Andrew Hamilton’s 1999 Attempt

Day 7 (September 3, 1999)

I knew I didn’t have time to climb Snowmass and Capitol, as my plan called for.  I was now one and a half days behind my schedule, only a half day ahead of the record.  I had to choose a mountain to climb.  I wanted to get Capitol Peak out of the way, it is regarded by many as the most difficult 14er.  It is a long hike at 17 miles roundtrip and climaxes with a class 4 climb across a knife-edge ridge, followed by a dangerous 500 feet of scrambling.  To make matters a little more interesting, the Elks had also just been hit with a snowstorm.

The drive from San Luis was long.  It was raining hard as we were moving through a major storm front.  Laura stopped in Hotchkiss, fed me a nice warm burrito, and asked me what I wanted to do.  I told her I wanted to do Capitol.  Then she told me that she heard on the radio that the storm was moving north, and could hit me when I was on Capitol.  I figured we would just have to go to the trailhead and see what the situation looked like from there.

As we drove up the Capitol Creek road, Laura was looking for a place to drop off the trailer, and we got in another fight about the trailer.  But we found a good place to drop it off.  Although the sun was shining, a recent storm had made the road slick and muddy.  When we were about a quarter of a mile from the trailhead, the truck started sliding off the road and slid far to the right and got stuck in the mud.  Laura stopped, not wanting to make the situation worse, and came to get me out of the back.  She was very upset, she understood how imperative it was that I get moving.  But now we were stuck in the mud.  I had chains in the back, and figured we would have to either put the chains on, or wait for someone who might be willing to help us out.  I hopped in the truck and tried backing up, but the wheels just started spinning.  I shifted back into first, and miraculously, the truck drove right on out of the mud.  Not wanting to lose my momentum, I left Laura behind and headed up the road.  I found a spot to wait for her, picked her up and we headed up to the trailhead.

The weather looked like it might hold, but I was worried about the storm front we had driven through.  My feet were hurting badly, but I didn’t want to mess with them too much so I taped up my bad toes, put on some new socks, then chose my driest pair of shoes.  I started up the trail at 1:38pm.

Some good news was that Shane and Natalie were going to be coming back tonight, and I was expecting them to be waiting for me when I got down from Capitol.  Also, my dad was driving in from Salt Lake City, and he was going to be there when I got back.  I was glad that Laura was going to have some help.  The support role was difficult, and I think one lesson I learned is that you should always have more that one support person at any given time.

The trail was in pretty poor shape for the first couple of miles.  Wet and muddy.  But soon my pace picked up and I was able to make good time.  The North Face of Capitol was very menacing as I approached.  It was laced with white.  I hoped the snow at the top would not make the technical stuff more difficult than it already was.  In three hours I made it to the summit of K2.  At this time a big storm passed just to the east, it looked like it hit the Maroon Bells pretty hard, but completely missed me.  I was happy for the good luck.  There was snow everywhere, but it was a thin layer of wet, heavy snow and actually made the scrambling easier by providing some traction.  It had already melted off the knife edge ridge so I made that with no difficulty.  I did the ascending traverse up to the summit with little difficulty because snow had helped cement in the normally loose rocks and dirt.

I made the summit at 5:38pm, and headed down.  I was relieved to be off the class 3 and 4 scrambling and back onto the trail by nightfall, and once I had gotten down the steep hillsides and down to tree line, I was able to make pretty good time.  I arrived at the trailhead around 10:00pm, found my mountain bike, and rode down to the parking lot where Laura was waiting for me.  I was disappointed to see that neither Shane and Natalie or my Dad were there yet, but I was happy that Laura had some food waiting for me.  Finally, a night of sleep.  Soon Shane, Leslie (Shane’s girlfriend) and Natalie arrived, and together we headed over to the Maroon Lake trailhead.  My dad was running late and would meet us there sometime in the night.