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Pirating Routes Off Capitol Peak, Colorado

Ski trio bags first descent off the North Face of a Colorado 14er in the Elk Mountains

Colter Hinchliffe, Jordan White, and Riley Soderquist tackled a first descent off Capitol Peak—located in the Elk Mountains of Colorado on June 4. The line—a north-facing sliver of snow through several cliff bands—descended from the 14,131-foot summit and was the second first descent for Hinchliffe and White on the iconic Coloradan peak. The very fact that this line had not been skied yet speaks to how nasty it is. “It is the most direct approach to the North Face and was the most exposed and high-consequence line I’ve ever done,” says Hinchliffe, who grew up staring at Capitol Peak and the Elk Mountains, a range which includes some of Colorado’s steepest and most aesthetic 14ers. Read on for insight from Hinchliffe about the line, its challenges, and the snowy month of May in the Centennial State.

We had to wait a while for the snow and weather to be just right, but eventually in early June things were looking good.

We were mostly concerned about the top of the line. It looked like thin snow atop slabby rock, on very steep terrain, with a small cliff interrupting any chance of reaching a slightly mellower slope below without rappelling.

This was my second first descent on Capitol Peak. The first time was a slightly less intense line but equally committing. The first was down the north face as well, a route we named The Plank due to the huge cliff at the end of it. Both times I partnered with Jordan White, a Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteer who holds the record for the youngest person to ski all 54 of Colorado’s 14ers. I have to give Jordan a ton of credit for the vision of the line, as well as his confidence and partnership to ski something so big.

We left at midnight from the trailhead, one day from the full moon. It was stunning. The day prior, we cached our gear three miles in on the dry trail. We reached K2, the subpeak that connects to the summit of Capitol at sunrise. I love this portion of the climb, all the tiredness and monotony of the skin track fades as you step onto the knife ridge and become fully engaged.

As we came to the summit it became clear that our original traverse onto the steep upper section of the face was not a good idea. It was steeper and thinner than we had hoped and riddled with mini spines. Our second objective was off the west side of the mountain and had a large rappel quickly off the summit, but that also looked like shit. We went back to the original line and found a big rock that we felt comfortable rappelling past our initial concerns, and we went for it.

As I made my transition from skiing to the final rappel, I fumbled my ski and watched it cascade off the 400-foot cliff below me. I no longer needed the ski for the steep section of skiing so I wasn’t too bummed. We ended up having to build another anchor since our ropes ran out, and still were not sure if the ropes were on the snow. Just before the rappel went free-hanging, I saw both ends on the ground and gave a shout of joy up to my partners, then a rock whizzed by my head and I realized it wasn’t time to celebrate yet

I found my ski not far below the last rappel. It was damaged but skiable. We enjoyed awesome corn snow down towards Capitol Lake and celebrated, naming the line ‘Peg Leg,’ partly because it was right next to ‘The Plank’ and to make light of my ski fumble.