Peak(s):  Cathedral Peak A  -  13,943 feet
Date Posted:  06/06/2012
Date Climbed:   06/03/2012
Author:  Matt
Additional Members:   KatieFinn, BobbyFinn, IHikeLikeAGirl
 Sunday at the Cathedral   

After a quick dumpster dive on an 8er in Aspen last Saturday, I headed back toward the roundabout, down the Castle Creek Road with the North Mississippi All Stars blaring out my windows at every neon-clad cyclist I passed. Indeed, I hoped the Lord would have mercy on our climbing party and give us good weather, solid snow, and a happy summit. Turns out, He did.
I pulled into the TH, and was happy to see a familiar vehicle, that of Bob and Kate Finn, who I knew were already camped near Cathedral Lake. As the music played, I got more and more pumped because Cathedral is a summit I've long looked forward to. Add in some great partners and things were looking really, really good. Quickly filling my pack with all the requisite overnight goods, I hit the trail around 5:15. Roach (get your cheap copies here) describes the Cathedral Lake trail as "steep and relentless in its 2000ft ascent." Maybe so, maybe not, but it's a gorgeous hike that goes by quickly when dry. Two weeks ago, when we came up for "Electric Pass Peak," the postholing sucked, but this time, there was no such suffering. I stopped to take this shot about halfway up.


I reached camp, set up my tent, and broke out the Deviant Dale's to savor around our diminutive campfire, fueled by about 50 handfuls of sticks. Bob and Kate recounted the crappy weather they'd had that day--first snow, then giant hail kept them in the tent instead of on the trail. The beers ran out just as the fire waned and rain started falling. I hit the sack after requesting a 5:00 a.m. wake up call from Bob. Before I knew what hit me, I heard Bob yelling at me to get up, but I convinced myself it was just a dream. I was wrong. Emerging from my tent, I stumbled out and met Valerie (Ihikelikeagirl) who'd set out from the TH before dawn to meet us. Not long after we said hello, this song became stuck in my head (alternating with George Thorogood, damn you Sam Adams commercials!) for most of the day. It could be worse... Paula Abdul and Culture Club have tormented me from treeline to summit in the past.

We hit the trail around 5:50 and began a quick willow wallow as we headed toward the business end of Cathedral Lake.
Valerie pushes through (Finn Photography)

A little alpenglow highlights Malemute Peak (13,348').

Once we got out of the willows, we crossed some talus and picked up a well-cairned trail that took us upward for a sweet view of Cathedral Lake on a serene, windless Sunday morning.

As we turned back toward our route, the fact that we were in a special place became more and more apparent.
Photo by Valerie

The route heads up the grass and talus ramp seen here.

After a short session of talus hopping, the crux gully came in to view. While we'd heard that it was melting out, we didn't expect only half a col of snow...
Ascent gully is furthest on the right

Bob and Kate contemplate

The trail gave way to firm snow...

...and we hoofed it over to the base of the ascent gully, which greeted us with soft mud and loose talus. The snow mocked us, two hundred tantalizingly higher feet above.
Photo by Valerie

Acting on a tip from 14ers member Grover, who summitted Cathedral two weeks ago, we donned our crampons and pulled out the axes here, and this made all the difference. Ascending this sans traction would suck, no bones about it. Armed with snow gear, I thought it was fun, and we made quick work of the snow-free section.

Kate and I reached the snow first, and started on our way.
Photo by Valerie

For most of the snow climb, conditions were, well, interesting. Lots of sun-cupping and rocks poking through the snow made for easy progress. Toward the top, things got steeper and the rocks disappeared, but I never felt this climb warranted the "steep snow" rating given it in Roach's book. Perhaps with more pristine conditions and really firm snow?

At any rate, we were soon taking a breather, ditching our crampons, losing some layers (it was toasty), and looking back at what we'd just climbed up.
Bob and Valerie top out (Photo by Kate)

Cathedral Lake from the top of the col

With only a few hundred feet of gain remaining, we gushed a collective sigh of relief and headed toward the summit. While the portion of this climb above the col is rated class 3, it's well-cairned and route finding is no big deal.
We headed to the right of this big fin.

Then up this messy stuff (Photo by Valerie)

We found our way over some loose talus and a few short scrambles, and found ourselves atop Cathedral in what seemed like no time. ...and what a summit this is!
Views of the Elk 14ers and other peaks are expansive and tremendous.
Castle group

Capitol Peak

Do you think Valerie is stoked to get her first Elk Range 13er? (Finn Photo)

With perfect weather, we had plenty of time to take in the scenery, check out the register (lots of familiar names), and I managed to down half a Jimmy John's #7.
Obligatory Group shot

With every moment that passed, the threat of too-soft snow in the gully and endless postholing in the basin below became increasingly real, so we started heading down.
Finns on the move

Surprisingly, since we were on a 13er, we soon encountered a couple hiking together, then Snowmass local Chris on our way back to the ridge. Atop the snow, we cramponed up and plunge-stepped down to the rocky base of the gully. We stopped at its base, off to the side, not directly in the way of rockfall (we thought) to lose the crampons. Suddenly, Bob alerted us to rockfall heading our way, pronto. Since we were out off the putative fall line, I was slow to move, but looked up and saw a hailstorm of smaller (fist sized) rocks and one the size of Barry Bonds' head coming our way. We had about five seconds to scramble for cover, and, as I focused my attention on the biggest rock, it, of course, changed trajectory to head directly for me. Forgetting that I was on steep, loose talus, I dove headfirst onto the ground, and the slugger's noggin missed my own by about three feet. Whew. Once we established that everyone was ok, sans a few bruises, we came to the conclusion that this rockfall was natural--no one to blame but Mother Nature, melting snowfall, and gravity, This was a heady reminder that the mountains don't play around.

Anyway, enough of that. It's glissade time.
Kate (Photo by Valerie)

(Photo by Valerie)

Snow in the lower basin was firm enough to support us and we reached its end, where I took one last look back at the gully. If you look closely in the second pic, Chris from Snowmass is descending the snow.

Close up

We broke camp, and headed back to the TH, happy with a solid day's work.
While quaffing my post-climb brew in the parking lot, I reflected on how fortunate I am to have had such an inspiring day in the mountains with the kind of partners everyone should hope to have. Thanks you all, and I look forward to our next adventure.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Comments or Questions
Paula Abdul...
06/06/2012 19:01
I never wanted to admit this, but ”Straight Up” somehow gets lodged in my skull all too often. Makes me want to take my adse and shove it into my temple sometimes. Nice TR man, looks like a great crew.

Beautiful shots, folks!
06/06/2012 19:15
Nice report, Matt, and great shots by all! Wow! Beautiful rock! Especially loved #17 - but then I'm partial to Capitol! Thanks for the trip!

Fine pictures!
06/06/2012 20:00
Especially of Malemute. I think this peak just hit the shortlist. Along with a couple hundred others.

I'm glad I don't really know who Paula Abdul is.

06/06/2012 21:06
Thanks for the great write-up! I had a wonderful time on a beautiful mountain with a great group! I'm looking forward to the next adventure.

Great TR
06/06/2012 22:07
OMG, I actually hiked up to cathedral lake Sunday morning (I reached the lake around 9 am) and was just sitting there admiring the view of the half melted gully and was thinking, oh men the snow climb is mostly gone. It was definitely a gorgeous day and I will have to go back for this centennial next year. Way to go.

one fine Elk
06/07/2012 02:15
Yeah, Cathedral is a beauty!
It's too bad you missed the better continuous snow for your climb, but you folks got it done anyway! Right on...

Nice photos everyone.

Cold Hearted
06/07/2012 03:48
Why must you bring up Paula??

Cool trip. Glad Barry didn't take you out! Had my own pretty bad case of rockfall this weekend...

Nice Work
06/07/2012 03:59
Congrats on what looks like a great day in the Elks. Cool TR and pics, well done!

Cool TR
06/07/2012 04:56
Thanks for sharing Matt, I know how much you were looking forward to Cathedral. Fine climb and report! Experiences like your rockfall will make the beer tomorrow night taste even sweeter.

Kevin Baker
Nice shots
06/07/2012 05:04
Very nice shots there, Matt! Hard to believe that east facing couloir is already halfway melted out before spring is over! Looks like you guys had a fine day in the Elks. Thanks for posting.

Such a beautiful area ....
06/07/2012 18:58
It's been many years since I've been in that neck of the woods ... great photos and wonderful company make this a winner trip report. You bring back some good memories on a classic peak. Thanks for posting. Happy trails !

Nice job!
06/08/2012 01:04
And great report Matt Hope to get out with you guys this summer!

Congrats Matt!
06/12/2012 14:09
Way to persevere and nab Cathedral. From what I hear it had become somewhat of a nemesis for you, I bet it feels good to have it under your belt!

how have I missed this?!
11/01/2012 04:04
A sweet report! Not only good beta, fabulous pictures, but a freakin' sweet music video link to kick things of! You're raising the bar, my friend. But as for steep snow - yeah, it looks like that to me - but I'll find out sometime between now and June '13. Thanks!

07/29/2013 18:29
Glad to hear that the dumpster diving didn't waste the legs for this one. Looks like a classic!

I was thinking Steve Winwood's ”Valerie” might be stuck in your head after meeting Valerie. Getting that tune lodged in the brain would be brutal.

looks very nice
04/02/2015 19:45
Gorgeous scenery!

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