Capitol Peak is notorious among the Colorado fourteeners for being the most difficult of the fifty-eight peaks to ascend. The challenges on this mountain abound. There’s a long, 8.5 mile approach hike requiring backpacking skills. The rock is loose and rotten, making rockfall risk significant. And then there’s the infamous Knife’s Edge ridge between Capitol Peak and K2. This mountain has taken many lives over the past several decades. Do not attempt climb Capitol Peak without serious preparation and a lot of scrambling and climbing experience. Get started with your planning below at your own peril with my route guide.
Climbing Capitol Peak: Fast Facts
CAUTION: This Route is Hazardous!
You are responsible for your personal safety in the backcountry.
These peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear.
Climbing Capitol Peak - Northeast Ridge
NOTE: Capitol Peak is the most difficult and dangerous Colorado 14er. Do not attempt climbing Capitol Peak without proper planning, a partner, helmet, and experience.
I recommend reviewing the route info and pictures on 14ers.com here. It is the best place to get route information for this difficult and dangerous peak.
Good luck climbing Capitol Peak, and safe travels on the trail!
It’s critically important to have a good topographic map of the route with you while climbing Capitol Peak. Download it on your phone and print out a paper copy so that you have a spare just in case anything goes wrong. Click on the map below to view it larger.
Capitol Peak is the real deal. You cannot afford to slip and fall along this seriously exposed route. A good pair of hiking boots is a necessity for a safe and successful ascent. Here are my top hiking boot recommendations.
You should always bring the ten essentials with you on your trip (see the infographic below). This is especially true on a dangerous peak like Capitol Peak. Most people backpack in to this peak, so you will need a tent, sleeping bag, and stove. To carry this all, bring a backpack with 50-70 liters capacity. These are several good backpack options that won’t break the bank.
While trekking poles are not a necessity for those climbing Capitol Peak, I use them myself as they offer many benefits and make hiking easier. If you want a pair, I share my personal favorites here.
Don’t forget to bring 2 liters of water and a filter or purification tablets, and a good bit of snacks and food for the trail. Learn more about packing for a 14er here.
Climbing Capitiol Peak is very dangerous. It’s a good idea to give yourself more time to acclimate by staying nearby the trailhead for 1-2 nights before you begin. Here are some options to choose from.
Camping near Capitol Peak:
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those climbing Capitol Peak. Note that camping is not allowed at the trailhead. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.
Lodging near Capitol Peak:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Aspen and the surrounding area, ideal for those climbing Capitol Peak.
Capitol Peak is one of the few 14er areas to have largely avoided overcrowding, due to the long approach hike serious class 4 risk. Help maintain the wilderness nature of this beautiful area by following these critically important Leave No Trace practices while climbing Capitol Peak:
- Plan ahead, review the route and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
- Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
- Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
- Urinate off-trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
- Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
- Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.
Safe travels, and good luck climbing Longs Peak! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
Capitol Peak was named by early explorers who thought its soaring face was reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol building. It is the most difficult Colorado 14er to ascend due to a long approach hike, serious exposure, and horrible, loose rock that collapses around you. Making it to the summit of this dangerous mountain is a significant achievement in and of itself.
Many have died while climbing Capitol Peak, especially during their descent. One gully, in particular, has claimed several lives, tricking climbers into thinking it leads them quickly back to camp. They end up cliffed out, with loose, gravel-like scree above them that makes it impossible to escape. Stick to the standard route – there are no shortcuts for those climbing Capitol Peak.
The most infamous section of the route is known as the ‘Knife’s Edge,’ a seriously exposed blade of rock with 1,500 foot drop-offs on either side. While this is the most well known part of the climb, the actually most dangerous part of climbing Capitol Peak comes on the final ascent up the ridge. Loose, rotten rock is everywhere, making it very difficult to reach the summit. This is by far the mostt difficult part of climbing Capitiol Peak.
Climbing Capitol Peak is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
Climbing Capitol Peak is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.
The Capitol Lake area is growing in popular and recently instituted a permit system in order to mitigate visitor impact. You can camp near the start of the summit trail at designated campsites near Capitol Lake. If staying overnight at Capitol Lake near the summit trailhead, advance reservation overnight permits are required and must be purchased in advance at recreation.gov. Approved bear food storage containers are also required and strictly enforced. For more information, see here.