Ski mountaineering history continues to be made this spring, deep in the mountains of Colorado. On June 4, Colter Hinchliffe, Jordan White and Riley Soderquist completed a first descent on the north face of 14,131-foot Capitol Peak in Colorado’s Elk Mountains. The ascent required a 12 a.m. start time, a steep bootpack through punchy snow, smooth navigation over a knife-edge ridge and a final technical climb to the summit. The descent needed three separate rappels, utilizing rotten rock as anchor points and a “fall, you die” mentality. To put it bluntly, in addition to the climbing skills, skiing aptitude, awareness and teamwork, this objective required quite a bit of testicular fortitude for completion.
“You look over the side [of the ridge] and you’re like, ‘What did we do? We bit off so much here, how’re we going to get down?'” describes Hinchliffe.
The trek began a few days prior to June 4 with a reconnaissance flight around Capitol. The crew observed a route through the peak’s steepest, thinnest section that they believed they could ski. From there, following a softball game during the evening—they couldn’t disappoint the fans—the three left from the Capitol Lake Trailhead. They traveled light, stashing skis, boots and climbing gear three miles up trail the night before. Traveling by the light of the moon, they arrived at Capitol Lake around 3:30 a.m.
A short boot pack deposited them on the saddle separating Mount Daly and Capitol. From there they skinned up the basin to K2—the beginning of the technical ridge climbing to the summit of Capitol.
“As soon as we arrived at K2, the moon went down and the sun came up at the exact same time,” describes Hinchliffe. “It was a beautiful moment.”
A short while later, the three were atop Capitol Peak and contemplating their next move. After peering at their proposed route, Hinchliffe was less-than-optimistic about it. “I was like, ‘we’re not doing this, I’m not doing this. It does not look good,” he explains. “It just looked like a very, very sketchy traverse in.”
They gazed over the west face at another line, but found untrustworthy anchors and a fairly tame ski descent. They came back to the north face. “We found a big rock to rappel in off of, and kind of just took it from there,” details Hinchliffe.
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