get out before fall comes. 🙁 This looks like the ticket though!

    • Reply heather at

      Oh, you definitely need to get up there– wildflowers are beautiful this year! But, waiting till fall wouldn’t be bad at all– then the aspen are in color!

  • Reply Jina at

    This was so fun to read! Great photos and great adventure.

  • Reply Kierston @candyfit at

    Wow! Amazing!

    Love the pics…it’s so beautiful!

    Running…it always pushes me out of my comfort zone. As much as I love it, it pushes my body and mind in ways I’ve never experienced.

  • Reply Amanda @runtothefinish at

    i will probably never get to hike the way you do, so thank you for sharing this entire journey!!! sooo amazing! Hmm I think moving is always pushing out of my comfort zone, so a couple months ago!

  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb at

    Absolutely insane. I don’t think I’d have the balls to do it, but wow!

  • Reply Beth @ RUNNING around my kitchen at

    Your adventures are amazing – I love reading about them! Sorry you didn’t get to make the whole trip, but glad it was due to things out of your control rather than something bad happening to one of you. Will’s pictures are incredible, his photographs look like professional pics 🙂

  • Reply Christine @ Love, Life, Surf at

    That is amazing Heather and the photos are gorgeous. I will admit though that just looking at your photos of Knife Edge and you scooting across gave me the heebie jeebies!!

  • Reply Kayla at

    I’m pretty sure that Patrick would have been pretty reluctant to crossing the Knife Edge………….That’s such a bummer your battery died! Technology should be able to trumph that whole “extreme temps killin good batteries” thing by now.

  • Reply Angela @ Happy Fit Mama at

    Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! I think just being able to push yourself out of your comfort zone for a rewarding view is enough. Awesome job, Heather!

  • Reply Natalie @ Free Range Human at

    This is so incredible, Heather! I love to backpack and hike up mountains, but this is way out of my league. Great job!

  • Reply Senad at

    Nice report, i just did Capitol Peak, what a mountain!

  • Reply Bekah at

    Wow! This sounds exactly like a hike I just recently did! We did Longs Peak\, but went a different route than most people go. We ended up losing the trail and got into some crazy rock climbing. It was gorgeous and even though we didn’t end up making it to the top, I was happy we chose that route. I LOVE God’s creation! 🙂 I’m gonna have to go back and try it again…

  • Reply So Much Goodness - Just a Colorado Gal at

    […] Trust” approached me about joining them for an episode to chat about this past summer’s trip up Capitol Peak. I’ll be honest; at first, I was totally nervous! Why in the world would they want to have me […]

  • Reply Capitol Peak | Podcast 19 | Climbing, Hiking, Mountaineering | In Ice Axe We Trust at

    […] The state of Colorado has how many 14ers? The exact count is uncertain – it depends who you are talking to – but one thing is certain: IIAWT guest a href="https://www.justacoloradogal.com" target=_blank">Heather Balogh has been on a lot of them. She’s been on most of the Colorado 14ers, in fact. Together with the IIAWT co-hosts, Heather discussed her July trip to Capitol Peak and gave a step-by-step report of her experience on this tough peak, including her thoughts on its infamous Knife Edge section and also the thought process behind her decision to turn around close to the summit due to weather concerns. To read more about her multi-day Capitol Peak trip, check out here blog: Part I, Part II & Part III. […]

  • Reply 2013: My Favorite Adventures - Just a Colorado Gal at

    […] Peak (14,131 feet) has a sketchy ridgeline known as the Knife Edge that is a formidable mental opponent. Will and I decided to finally hit it up on Fourth of July […]

  • Reply Links I’m Loving – Denver | at

    […] Capitol Peak: The Knife Edge […]

  • Reply John at

    awesome job heather! My friends and I are attempting the hike on the august 29th, 2014. I’m horrified of heights and have never hike before…..this will be a first!! Were extremely excited and hope the weather holds out for us. Wish us luck!

    • Reply heather at

      Thanks John! If heights make you super nervous, I would suggest straddling the ridgeline. It will make you feel a lot more secure and confident while crossing. Definitely let me know how it goes!

  • Reply Germán at

    Wow…breathtaking. Amazing.

  • Reply Backpacking to South Zapata Lake - Just a Colorado GalJust a Colorado Gal at

    […] months we had been planning to return to Capitol Peak. Ever since our first trip a few years back, Will and I have both wanted to return if only to […]

  • Reply Hiking 14ers: Tips for Beginners -Just a Colorado Gal at

    […] Capitol Peak aside, I think a lot of the struggles on 14ers come from their popularity. Frequently, a “popular” hike means that it is relatively easy and/or good for first-time hikers. And while 14ers can be tackled by people fairly new to hiking, it’s never a good idea to make a 14,000+ foot mountain your first hiking challenge, yanno? […]

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