Peak(s):  Cathedral Pk A  -  13,943 feet
Date Posted:  06/04/2014
Modified:  04/26/2016
Date Climbed:   05/31/2014
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   MarkMadness, Yikes
 Saturday at the Cathedral   

After spending most of winter and spring in the Sawatch (not that there is anything wrong with that), I was excited to finally branch out and head out to the Elks. A lone skier, I joined Jim, Mark and Adam with our common goal being Cathedral. We got a 4am start (probably too late with the warm temperatures as they were), but were making good time. We ascended an excellent trail in the dark and got to the lake fairly soon after the sunrise.

Approaching Cathedral lake with Pearl couloir in the background

The goal was to ascend the standard SE gully. As we got closer, we were impressed by the amount of wet slide debris in the gully and surrounding slopes.

Starting out - Jim, Mark, Adam

Jim is making quick work of the avy debris

Climbing higher up in the couloir

Wet slide debris extends pretty much all the way to the top of the couloir

Mark and Adam in the couloir

The snow in the couloir was already getting soft around 8am as we were topping out. From there, we hiked up the ridge to the summit.

Remaining route to the summit

Corniced summit ridge

Topping out on Cathedral summit ~9am

It was decision time. Given that the standard gully wasn't in good skiable shape due to avy debris, I wanted to give Pearl couloir a try. Additionally, standard gully is SE facing, and Pearl is NE facing, and given a fairly reasonable summit time, I thought the snow would be better in Pearl. I persuaded Jim to go with me to investigate Pearl. The ridge traverse was pretty airly class 4ish on typical Elk rock - loose. Instead of downclimbing to the top of the Pearl where we could see a large cornice, we spotted a sloping ramp off the face that would connect into Pearl. We could even make out some old steps on that ramp.

Jim postholing on the ridge en route to Pearl

Jim is leading the way into the couloir

We quickly discovered that snow wasn't supportive at all, and we were sinking in. Not a good situation to be in, particularly on a steep, sloping terrain. Jim made a quick work of a downclimb, got to a safety spot in the couloir and patiently waited for me there. It took me a bit of time to figure out an acceptable line to take, but eventually, I found myself in the couloir on the semi-supportive snow. I clicked in and slowly made my way down on very tired legs.

Cornice at the top of the couloir

Skiable terrain

Jim in the couloir

Couloir is a really nice line in a beautiful setting, but the slushy snow conditions definitely made me work for it.

Lower in the couloir

Only the bottom of the couloir was "adorned" by the wet avy debris

We finally made down by the lake around 11am, thankfully, still in one piece, and soon thereafter ran into Adam and Mark

Since Jim's snowshoes and some other gear was left on the standard route, I made a detour there to collect his belongings (wish I could say it was a quick detour, but I was pretty beat by then).

Making a beeline for the gear stash

Cathedral lake

Skiing out of the basin with Malemute peak in the background

Leaving the basin as the weather turns south

Since I was in a strange exploratory mood that day and the standard route didn't sound too appealing (it just meant shouldering skis for the hike out), I decided to follow the Pine creek for a while. The rest of the group wisely took the standard route. The terrain quickly steepened and by the time I checked my GPS it was too late to traverse out. I made it work (and stayed mostly on snow), but it took extra time. The bonus though that I got to explore a new drainage and noted better route options for future reference.

I also got to examine the pathslide of a major (old) avy and to wade the creek on skis - always fun.

Another look at Malemute peak

Eventually, my exploratory streak ran out and I merged with the standard trail. I arrived back at the TH fairly depleted but with lots of new learning lessons (e.g. solid overnight freeze is a must on a line like that). East/West Geisslers with much better ski conditions the next day were a welcome reprieve from the Elk gnarliness

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

 Comments or Questions

06/04/2014 20:32
We found some Burton gloves just after topping out this morning. Jims?


Great climb
06/04/2014 22:19
when it's ”in season”. The standard route on Cathedral is one of the best. It looks like there wasn't too big a cornice on the top of the ascent culuoir this year huh? Glad you folks were there after the wet slides and not before. Thanks for the TR and pictures.

BTW - that big slide came down sometime in the early 2000's. Every time I hike up there, I can never believe how much damaged is still left after all these years.


06/05/2014 01:51
...for including pictures of Malamute and the Pearls.

Great views from Cathedral!


look over your shoulder
06/06/2014 03:32
I believe Pearl Mtn and W Pearl are over your right shoulder, beyond Castle, as you're making your way up the ridge to the summit.


04/02/2015 19:45
Kaiman - thanks. I was thinking the same thing - it ”looks” like most of the stuff had slid already before we got there, but who knows what else might go? Temps were just too warm and lack of the overnight freeze was obviously an issue. There was no cornice atop the standard SE gully, as far as I could tell. It reminded me of Bell Cord, just much shorter.

Re. big slide - I believe it slid again this year. All that debris - snapped trees, etc was fresh. Probably just couple of months old if that. Thanks for the comment.

Doggler - probably not, but not sure.


04/02/2015 19:45
Darin - Malemute is definitely included, but the Pearls are there too? Can't take any credit for that.

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