I drove to Aspen on Friday, had dinner in town, then on to Cathedral Trailhead. Mine was the only vehicle in a lot that could probably hold 25. I spent an uncomfortable night in the back of my 4Runner, awoke at 5:15am, had a bit of granola, and was on the trail at 5:50am.
This is a beautiful, well-made trail. The scenery is spectacular! I was making fairly good time and would have made it to Cathedral Lake before 6:30am, but somehow found myself on the trail to Electric Pass - a 1/2 hour detour. I made my way down to the lake, where I had some trouble finding a creek crossing, and also in finding the old miner's trail described by Roach. Instead, I made my way up a steep hill on the NW side of the lake, and then happened to amble across the proper trail.
I reached the base of the 500-foot, snow-filled gully (and it was indeed largely filled with snow), put on my Kahtoola microspikes, pulled out my ice ax, and began the ascent. This is a very steep snow gully (45 degrees? 50 degrees at times?), with about 2" of soft snow over the top of a very hard layer. My microspikes were not up to the task - I needed crampons to keep from slipping, and had to kick, kick, kick steps. But I'd come so far, and was determined to summit.
From the 13,400-ish saddle, the hike to the summit is not-so-bad. It is relatively well cairned, but I did make a few wrong turns. Much of the route is slightly to the west of ridge-line.
The return trip down the snow-filled gully was long and laborious. The steepness required one to face the slope, and the snow hadn't softened. I held my ice ax in a self-arrest posture, across my chest, with hands at both ends, planting the pick into the hill. I would then reach down with one leg, kick my toe once or twice into the slope, slide my body down and replant the ice ax, and then reach down with the other leg and repeat. It was exhausting and frustratingly slow. The microspikes just weren't up to the task, as they often as not slipped, and the ice ax kept me from sliding. I spent more time downclimbing then the upclimb - probably 1.25 hours. Frankly, I was wholly fatigued and afraid of tumbling to my death. This is a narrow gully, with a slight curve near the bottom of it's rock-lined walls, and a couple of islands of exposed rock in the middle. Sliding down this thing was simply not an option. Lesson - do your homework when you know a "snow-filled gully" is part of your hike. And if you can't find info on what equipment might be needed, bring your damn CRAMPONS!!!
I finally reached the gully's bottom, weary, bruised... and out of water. I had summited at 11:30am, it was now 1:35 pm. Although I came across quite a few folk near Cathedral Lake, and further down, I refrained from begging for water. I hadn't been hiking for months, and my body was not conditioned for the rigors. When I finally stumbled across the finish line, thoroughly fatigued, foot-sore, knee-sore, I felt (not to a small degree) that I'd "survived" this one. That said, I loved this hike and it will rank as one of my favorites.
"So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life."
--Peter Gibbons (Office Space)