Capitol Peak Ski Descent

Just a few short days ago, Marc, Carl, and I were joyously recovering at Fatbelly Burgers in Carbondale. We were there two weeks prior, but with a more somber mood. Maybe it’s because Carl punched a rabbit in the face, but I think the biggest change was that we had just skied Colorado’s hardest 14er, and didn’t have to go back and take our chances there with snow and the weather (unless of course, we want to for some crazy reason).

I know the biggest question you’ve all got – how in the world did Carl end up punching a rabbit in the face? Well, I’ll tell you. We left Golden mid-afternoon on Friday afternoon and made our way to Glenwood Springs for dinner. Dinner #1 was burritos; Marc and I picked up a set of sandwiches for dinner #2 at camp.

Shortly after 7pm, we were on our way in to the Maroon Bells Wilderness once again.

Photo by Carl Dowdy

A few miles later – just before dark – we had to make our first creek crossing of the trip. It was cold.

Photo by Carl Dowdy

We were able to hike in shoes for about four miles until coming to a veritable wall of snow at 10,000′. By far the cleanest dry/snow transition I’ve ever come across. Two miles later we called it a night at 11,000′, set up camp, ate dinner, and crawled in to our bags. It was ten after eleven, with alarms set for one in the morning.

Just as we were drifting off, Carl and I hear Marc shouting that something just ran across his bivy bag. “What? What is it?!” was the response from Carl. No response. It was then that a large dark shape appeared at the edge of the vestibule of our tent. It was either a smaller animal, or – more likely, to us anyway – the foot of something much larger. Carl yelled, trying to scare it away. We were all wide awake at this point, hopes for a good night of sleep long gone. Marc yelled that it was rabbits, and next time the dark shape came around, it came in the vestibule and pushed up against the mesh of the tent. A few rounds of this and we pulled our packs in to the tent, as if it weren’t already cramped. It kept coming back, so Carl lined up his fist, waited for the right moment, and got it right in the nose. It stopped bothering him at that point (instead choosing to come around to my side of the tent). And that’s the story of how Carl punched a rabbit in the face.

It’s not really relevant to that story, but we all took quite a few photos of what we did the next morning, so I’ll share that too. I’m not sure how well everyone else slept, but I was lucky if I got more than 15 minutes.

We were up and moving for Capitol by about 1:30, and at the Daly saddle before 3am. As I was taking a break, Carl came up saying he found a ski buckle. I checked my boot, and found that I’d lost an important buckle, despite a recent tightening. I tested buckling everything down and decided that it wouldn’t affect my skiing enough to make the descent unsafe, and we continued on.

A couple hours later we found ourselves at K2, switched over to crampons and axes, and got to work.

Photo by Carl Dowdy

We were lucky to have great snow conditions. It’s still super-fat back there, and it was perfectly cramponable.

Sunrise was gorgeous (as it tends to be from well-above treeline).

Photo by Carl Dowdy

I told Carl to hold on, because I had an idea for a photo he was going to like. I was right.

We saw occasional flashes of light from the direction of Snowmass, and were actually concerned about getting weathered off at 5:30 in the morning, which would’ve been ridiculous. Fortunately things cleared out, just making things beautiful for sunrise.

We cruised on the route, thanks to the absolutely perfect snow conditions.

We were on top only an hour and a half after leaving K2.

Photo by Carl Dowdy

We had time for some summit shots, snacks, relaxation, and boot repair, as we waited quite a while for the snow to soften.

Photo by Marc Barella

I was able to use a ski strap to sort-of replace my missing buckle. It wasn’t ideal but it’d have to do.

At one point, Marc almost became the first person to have a ghost-ridden snowboard descent of Capitol. It slid down out of sight, tumbled a few times, and then…silence. Marc angrily yelled about it for a moment before Carl and I saw that it had stopped on a ledge about 20′ down. One more bounce and that would’ve been about 2,000′, and Marc would not have been the second to snowboard from the summit of Capitol Peak. After that round of excitement, we made our final preparations and got heading down.

It wasn’t that far back to the Secret Chute, but it certainly felt like it.

It was time to go.

Photo by Carl Dowdy
Photo by Carl Dowdy

Photo by Carl Dowdy

The choke would likely have been a bit easier a couple weeks ago, as it was now rather thin and rocky. No problem though, and Marc put on quite a show getting through it.

Things got a little easier from that point on.

We weren’t out of danger, but the worst was behind us.

All that was left was to traverse back over to the Secret Chute.

Photo by Carl Dowdy

We all let out a big sigh of relief once we got there.

I’m guessing that Carl made the first switch-rappel descent of the Secret Chute in history.

Marc and I decided to do things a little more traditionally at this point.

Photo by Carl Dowdy

We traversed over to the base of the One-in-a-Million Couloir and got ready to boot up 600′ to get out of Pierre Lakes Basin. The view of our line from here was amazing.

45 minutes later we were up, and made some calls to let people know that we were out of any major danger.

We buzzed back over to the Daly saddle, thrilled to have Capitol behind us.

Photo by Carl Dowdy

We skied back to camp, packed up, made our way back to our shoes, and slogged out the last four miles to the car.

Photo by Carl Dowdy

The water was still cold.

6 thoughts on “Capitol Peak Ski Descent

  1. That is the awesomest story that I read all week, and not just because a rabbit got punched in the face!


    1. There was a horn we used for an anchor that was in exactly the right spot. We rapped off two 30m ropes which was perfect.

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