Peak(s):  Cathedral Pk A  -  13,943 feet
Date Posted:  06/10/2007
Modified:  06/12/2007
Date Climbed:   06/09/2007
Author:  Yog
 Cathedral Peak  

Cathedral Peak
From Cathedral TH @ 9,800 ft - 9.5 miles. 4,063 ft elevation gain

After getting some good beta regarding the couloir conditions of Cathedral Peak, one of my climbing buddies Steve & I decided to go for it. We left Denver around 3:00 pm on Friday, June 8. After hitting traffic both in Denver & on I-70 before the Eisenhower tunnel, we arrived at the trailhead at about 6:30pm. Our plan was to backpack up to Cathedral Lake at 11, 866 ft where we would spend the night. We made haste up this trail in order to reach our camp site before darkness overtook us. I wore some trail-running shoes thinking that I might be lighter on my feet because of it. My boots were tucked into my backpack, making it a bit heavier than it should have been. We started the trail at about 7:00pm and made it to our camp at about 8:30. As we began to set up camp, I was rooting through my pack for my headlamp. How could it not be there? I recalled that I specifically placed it where it might be easily accessible, but it was not there. Steve came over with his headlamp and rooted through my bag's pockets as well, but it was to no avail. So I began setting up my tent with the aid of one of Steve's glow-sticks, all the while mentally chiding myself for failing to pack such an essential item. I decided to grab some gum before we went to filter water, where, lo & behold, I found my headlamp. In the same pouch I'd already checked three times! With a triumphant whoop, my spirits were much lifted and we headed off to filter water, eat dinner, and hit the rocks beneath our tents... er, I mean sleep luxuriously!

We awoke at pre-dawn where I promptly began brewing tea for us and nibbled at some food. We set out at roughly 6:00 am. The snow was nice and frozen, but it was warming quickly as we approached the Cathedral basin. We came around a cliff of rocky, crumbling towers and had a magnificent view of our future.

Steve became excited about the direct couloir up Cathedrals south face, topping out just south-west of the summit. I was not sure about this couloir since I thought I recalled reading that it hits 50 degrees in some places, and neither of us had protection for that sort of climbing. There was also a choke point about halfway up the couloir that looked a bit grim. The snow had melted out and there was what appeared to be either a large boulder or melted out cliff section in the middle of the couloir. As we approached, the perspective changed and we began to see options to bypass this choke point on some snow that fingered around to the south-west. It was still iffy from this vantage point, but it looked fun!

We had a choice to take this route, or the more standard route more to the south which leads to Cathedrals south ridge. We opted for the direct route up the south face, and began putting on our gear. Throughout our travel in this basin, we kept hearing rocks falling. At this point in our journey, we were not only hearing the falling rocks cracking against other stones, but we were seeing them shoot down the couloir we wanted to take. Other times we would not see the rock, but hear it as it zipped past us. There were tracks and rock litter everywhere one looked. I found this one particularly interesting!

A quite un-nerving sound these flying rocks were; much akin to an overgrown bumble-bee trying to break speed records at close range. After about 10 minutes of talking, putting on our gear, and counting at least six rocks whizzing by, we opted for the standard route.

We traversed the snowfield and began our ascent. The rock fall was still prevalent here, but not to the same degree as our first proposed route. We climbed the right couloir, shown below

As I reached the main chute, it was warming up considerably. The snow was softening and I was broiling. So I detoured over to the climbers left, where I took off some layers on a rocky outcropping. Getting back onto the snow in the couloir, my first step sunk me down to my waist. I was a bit disconcerted by this, but crawled out, edged nearer the middle of the couloir where I was met with firm snow. I knew we needed to make haste to top out before it came too soft. I had visions of wallowing in "slurpee-snow", much like Mt Missouri a few weeks prior. We really wanted to avoid those conditions, especially in a steep couloir.

Upwards we climbed, the top getting nearer with every step.

We made our way up to the top of the couloir

and were greeted by magnificent views of Castleabra, the southern Bell, Pyramid ridge, Snowmass, and Capitol.

From here, it was a straight shot of scrambling along the windy ridge to the summit. Steve chose to do some scrambling

while I stayed true to my love of snow & ice and traversed north-east along some snowfields & scree so that I could top out using one of the upper snow-filled couloirs.

Here is the view from near the top of the 1st proposed route up Cathedral that we bailed on due to falling rock.

A short while later we were on the summit;

basking in the views of one of my favorite mountain ranges. We had the whole place to ourselves, and it truly magical! Left highest point to right - Castle, Conundrum, Castleabra

This is one of the reasons I love the more obscure peaks; just us and nature. After the obligatory summit shots and summit meal, Steve mentioned that we are only half-way through this climb. We had debated the traverse to Electric Pass,

but the clouds were building fast and the bailouts on the crumbly ridge leading to Electric looked pretty nasty. We decided to descend our route.

This ended up in some white-knuckle, face-in down climbing. The snow was less than ideal. I would slide down a bit even when my boot was kicked in. I had a slight misadventure at one point when I was side-stepping down; the ledge I kicked in for a step slid, and at the same time, so did my other foot! I could not believe the velocity I gained almost immediately. As I flipped onto my stomach, I had a daunting vision of flipping up and over back-wards because of digging my cramponed feet into the snow while self-arresting. I bent my knees to bring my crampon points off the snow and dug in like an Alabama tick! I was able to self-arrest a heart-pounding ten feet later. Sometime after that, I resumed breathing and yelled up to Steve that the snow was really crappy and to please be really careful. He said he would be and was a little freaked out himself after seeing what just happened to me. This slop we were on was pretty nasty. I alternated from face-in down climbing to side-stepping, depending on the steepness and my pucker factor, and made my way down.

Finally I was down and stopped to once again strip off layers and observe Steve's downward progress. When we met back up, we both mentioned that it was one of the most intense descents either of us had ever made. After he made it down, we glissaded down the basin as far as we could, then we post-holed and talus-skipped down to our camp.

It was a fantastic trip, probably ranks as one of my favorite 13ers, but there are really too many good ones to choose from! The couloir we took will probably be in for a few weeks, but of course, start early!

 Comments or Questions

11/30/2010 17:20
That snow looked like some I'd seen in late March in Jackson Hole. That looked like some wet stuff. Great pics, it looked like a great day!


06/11/2007 00:35
I wish we could have waved to you too! Nice pics and great job, Mark. While I needed Conundrum, a little part of me wanted to get Cathedral too! Have you done ”Castleabra” yet? Drop me a line if you go!


In your footsteps
06/11/2007 02:00
We hit up Cathedral today (Sunday). It was a great climb and my first major snow route. We had GREAT conditions up and pretty good down, though the coulouir is pretty runneled already. Great job on the peak and the TR! One of my partners tried to ski it, he said it was his worst backcountry descent ever. More of a controlled slide than a ski...


06/12/2007 16:15
This route is now in my sights due to this report... Incredible!


08/28/2008 00:37
for the great comments I enjoyed writing this one up, it was a splendid outing!


sounds like...
06/12/2007 23:59
a great trip. That couloir looks delicious and cathedral looks like such an awesome mountain. Glad you guys made it down safe.


Nice Write-UP
06/15/2007 04:56
I enjoyed climbing that peak with you, great pics and a well written report. 8)

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