Peak(s):  Cathedral Pk A  -  13,943 feet
Date Posted:  07/15/2019
Modified:  07/18/2019
Date Climbed:   07/13/2019
Author:  SkiColorado93
Additional Members:   adventurousflinky, LivingOnTheEdge
 Summer Snow is a Slow-Go  

The approach to Cathedral lake was as steep and beautiful as everyone says in their reports. The avalanche damage in the valley was expansive but the debris was recently cleared, mostly, from the trail and was passable. The trail is maintained and in great condition all the way to the lake, though it's not shaded except for the lower portions of the trail. It snakes up the valley on grassy slopes, crosses some talus, and then comes to a huge headwall with 8 steep switchbacks. Thankfully, this headwall is the final push and the trail relents soon after as it meanders below the lake.

There were a few decent camping spots along the trail after the switchbacks and before the lake, but we found the views way more rewarding closer to the lake although they were less sheltered. The sunset views were fantastic. We relaxed by the lake, which had colorful and large rainbow trout, and took in the views.

Electric Pass Peak (Left) and Leahy Peak (Right):


Evening rain with views of Cathedral's east ridge spires:


Pink skies at sunset:


We got 6ish hours of interrupted sleep before waking up at 3:30am... I never sleep well in the backcountry. Maybe I need a new sleeping pad or a better pillow, but earplugs work well. After getting dressed and collecting our gear, bags were packed and we were off. Normally we enjoy a quick breakfast of Backpacker's Pantry granola with blueberries and milk, but we opted to get on the trail ASAP because we wanted to beat the sun.

With all the snowmelt, the stream flowing from the lake was wider than usual which limited crossing options. Normally, you can pass the stream just below the lake. We had scoped the route from the campsite to the basin below Cathedral the night before because we knew this would be an issue. We ended up crossing the stream back where we had initially crossed on the trail the day before, then continued up the Electric Pass trail for only a couple minutes. We left the trail at this big rock (the only rock along this trail section) and began bushwhacking through the willows down to the stream. We crossed and then headed up the grassy slope which marked the beginning of the "Miner's Trail."

The big rock, the willows leading down to the stream, and a Google maps view of our route:


The Miner's Trail was faint at times, but we had not issue following it through the talus below Cathedral's east ridge spires. There were a few snow patches here that were easily passable without traction. The trail brought us into the basin below Cathedral and soon left the trail to walk along the obvious snow path on the left of the basin. In the cold of the early morning, we needed no traction while walking on this path and it conveniently led us just below the couloir where we stopped to put on helmets and crampons, and to don our axes.

The snow path in the basin taken on the descent:


After putting on crampons, we hiked over the firm, sun-cupped snow to the base of the couloir as the sun began to rise. It was beautiful and warm. Hannah looked small compared to the huge basin we were traversing:



Eyeing the col:


On the way up to the couloir, we watched user WilderWanderer make her way up... here's her trip report. High in the couloir:


The snow in the col was firm and fun to climb albeit steep. The steepest section was at the very top but it was short. Here's some photos in the col:


We topped out on the couloir, took in the views at the saddle, and quickly switched into our dry climbing gear. The route after this point was dry to the top, but poorly cairned and full of crappy and crumbling Elk rock. Everything was loose and no hand nor footholds were trustable.

From the top of the couloir, we angled up and crossed sloped, loose rock. Notice Cody and Hannah on the ridge:


There was a huge wall of rock right ahead. We walked below the base of the rock wall, wrapped around, and came out on top. It may have been possible to climb up this first break in the rock wall (where the arrow is pointing), but I think it would have been Class 4 or 5 climbing. We didn't even consider this option as walking around the wall was far easier:


After wrapping around this rock wall, we stood on a large rock bulge staring at the route above us. It was very reminiscent of Cathedral's Elkian siblings Pyramid and South Maroon. RUBBLE! As for a route, you can stick to the ridge proper, or wrap around the difficulties:


Looking back at the rock bulge above the rock wall:


A bit higher, again looking back at the bulge:


A bit lower I had found some goat fur snagged on a rock. As I had done when climbing Pyramid and the Bells, I collected the fur and put it in my pocket for good luck and safe passage... call me superstitious.


Next, we made our way up staying just below the ridge crest. We came to a rock rib with a few options to pass. We ended up going up and over the rib at the ridge crest:


After this rib, there's many rock walls. We found a notch next to a colorful rock that offered an easy Class 3 route up:


From above the notch (bottom center), looking back at the rib:


Above the notch, the ridge became less steep as it angled to the very flat summit. The rock was all so loose here... step carefully:


The views were typical Elk greatness...

Looking East toward Cathedral Lake:


Looking North toward Electric Pass Peak (left) and Leahy Peak (right).


Looking West toward the Bells, Pyramid, and Capitol:


Looking South toward Castle, Conundrum, and Castleabra:


With the sun beating down on the couloir, we knew we shouldn't spend much time on the summit. We refueled, took a few photos, and started down. As per usual, the trail segments were much easier to see from above making the descent quick and easy. For much of the downclimb, we opted for the ridge crest which was rarely exposed and definitely more direct. On the ridge above the bulge with the ascent route outlined:


We made it back to the top of the col and hurriedly put on our crampons and helmets again. The snow was slush at that point (despite being early in the morning) making for a harrowing downclimb. We paused at the top briefly to allow a solo man to top out on the couloir. Him and WildWanderer were the only people we saw on the mountain all day.


The downclimb was slow and grueling. At times we faced in and at times we faced out. It was physically and mentally taxing as we had to be aware at all times. With the snow so soft, it is unlikely we could have arrested a fall effectively. The sun was beating down, we were sweating, and we were tired. Finally we made it to the end of the col where we plunge-stepped and glissaded down a portion of the slope... a fun and nice change to slowly stepping foot by foot. We took our crampons off as we neared the rock patches in the basin as postholing with crampons on sounded like a recipe for a sprained ankle. The snow was soft but still firm enough to walk on without any traction.

We hopped from rock pack to rock patch across snow to regain the Miner's Trail lower in the basin. The trail was well cairned in the basin and took us right back to the stream we had crossed that morning. The rock faces in the basin were spectacular and sounded of running water as the snow melted:


Taking a similar route we had taken that morning, we crossed the stream, bushwhacked through the willows, and found the Electric Pass trail again. Once back at the lake, we took clothes and shoes off (it was so hot!) and refilled with water and snacks. We took a stroll down to the water and Cody and Hannah put their feet in... it was too cold for a dip.


We packed up camp and started our descent back to the car. The weather held up the whole trip save for a few drops the evening before and on the hike out. We passed many people hiking up to the lake which was to be expected for noon on a Saturday. The hike out was hot and long.

We stopped at CP Burger in Aspen, which is becoming a tradition, and relaxed after an amazing trip. :)

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

Thanks for the Report
07/15/2019 12:45
Excellent trip report with some great photos! I was the one who was topping out in the coulior as your party was getting ready to descend. I think your detail of the ridge climb after the couloir is spot on and hopefully can help people navigate later on. As with your party, I found route finding very difficult past the saddle and found myself in some hairy spots. Coming down was definitely easier but still not fun. Roach describes a use trail up to the summit, this use trail disappears very quick though. I also had no luck finding my helmet thinking it disappeared in the willows down below. I loved that helmet but it was 8 years old and probably towards the end of its useful life anyway. Congrats, to all of us, for a successful day in the Elks!

Great job!
07/15/2019 14:21
Bummer hearing about your helmet!! We kept an eye out but didn't see it on the way down. Congrats on your ascent as well!! I hope our boot pack helped a little on the way down You were flying down that couloir! Very impressive.

Buckshot Jake

Thank you!
07/16/2019 13:38
Your steps definitely helped a bunch! Ha ha, well thanks it was easier for me going down and I was ready to get off that snow. Thanks for keeping an eye out, hopefully a kid will find it someday and it will propel them into being a great mountaineer.


Power of the goat hair
07/20/2019 07:11
Nice job! Will have to get over there soon...

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