“Regarded by many as Colorado's hardest 14er, Capitol Peak provides a fun-yet-harrowing run.”
— Tyler Prince
Lake · Views · Wildflowers
The Capitol Creek
Trailhead is generally closed for the winter quite a ways down the road. Leave the dog at home.
Surely you jest.
From Capitol Lake, locate the trail to the east, switchbacking up to the K2/Daly Saddle. From here (11,600 ft) it's about 900 ft up. This is the last of the easy trail running. Reach the top of the saddle and head briefly down the other side, turning right and immediately crossing two small gullies, then cross onto a massive talus field. Your goal is to stay high and talus hop up to 13er K2. There is the occasional cairn here, but route finding is hard, especially considering a proper alpine start means you may be passing through this area in the dark. There is a break in the rocks at the top of the talus field to the south - aim for this.
Near 12,700 ft, angle up to the right. K2 will come into view as a small talus peak about the boulders. Run straight across the talus to K2's summit block, which rises only about 40 ft above the talus. While the easiest way to continue along this route is to avoid K2's summit and go around to the right, it's worth the brief class 3-4 scramble to the top to get some awesome views of Capitol's knife edge and summit. Once done on K2, drop down its right side (lake side, NW) and continue scrambling on slabby rock to reach the knife edge in about 50 meters.
The "Knife Edge" on Capitol is arguably the most famous difficulty on any Colorado 14er. While not particularly technical, it lives up to its name: expect about 20 meters of narrow slabs rising from oblivion, with hundreds of feet of exposure on either side. The pictures, while cool, don't do it justice. Most hikers elect to sit down and straddle the rock, scooting across it toward Capitol. The more daring simply treat it as a tightrope walk. The very end of the knife edge is sharp, and those who prefer their groin intact may choose to drop 5 ft to the left and scramble up some talus instead.
Once over the knife edge, the remaining route is less exposed, but is much looser and arguably more difficult. Stay about 10-20 ft left of ridge proper for most of the route. Scramble along class 3 rock of varying quality. The Elk Range is famous for its loose, crumbly rock, epitomized by this peak. Be careful here, testing rocks and moving gently. Many a skilled climber has been killed by rockfall on this peak and neighboring Snowmass Mountain.
In about 0.1 miles come to a steep rock in the ridge (13,950 ft). Below this rock, scramble up steep rocks to gain ridge proper just a small distance below the summit. The summit is an easy 2 min walk away.
Flora & Fauna
After fighting with cows for trail space en route to Capitol Lake, you'll be glad to know there are few critters up this high. Marmots, pika, and rocks.