RT Length: 9.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4416
This was my second attempt to summit Cathedral Peak this year. The first time was back in April when I had to turn around due to avy debris I was unable to navigate in the dark. I’d read a recent conditions report stating there was now a path around the avy debris and decided to attempt Cathedral Peak on my next free day.
My sleeping schedule is currently all messed up. I’d woken up at 2pm, took my daughter to the art museum, and then left my house at 9:30pm to make it to the trailhead by 2am. I wanted to get an early start on this one because of the potential thunderstorms later in the day, but mostly because I was worried the snow in the couloir would soften up early in the sunlight.
The trailhead had room for plenty of vehicles. When I arrived, there were 4 or 5 cars in the lot, but when I left there were dozens, all lined up on the side of the road. Also, apologies to the man I woke up who was trying to sleep in his vehicle: apparently my trucks headlights were too bright. I was on the trail at 2:10am.
The trail starts off meandering through an aspen grove. Last time I was here this had been covered in 3-4 feet of snow and I’d missed the sign…
I made it to the avy debris area after about a mile and a half of hiking. When I was here last I couldn’t see the top of the downed trees; they were supported by a huge layer of ice that was at least twice as tall as I am. Today the area was much more manageable to navigate.
Next I followed the side of the mountain up some switchbacks on an obvious trail. Side note: Beargrass (the tall plant with lots of tiny white flowers) looks scary in the dark; kind of like children waiting for you silently in the night. I like to keep my flashlight directly in front of me to keep myself from freaking out.
Once again, the trail is easy to follow. Here’s a look back at the trail
I stayed left at this junction on the way in (but on the way out ended up coming back down the Electric Pass trail and rejoining the trail here)
The most difficult route finding occurred here, before the lake. I knew I could pass the lake on either side but due to a creek crossing I didn’t want to take I navigated to the north. I was told there was a miners trail here, but was unable to locate it in the dark. I lost half an hour going up and down the trail, looking for the offshoot and was unsuccessful (although I did find a lot of trails that went in other directions). Finally, I decided to just head northwest through the willows. This sounds easy enough, but the willows here were several feet taller than I am. I just turned my trekking pole parallel to the ground and held it out in front of me while I bushwhacked across them. I only got hit in the face a few times (and had a swollen upper lip the rest of the day to prove it). The good news is I made it across, and the willows were no worse for the wear. On my way back I could see the miners trail in the daylight (more on this later). Here’s the route I took through the willows and across the creek (which was small enough I could jump across here without getting my boots wet).
Next I rounded Cathedral’s east ridge and found a well cairned trail that led me into the basin
This trail brought me above Cathedral Lake
This route was well cairned, and the talus was terrible. I got to be the first to experience the spider webs this morning. Tons of fun in the dark! Second only to phantom children.
Once in the basin you can see the route up the access gully. Today the basin was half filled with snow and I couldn’t help but think how much easier it would have been to traverse if it had all just been snow.
In the morning I didn’t need snowshoes. I made it to the base of the access gully at 5:25am and put on my crampons and helmet and got out my ice axe and garden tool (that tool’s really coming in helpful, but I may just break down and buy another full ice axe). This is steeper than it looks, but luckily it ‘went’ all the way to the ridge
Here’s looking back at the basin
The snow was still really firm and I was unable to kick in steps but I was able to ascend with crampons and ice axe. I was glad to have both my ice axe and (garden) tool. I was about 30 feet from the top when I decided it was better to be on the left side of the gully rather than the right and started traversing sideways. About 4 steps in my crampon hit the ice sideways and my boot slipped out of the bindings. This was the worse possible place for this to happen: I was balanced on the side of the wall of ice, with one foot in front of the other (I wasn’t able to kick in steps here, and was balancing on a very small mound of frozen snow with my right toe pointed at my left heel, sideways). I needed to have an ice pick in the wall for balance or I was going to slide all the way down the gully. My pulse rate quickened as I realized the severity of the situation. Luckily I had two tools. I carefully balanced on the working crampon and tried to knock the other back into place with my ice axe. No dice, my crampon wasn’t going back over my toe by sheer force (as well it shouldn’t; I’d fastened it pretty tightly initially, and had no idea how it had been knocked loose from my boot). That meant I was going to have to untie the crampon and re-tie it with one hand while holding onto the ice with the other: Without losing my balance and sliding down a few hundred feet of ice. It took me a solid 10 minutes to gingerly untie and re-tie the crampon, but I was able to do so from where I was perched. I mentally praised my daily yoga routine for developing my balancing skills. Here’s where my crampon was knocked sideways
Ok, crampon back on I carefully hustled my way to the top of the gully, topping out at 6:09am, a little shaky as I looked back down.
From the top of the gully I turned right and noticed the rest of the route was snow free. Woot! I took off my crampons and put them in my pack. Time for some scrambling! On the way up I took a class 3-4 route up and over the ridge (solid line) on the way down I found the cairns and took the class 2+ route along the side of the towers (dotted line).
The last bit to the summit was easy
I summited at 6:40am (it took me half an hour from the top of the gully to summit).
Check it out! A summit marker!
Here’s a look back at the basin and my route up to the gully
Time to head back down. I made it back to the top of the gully and met 3 other climbers. We chatted for a bit. They said they’d kicked in steps on the way up to make their descent easier. It was 7:20am as I headed back down the gully. On my way up I’d forgotten to put on my gloves (it wasn’t cold) and my knuckles were a bit tore up, but that’s the best way to learn a lesson. Also, I wasn’t sure I’d have been able to untie and then re-tie my crampon with gloves on. At any rate, I was putting gloves on for my descent.
I turned, faced the gully, and began my descent. It was only just after 7am, but there was a huge difference from when I was climbing at 6am. The snow was quickly softening up. I was careful to either avoid the kicked in steps, or if I had to use them to make sure I only made them better, but the softening snow wasn’t making things easy. Sticking to the climbers left of the gully seemed the best way to go. About ¾ of the way down the snow was slush and I really just wanted to glissade the rest of the way (but didn’t because I was worried I’d mess up what was left of the kicked in steps).
Here’s the route once again
I actually took more time than necessary heading back down, and as soon as I could I switched out my crampons for snowshoes to exit the basin.
I met a man starting his climb up the gully and was worried for two reasons: #1, the three people I’d met at the top of the gully hadn’t yet began their descent, and #2, it was rather late in the day for someone to start their climb (the snow at this point was rubbish). I figured the trio up top must have decided to picnic at the summit and asked the current climber to look out for them. It was now 8:25am, and I knew I wouldn’t want to begin my descent at this time. I figured I’d timed it pretty well starting at 2am: it would have been perfect if I hadn’t spent half an hour lost in the willows.
Speaking of willows, I made my way back to the small creek crossing and in the light of day was able to locate the miners trail. I crossed the creek and headed up the slope, aiming at a small pine tree. From here I was able to follow a faint trail, which eventually led me to the Electric Pass Peak trail, which I took back to the junction with the Cathedral Lake trail.
On my way out I couldn’t help but think how dreadful this climb would have been with snow all the way up to the lake! I have no idea how I found my way so far the first time. Here’s a look at some of the avalanche debris
I made it back to my truck at 10:55am, making this a 9.5 mile hike with 4416’ in elevation gain in 8.5 hours. The hike felt longer than it was, most likely because much of the trek out was done in direct sunlight on the way out (no trees for shade).
Second Attempt for the Win!