Facts About Capitol Peak

Climbing Colorado's 32nd Highest Mountain

Elevation: 14,137 feet (4,309 meters)
Prominence: 1,730 feet (527 meters). 107th most prominent peak in Colorado.
Location: Pitkin County, Elk Mountains, Colorado.
Coordinates: 39.09.01 N / 107.04.59 W
First Ascent: First ascent on August 22, 1909, by Percy Hagerman and Harold Clark.

Fast Facts About Capitol Peak

Capitol Peak, at 14,137 feet (4,309 meters) high, is the thirty-second highest mountain in Colorado and one of its 54 (or is it 55?) Fourteeners in the state. Capitol Peak has 1,730 feet (527 meters) of prominence, making it the 107th most prominent mountain in Colorado.

Located in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area

Capitol Peak is located on the western side of the Elk Mountains in the pristine 181,117-acre Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area west of Aspen. Besides Capitol Peak, the wilderness area boasts five other Fourteeners-Castle Peak, Pyramid Peak, Maroon Bells (North and South Maroon Peaks), and Snowmass Mountain. The area also includes over 100 miles of trails and nine passes over 12,000 feet high.

Named by the Hayden Survey

Capitol Peak was named in 1874 by members of the Hayden Survey for its resemblance of the United States Capitol Building in Washington D.C. Expedition member Henry Gannett said the stately peak's "prism-shaped top and precipitous sides forbid access" so they didn't attempt to climb it. Capitol and neighboring Snowmass Mountain were sometimes called "The Twins" as well as Capitol Peak and White House Peak.

1909: First Recorded Ascent of Capitol Peak

The first recorded ascent of Capitol Peak was by pioneer climbers Percy Hagerman from Colorado Springs and Aspen and Harold Clark, a lawyer from Aspen, on August 22 in 1909. The pair climbed the mountain by what is now the standard route up Capitol, including the famed Knife Edge, an exposed ridge that is usually crossed with legs straddling the edge and buttocks firmly planted atop it. Hagerman and Clark also climbed all the other major peaks in the Elk Range at that time, including the first known ascents of Pyramid Peak and North Maroon Peak as well as Capitol. The men used the old Hayden Survey report from 1873 and 1874 as their climbing guidebook. Hagerman Peak, a beautiful 13,841-foot mountain near Snowmass Mountain, is named for Percy Hagerman, while 13,570-foot Clarks Peak near Capitol Peak is named for Harold Clark.

Hagerman Describes the Knife Edge

Hagerman later wrote about the ascent and described the Knife Edge on Capitol Peak: "There are no difficulties until the crest of the ridge is reached two hours from the top. From this point on, the way is on or near the crest of the ridge and the climbing arduous. There are one rather sensational bit of about forty feet where the ridge is so sharp that one must get astride of it and move along with hands and knees. The drop on the north side here is something like 1,500 feet, not straight but appallingly steep and smooth.... Our route was doubtless the easiest. As far as we can learn no other party has ever been on Capitol Peak. There was no evidence on the summit of any previous ascent, and the peak was reputed to be unclimbable by the ranchmen living in its neighborhood." This quote comes from a book called Notes on Mountaineering in the Elk Mountains of Colorado, 1908-1910 by Percy Hagerman.

Most Difficult Colorado Fourteener

Capitol Peak is generally considered the most difficult of Colorado's Fourteeners or 14,000-foot mountains with lots of rock scrambling, loose rock, steep granite, and exposure. The infamous Knife Edge ridge section between K2 and Capitol Peak's summit not only inspires climbers with its beauty and exposure but also strikes fear into novice mountaineers.

Accidents and Deaths on Capitol Peak

A fall on parts of the Capitol Peak ascent, including the Knife Edge, will result in serious injury or death. At least seven climbers have died on Capitol Peak. The first was on July 25, 1957 when James Heckert lost control of a glissade and smashed into boulders. On August 9, 1992, 55-year-old Ronald Palmer fell over 1,000 feet down the West Face after slipping off the Knife Edge. In 1994 and 1997 climbers were killed by lightning strikes on the mountain. On July 10, 2009, James Flowers, an Olympic coach from Colorado Springs, died after a 500-foot fall on K2.

Normal Route up Northeast Ridge

Capitol Peak is normally climbed by its Northeast Ridge route, also called the Knife Edge Route, which in ideal weather conditions is a Class 3 scramble with minimal rock climbing. A rope is normally not needed. In bad weather, however, Capitol's regular route can be dangerous with slick rock and extreme danger from lightning. The route was first climbed in winter in January of 1966.

Climbing Capitol's North Face

Capitol Peak's sheer 1,800-foot-high North Face has long attracted climbers. Its first ascent was made in 1937 by Carl Blaurock, Elwyn Arps, and Harold Popham. The face was first climbed in winter by Aspen alpinists Fritz Stammberger and Gordon Whitmer after 11 cold hours of climbing on March 10, 1972. Stammberger, an Austrian extreme skier living in Aspen, made the first ski descents of nearby Pyramid Peak and the North Face of North Maroon Peak. He disappeared while solo climbing 25,260-foot Trich Mir in Pakistan in an attempt to ski the peak in 1975.

Capitol Peak Climbing Route Description

Want to climb Capitol Peak? Check out Climbing Capitol Peak: Route Description for Capitol Peak for a comprehensive description of finding the trailhead and climbing the mountain.