Peak(s):  Cathedral Pk A  -  13,943 feet
Date Posted:  07/14/2019
Date Climbed:   07/13/2019
Author:  WildWanderer
 Crampon Conundrum  

#84 Cathedral Peak A – 13,943


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 gully 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).


Summit Video

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!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

Dang sun
07/14/2019 17:16
As one of the trio, I can tell you we, in fact, did not have a picnic at the top. Thanks for the... "concern." We took summit photos and had a quick bite to eat but wasted no time in beginning our descent. In hindsight, we should have/wanted to start earlier... the snow conditions deteriorated exponentially quick as the sun beat down. I was unaware of your crampon failure... from below, we only saw you traverse to the right side of the gully about 2/3 of the way up. I was wondering if something had happened or if that was just your choice route. Congrats on summiting the second time around.


Warmed up fast!
07/14/2019 17:22
Sorry for holding you up as I ascended! I'm glad you made it down safely. Doing the math now you guys really weren't up there that long... it just felt like it took me forever to descend and I was worried I was going to stall you again. When I made it down and I didn't see you and got worried


Poop Delays
07/14/2019 17:43
Hi there, I'm the one that you spoke to in the trio. What my brother failed to mention in regards to our time up top is that we were delayed slightly by him finding an LNT place to relieve his bowels. His stomach wasn't feeling so great. We saw you walking out right about the time we hit the top of the gully again so you didn't delay us at all. It ended up taking us a very long time to descend as well because of the garbage snow. And no worries on the crampon delay, we weren't worried about you knocking anything down on us while the snow was that firm. Thanks for thinking of us though!


07/14/2019 17:55
Kudos to him for doing the LNT thing

Buckshot Jake

I'm the "MAN"
07/15/2019 08:26
Hello! I am the man you speak of twice! Yes, thank you for turning off the car and lights, I am a very light sleeper especially on a big summit night. I was actually a little surprised by the concern from both you and the party of three about the conditions. They asked if I was planning to summit as I topped out and I was like "duh, why else would I be here?" I guess when you are on a mountain you can never really assess another climbers experience when you run into them. With these types of climbs it is always personal preference on what conditions you are looking for. Although the warmer temps make ascending tougher, I think they make descending a tad easier and I made excellent time coming back down. I even entered the couloir when the other party was still towards the bottom. Congrats, to all of us, for a successful day in the Elks!


07/15/2019 10:27


Great job!
07/15/2019 10:38
Buckshot Jake: I'm glad you were able to summit! Congratulations to you as well

JQ: I wish you the best of luck with your goals.


07/15/2019 17:00
I'm good with my goals.

You're right it's not a competition.
But since you want to be a public speaker (See your previous thread in the forum) you should be held accountable for your public declaration of your accomplishments you want to speak about

You didn't summit Thunder.
Repost/activate your Thunder TR, let everyone see the truth. Or they can find it on your blog.
You're at #83 (maybe even #82)


Done :)
07/15/2019 18:02
And for the record, I never took it off my website:


07/15/2019 20:44
That's why I said they could find it on your blog...


07/21/2019 23:50

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