Type: Trad, Alpine, 2000 ft, 13 pitches, Grade IV
FA: unknown
Page Views: 15,795 total · 83/month
Shared By: Julian Smith on Jul 4, 2003
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

18 Opinions

Your To-Do List:

Add To-Do · View List

Your Star Rating:

     Clear Rating

Your Difficulty Rating:

-none- Change

Your Ticks:

Add New Tick


The Northwest Buttress is a fantastic journey up a crack system that turns into a steep arete going up the north face of Capitol Peak. It is among the best of the technical routes to be found in the Elk Mountains, but it still has loose rock in some places. From Capitol Lake, continue south around the lake on a pack trail to Capitol Pass at 12,080. From the pass, work up talus to the southeast or left until the bottom of the face is reached. Traverse left for 30 feet to the beginning of an obvious crack system that leads to a chimney. Fixed gear may be visible.

Pitch 1 - Climb a finger crack that ends with a traverse left to a roof. Crank through the roof to gain a stance. From the stance, clip the old fixed bolt, and climb into a crack system that begins almost horizontal and arches up and to the left. This section is wide. From the top of the crack, crank through another small roof to a stance. Jam the off-finger crack (crux) above the stance to a belay of fixed slings beneath the chimney. 5.9.

Pitch 2 - Get into the chimney with a hard move and continue up to the end of the chimney on a slab. Belay at an anchor of fixed slings. Be careful of loose rock on this pitch. 5.8.

Pitch 3 through 5 - Scramble or simul-climb a low angled slab and gully system for 400 feet to the base of the Unicorn Spire. Through an easy, but obscure line, climb past the Unicorn Spire on the right and continue up and right past a rotten spire to regain the crest of the arete.

Pitch 6 through 10 - Climb the steep arete for several pitches to gain a small saddle on the ridge proper.

Pitch 10 to 13 - From a fixed piton belay at the end of the saddle, climb a crack system up to a very loose roof. Crank through the roof and go up and right. We belayed from a fixed piton. Continue up over slabs to the summit.

The Knife Edge Ridge is the descent route. It is a good idea if someone in the party is familiar with the descent. It is long and complex. The Northwest Buttress route is very committing. After climbing the 1st 2 pitches, you are pretty committed to climbing the whole thing and coming back down the other side. Use Lou Dawson's guide as a reference with a topo. Roach also gives a good description, but has no topo. The route gets sun hit fairly early, with the bottom of the face getting the sun the latest.


Take a light alpine rack and a bigger piece, maybe a number 4 Camalot for the 1st pitch.
jayci Ferrimani
jayci Ferrimani   Flagstaff
I want to hit this route next summer. If anyone could give some pointers or a heads up for what to look out for, that would be awsome, thanks.jayci Nov 30, 2003
Wear a helmet. Feb 25, 2004
Matt Juth
Matt Juth   Evergreen
If the wind is roughing up your tent in the morning from the pass.... Don't bother hiking to the base. Do the Knife Edge and go home! Sep 15, 2004
K Trout
Golden, Colorado
K Trout   Golden, Colorado
Capitol's NW Buttress is one or maybe two stars. A beautiful sight, like Mt Morrison in the Sierras, but too rotten.

7/12/2008: The summit and descent on Capitol are really cool too. It's good.

Jul 24, 2006
Julian Smith
Colorado Springs, CO
Julian Smith   Colorado Springs, CO
That's a fair assessment Ken is making. The mountain/route is very characteristic of the Elk Mtns... as in it is loose... however, different strokes for different folks. Thankfully, where the route is hardest is also where the rock is the best, on the first pitch that is. Jul 24, 2006
BJ Sbarra
Carbondale, CO
BJ Sbarra   Carbondale, CO
This route is great fun, as long as you can handle the choss. The first pitch would be classic at most any crag. After that, expect some loose but easy climbing. We simuled everything but the first pitch and the 5.7 roof pitch up high. This is a good mountaineering route in the Elks, and you'll most likely have fun if you look at it as such.

A friend did a route on the southeast side of the mountain that he said followed good rock the whole way, but I don't have any further details. Jul 12, 2007
Peter Yakovchuk
Tempe, AZ
Peter Yakovchuk   Tempe, AZ
You don't need a #4 Camalot on this route, unless you want to carry extra weight. the wide section is easy, and, anyway, it is too wide for #4. Aug 27, 2007
Mike McKinnon
Golden, CO
Mike McKinnon   Golden, CO
Just did this route this weekend. The first 2 pitches are wet, really wet water running down the 9 crack at the top of p1 and water gushing out of the chimmney.

With that said, what a route. It is long, loose and chossy. It just keeps going and going. We had snow on every pitch, loose rock everywhere.

This route is not for the faint of heart. Every pitch is S and some are VS all 5.6 and above. The descent would be hell for a party that did not know it and could be consdered the hardest part of the route:).

There is no one route of this buttress. Just use your route finding skills and try to keep the easiest and cleanest line. Simul-climbing could be done on some of the pitches but we opt-ed not to for safety reasons. Simulclimbing with no gear in between you since all gear is in choss and nothing is really bomber is not a good recipe for safety - you mine as well just each solo it. On average, I would say I got 2-3 bomber pieces in each pitch and 4-6 so so pieces.

Do not take this route or this mountain lightly. But if you are prepared - it is quite the accomplishment. Aug 3, 2009
J. Albers
J. Albers   Colorado
I was about to disagree with Michael about the 'R' rating, but...I do remember climbing a bit of loose choss where I am not so sure gear would have held. That said, most of the loose stuff is on terrain that is pretty darn easy, and you should be able to carefully (and safely) dance your way up stuff.

I would disagree that overall the gear was not good. Except for the 4th class section (maybe 400 feet or so) right after the crux opening pitches and maybe a 50 foot section (mentioned above) getting onto the ridge proper in the middle of the climb, the gear is pretty good. I never had problems finding good gear and good anchors. If some of those pitches were at the crag, then sure they would get an 'R' rating, but this is the mountains (The Elks for that matter) which kinda implies that you have to watch what you touch, though this route does have WAY more crap rock than up in the Park.

The first couple of pitches, a couple in the middle, and the final headwall (i.e. all of the parts with any real technical climbing) are solid enough. Everywhere else is definitely scary loose choss (some of it BIG). Two stars because the line is so compelling and combined with the great descent makes for a great outing, just don't expect a clean climb (if it was, I would give it 4 stars). Aug 27, 2009
Mike McKinnon
Golden, CO
Mike McKinnon   Golden, CO
I would only submit that just because the climbing is easy does not mean it is not 's'. I never had problems finding gear either but it was because as you stated the climbing is really easy for the most part. I did not stop to look around and only took what was staring at me in the face.

My post was simply meant to warn people that were hoping to climb this route where 9 was their limit and who were not comfortable running it out on 7s. I see more and more of these type of people in the mountains everyday. "Oh, I climb 5.10 at the sport park, let's go do NW Butress, it's only 5.9" :) Sep 8, 2009
Tim Stich
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Tim Stich   Colorado Springs, Colorado
Dawson's 14er guide has a useful topo for the route. As described, you ascend the 4th class ramp to the right of the Unicorn Tower and then continue up more ramps down and below it to get higher. This side of the buttress has very steep cliffs and an arete. You can penetrate the arete at several points via low 5th class climbing from the ramp.

Echoing Michael's comments about the rating, it is a very psychologically demanding route with the loose rock and seeping water. Jul 25, 2010
Good memory, Max - I remember that day well. That was the first time I had the strange, stinging taste of metal and copper in my mouth. We were lucky, no doubt.

I remember the bottom 2 or 3 pitches as being the best quality climbing on the wall, some traversing 5.9 hand cracks? Anyway, that was a great day, for sure. Apr 8, 2011
Tim Stich
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Tim Stich   Colorado Springs, Colorado
Do you guys have any idea where the rock peeled off from? Jun 8, 2011
coop Best
Glenwood Springs, CO
coop Best   Glenwood Springs, CO
Anybody been up this summer yet? Jul 21, 2011
So, I've never been on this route. Looking for beta for a January or February ascent. Do any of you guys who have already climbed it have any thoughts on how it would be with big boots and ice tools? Jan 24, 2012

The main thing I remember from doing it ('98 or so) was that it was loose, on-the-fly sort of climbing. We had a rope get chopped by falling rock. I'm not sure if snow would help keep it together better, or if it would just prevent you from being able to see landmines. If you haven't done the route before (as well as the descent), it might be a good idea to do them both in good conditions and make some mental notes.

My gut feel is that it would be pretty hairy. Jan 25, 2012
Santa Monica, Ca.
YDPL8S   Santa Monica, Ca.
Yeah, I agree with the above ^^^^^+++

I'm also thinking that the approach could be epic, that's a pretty long ways in. I'm imagining breaking trail, whether on skis, shoes or postholing could be an arduous task, and then the real fun begins! (guess I'm just an old wimp) Jan 25, 2012

I almost commented on the aproach, but I didn't want to admit to myself how out of shape I am these days when it comes to approaching something, but yeah, it would probably be pretty rugged. Jan 25, 2012

Old roomate here:) I have been wanting to do a winter ascent of this for some time. Let me know if you need a partner. I just climbed it this summer and have a good memory of it all. Climbing wouldn't be tooooo bad. Pro was limited on everything above the first two pitches which could prove exciting with crampons on but never harder than 5.6-5.7 so.... Descent could be the most exciting and time consuming part. Approach would be long, even on light skis, and dangerous as you cross a few avalanche paths. Timing is everything! I believe Mike Kennedy did this in Winter once and might be a good source of info. A fair bit of logistics. In a day????? :) Jan 25, 2012
Hey Ryan- Good to hear from you! Hell no, not in a day. You must be in great shape these days.
Thanks for the beta. Since I've never been up there, it sounds like a good idea to get up there together - onsighting the walk off will probably be an adventure. I already floated the idea with one buddy (another old roommie from the Gillaspie days- remember Steve?), but if he bails, I'll letcha know. Are you around Boulder? For some reason, I thought you were in Jackson.
Do y'all think the approach will be fairly obvious without a packed trail? Jan 27, 2012
Yeah, definitely remember Steve. Those were the days:) I'm in Carbondale now. There are actually a few approach options. Two different trails up the valley to the lake and another approach from the Snowmass ski area side that comes up to the ridge of K2 then drops into the lake. This second option may be better in winter, since it get's more travel typically. This year is a fluke with the snow conditions, and not many folks are venturing out due to danger. Up the Valley to the lake would require skiing first to the summer parking lot then heading out of the lot on the "Ditch trail" at the high end of the parking lot. This trail traverses the right side of the valley eventually dropping in. You'd probably just pick the path of least resistance and avy danger. Would be a bit hard to do in the dark if you've never been there but otherwise obvious. Doubt there would be much of a "trail" anywhere. Email me for phone number if you wanna talk. Feb 2, 2012
Ryan- I know winter's almost over, but if you still think you might be into this, shoot me an email. Brian@magnoliabuilding.net. Mar 8, 2012
Rob Griz
Rob Griz   Frisco
Great first pitch with massive, hollow flakes. Amazing that they are somehow glued to the wall. Wet chimney 2nd pitch, unroped running to the headwall and a great simul to the summit. Funny wearing a helmet as most of the stuff that could come loose would rip off limbs or crush you. Car 2 car in 10hrs. Forget the #4 cam, keep the rack light and the rope short (50m 8mm). Fun alpine adventure! Aug 8, 2013
Kyle Broxterman
Jackson, WY
  5.9 PG13
Kyle Broxterman   Jackson, WY
  5.9 PG13
Just completed this route with Joshua Kasumovic on Sunday 8/13/17. We started at the base of the climb at 7:30am, definitely later than we would have liked.

Pitch 1: (5.9) fun, fun climbing with the crux being in the small cracks, too small for my big hands. I found it better to lieback the horizontal section without any gear, than try to plug a large cam.

Pitch 2: (5.8) Step up and over a ledge away from the belay into the chimney system. Easy fun climbing here, beware of some loose rocks but nothing extremely concerning.

From the top of the second pitch to the ridgeline, we simuled for about 400ft (easy 5.0-5.6) then decided to pitch out the rest. We stayed to the left of the Unicorn Spire, lots of options just look for the easiest way up.

Once on the ridge it was 3 pitches of 5.7 to the top of rotten spire. Fun, exposed climbing with great gear placements.

Once on the top of rotten spire, we simuled the ridge (5.0, 4th class) to the base of the final face. We broke the final face into 2 pitches. First pitch started with the piton and then headed up towards the rotten roof, using nuts in the small cracks for pro.

Once at the roof, be very careful of loose rocks here. Your belayer is directly underneath you at this point, so any rockfall could cause some serious problems. Pull the roof up and right, then head up and left to a prominent boulder, belay around the left side of this boulder in a vertical crack, #1, #2, #3 cams.

From here, continue up and left and then up and right towards the summit. We ended about 25ft. short of the summit and soloed the rest. Summit time was 5:30pm. We got extremely lucky with weather. Aug 15, 2017
FYI, Kennedy did this twice in winter - first with Chris Landry, I think in '71 and again with Lou Dawson via a different variation (Early Times?) in '72. Nov 30, 2017
I really enjoyed this route! Wrote a TR here: brandonandkristine.com/colo… Oct 18, 2018