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I skied Capitol last year. The last words of my trip report were ringing in my ear: “I won’t be back.” After skiing the peak, I made a promise to a friend who may end up being one of the first woman to ski the 14ers. I told her that I would get her to the top, but the skiing would probably be up to her. Since long before I ever skied my 1st 14er my climbing skills have always been far superior to my skiing skills (though I’m working on catching up my skiing skills).
So, Brittany Walker became just the second woman to ski Capitol yesterday. But along with that we had some (as far as I know) firsts: First time Capitol has been skied in May. First time Capitol has been skied twice by the same person. First time Capitol has been descended on a snowboard. Oldest person to make a descent of Capitol. And, the first descent in maroon pants (which is probably more important than all of the above). All of these firsts are solely based on the handful of publicly known ski descents of Capitol. If someone else is out there who has skied or boarded it from the summit, certainly speak up.
Our crew of 5 started the day in different ways. Jarrett Luttrell and Brittany Walker opted to hike in to snowline on Saturday afternoon and get a few precious hours of sleep. Caleb Wray, Matt Kamper, and myself opted to start from the trailhead at about 11:50 PM on Saturday night for a full push. I think of the three of us Matt is the only one who caught any shut eye before we started walking. Caleb and I left Carbondale, and drove to the Snowmass Creek trailhead. Matt was there, ready and dialed to go. We quickly put the skis and boots on our pack and donned our trail shoes for the mostly dry trail ahead. We took off moving fairly fast until Caleb had to run back to the truck for something he had left behind. We continued on to the turn off for the West Snowmass Creek trail and continued on dry trail for about another hour. Not long after reaching snow, we finally gave up on trying to balance on the more solid foot prints and ditched the shoes for the boots and skis. There was a little bit of skis on, skis off action until we ran into Brittany and Jarrett around 10,400 feet. They were ready to walk and we continued on towards Moon Lake. After a minor route finding snafu in the woods below the lake we found ourselves skinning up the basin above towards what most skiers are calling the One in a Million Couloir (also known as Pierre’s Passage, which gets you through the ridge and down to Pierre Lakes Basin.
We reached the couloir and prepared to ski down to Pierre Lakes. At this point the lack of sleep from the last few nights had taken its toll on Caleb and he decided today wasn’t his day for the big one, so he turned around and headed out. Jarrett, Matt, Brittany and I dropped in to Pierre lakes basin and hung a right to save elevation as we did a dropping traverse to the base of Secret Chute (the route most skiers are using, which leads up to and down from the upper end of the knife ridge, thus avoiding the knife ridge, which is usually not skiable). The sun was shining but the wind was constant as well.
We made solid time up the first part of the couloir to where it narrows at the top. At this point it was my turn to make myself useful. Jarrett, Brittany, and Matt got themselves as comfortable as possible and I tied into the sharp end of the rope. I started out with no belay to make sure that if I fell, I would be the only one. Halfway up the couloir I found a cordelette with a rap ring on it. It looked to be in good repair, so I threw a draw on it, and Matt put me on belay. Soon enough I was far enough past it to know that I would fall past my partners if I fell, and so I kept telling myself “you aren’t allowed to fall.” Which is a good motto to have in the mountains anyway. Reaching the top of the chute there was about a five foot wall of snow to negotiate. Interesting climbing to say the least, I must have chopped out no less than a cubic meter of snow to make it climbable, and in the end it was still an axe belayed belly flop on to the top of it. I set up the belay and brought everyone up.
Jarrett and Brittany came up and continued up the ridge. Jarrett was energized and charging. Matt was the last to come up from the Secret Chute and continued on as I cleaned up the rope and gear. Matt quickly caught Jarrett and the two of them broke off into a climbing team setting the track up. I found Brittany sitting a short way up the ridge and she informed me that she thought she would feel better being tied in for the rest of the climb. Well…that’s why we hauled the 70 meter up I guess eh? I left her end of the rope tied into an ice axe in the snow (not for protection for me, I just didn’t want it tied to her in case I did something dumb.) I led a pitch to the end of the rope and looked around. Nothing….no slingable rocks, no cracks to use my cams in, nothing… Then I remembered how useful a T-slot anchor can be with skis. I had plenty of consolidated snow where I was. I dug a quick trench for them to fit into, girth-hitched them and dug the slot for the rope. I yanked on it to make sure, not even a budge, I yanked again and they felt great. I told Brittany to tie in and brought her up. We repeated this process 3 times total to gain the summit ridge.
The flat summit ridge is not the easiest thing in the world to protect from a rope standpoint, but Brittany didn’t need it anyway…even if she thought she did. We found ourselves on the summit in no time.
We didn’t spend much time on the summit–just enough time for her to sign the register and we turned around to follow Matt and Jarrett back over to the east face, where everyone “dropped in.”
As most people know, getting Capitol from the summit mostly involves a big exposed ski traverse, so that’s what we did.
Still, a few turns were had.
We made it to the top of the couloir.
We climbed up the One in a million chute and skied/ walked out. We arrived at Jarrett and Brittany’s bivy and said our farewells. Matt and I boogied on out to the trailhead where Caleb was still sleeping, and it was off to Whitehouse Pizza in Carbondale for some much needed pizza and beer followed by a massive sleep session.
Jordan White is a strong alpinist who finished skiing all 54 Colorado 14,000 foot peaks in 2009. He guides, tends bar, and lives the all-around perfect life in Aspen.