By Jeff Todd
PITKIN COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – “I need help.” That’s all Joe Seeds texted to a friend when he was lost and out of options near the 14,130 foot summit of Capitol Peak.
A volunteer from Mountain Rescue Aspen and a Blackhawk helicopter out of the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site helped get Seeds off the mountain, preventing him from becoming the sixth fatality on the peak this year.
“One mistake will kill you on that mountain. That’s why I waited so long for that mountain because I knew exactly how dangerous it was,” said Seeds. “You’ve got 1,000 foot drops on either side of the knife edge.”
Seeds recalled the five hikers who died while on the peak.
“Yes, it’s solid rock but I think those people, whatever they did, whether they panicked or just made a wrong choice, it happened,” said Seeds.
Seeds is a very experienced climber, having completed 48 14ers.
He even waited all summer long to climb Capitol under ideal weather conditions.
The mountain is largely made up of loose rock and boulders perched precariously on very steep slopes and the void of a well-defined trail got the better of him.
Seeds crossed the infamous Knife’s Edge and summitted. On his way back down he lost the trail trying to skirt around the K2 peak.
“I had gotten off a trail,” he said. “I just backtracked up, I couldn’t go directly up because of the rock formations and the unstable rock. Got to the point where it was just physical exhaustion.”
Seeds had plenty of water, food, and had proper mountaineering equipment, but without being able to find the correct route down, he texted for help.
He crossed the knife’s edge a total of three times.
“When they hear a story like mine, they want to hear it because I’m the one that survived and the other five didn’t,” Seeds said about his conversation with rescue crews.
“They were like ‘you actually knew what you were doing you made a wrong decision for a minute but you fixed it,’” said Seeds.
He wants people to know about his story, and the confusing wrong trail around K2, so he can help other people on what’s considered Colorado’s most difficult summit.
“These mountains are dangerous, I mean, you got to know what you’re getting into,” Seeds said. “Start on class ones and class twos and then when you start hitting 20-25 (summits), start doing class threes, don’t do class fours until you’ve done your homework.”
Seeds says he’s going to attempt another summit and descent of Capitol Peak.
He’s hoping the same volunteer who helped rescue him will be his hiking partner next time.
“It is considered one of the most technical and difficult 14ers in Colorado and dangerous and if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into you shouldn’t be on that mountain,” Seeds said.
Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he’s been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.