Some would say the Pasayten Wilderness is the best Washington has to offer for trekking. And those who say that, when asked to specify, would surely pick the Cathedral Peak area as the most beautiful corner of the wilderness. Although I haven't been to every corner I can aver that this area does indeed meet the "eye" test.
The Cathedral Peak area has no literal "borders", per se, but could be defined as the high plateau north of Remmel Mountain, east of the Ashnola River, west of Bauerman Ridge, and extending into Canada some distance where a Cathedral Ridge is marked out on the map. The plateau is characterized by many shallow dales that eventually drain into deeper valleys and by an assortment of rocky ridgelines and solitary massifs. As a whole the terrain bears the telltale evidence of past glaciation.
The chief summit in this area--at least on the Washington side of the 49th Parallel--is Cathedral Peak. The highest point north of 8685-ft Remmel Mountain is actually 8,645-ft Grimface Mountain in Canada about six miles north of Cathedral. Grimface lies on Cathedral Ridge in Cathedral Provincial Park. This park deserves recognition on summitpost. It would be nice to have one of our Canadian members fill in some blanks.
It is easy to quip that Cathedral Peak is a gothic structure. But this would not merely be a figurative comment, for the peak really does contain one of the largest technical faces--the Southeast Face--in the Pasayten. In fact, it may very well be the largest face in the Pasayten. It is roughly 1,000 feet high. This face has long been an attraction for alpine rock climbers if they've the stamina to make the arduous trek to it (it's 12+ miles via the shortest route). Cathedral's 600-ft North Face is also noteworthy but remains mysterious. It has been climbed but information is hard to come by. Entries in the summit register indicate three or four ascents by the North Face or some variation thereon since the register was placed. The easiest route is via the southwest slope. The going is easy until the final 200 yards where the Cathedral's rocky roof thrusts gargoyles into your face that you must climb over or around. There is also a large crack in the roof that requires the wiley climber to leap over not once but twice. Such is the nature of the route.
Cathedral is a visually aesthetic peak to behold (and to climb on) because it is comprised of granite. This granite is fractured on pleasing vertical and horizontal lines. From a climbing standpoint, the granitic walls provide good crack protection between smooth blocky faces. The only drawback might be the propensity for lichen to cover the rocks. This lichen limits variations from the "tried and true" routes. Nonetheless, with a little work, new routes can be found.
The first ascent was by Carl William Smith and George Otis Smith in August 1901 (over 100 years ago!).
Now comes the hard part: deciding which approach route to use. There are three worth mentioning. Two are from the south. One is from [shhhh] the other side of the International Border. All approaches are over 10 miles. It is possible to make an approach and climb the peak via its easy route on the same day.
Andrews Creek Trail
Drive 23.5 miles north out of Winthrop on the Chewuch River Road. The trail starts at 3,050 ft. Andrews Creek Campground is here. Hike the trail for 12 miles to 6,680+ ft Andrew Pass. Only six more miles to go to reach the peak! Descend the trail on the other side of the pass in the Spanish Creek drainage. In 2 miles (c. 6,300 ft) reach a junction with the Spanish Creek Trail on the left. Stay straight. In another mile reach the wilderness guard station (c. 6,750 ft). Say hello to the ranger there, if there. Just before the cabin on the right is the trail up to Cathedral Lakes. This trail can be taken for 3 miles to Upper Cathedral Lakes southwest of Cathedral Peak. An alternate final approach is to loop around from the west, taking the trail toward Border Ridge then turning east then southwest to skirt Lower Cathedral Lake (6,820 ft) before arriving at the upper lake (7,380 ft). This final approach is one miles longer (4 miles). Total distance from trailhead to Upper Cathedral Lake is approximately 18 miles. The overall gain is about 4,800 vertical feet.
Chewuch River Trail
Find yourself in the town of Winthrop (SR-20). Drive one of two roads (either West Chewuch or East Chewuch Road) north out of town. These two roads converge in about five miles. Continue north up Chewuch (aka Chewack--the name that appeared on maps in 1859) River Road. In 29 miles from Winthrop (5.5 miles beyond the Andrews Creek Trail) you will reach the end of the road and the trailhead (elevation 3,420 ft) on the west side of the river. A footbridge goes across the river where the trail continues northward up the other side. There is a cut-off trail that shortens the approach but is only really worth it if you'll be driving from the west (from the Okanogan River Valley). See the Windy Creek Cut-Off description on the Remmel page for more information.
Hike the flat river trail for 8 miles to the junction (4,650 ft) with the Tungsten Creek Trail. There are two options here: continue on the Chewuch River Trail or take the Tungsten trail. The latter is better if your intention is to climb the Southeast Face because the trail goes right past it. In fact, this is the only approach that will give you a view of this face unless you purposely go over there to have a look after you approach the peak from the west or northwest.
In 6 miles from the junction (14 miles from the car) reach the Cathedral Creek-Remmel Creek confluence. An unproven cross-country route of roughly 3 miles up Cathedral Creek could convey you to the southeast foot of Cathedral. Be prepared for lots of lodgepole pine winfall problems. The trail itself continues westward up Remmel Creek toward Remmel Lake. In 1.8 miles (15.8 miles from the car), a trail goes right (north) and eventually reaches Upper Cathedral Lake in 3.5 miles. Total distance via this option is approximately 19 miles with an elevation gain of around 4,500 vertical feet.
For the Tungsten approach, go north up Tungsten Creek. Reach the junction with the Boundary Trail at the Tungsten Mine (6,800 ft) in 6 miles (14 miles from the car). Go west on the Boundary Trail as it loops around and up to Apex Pass (7,300 ft) and your first views of Cathedral Peak two miles to the northwest. Cathedral's Southeast Face will be visible as well as the east faces of Amphitheater Mountain. Continue on the for three miles to 7,600-ft Cathedral Pass Upper Cathedral Lake is just west of the pass. Total distance via this option is approximately 20 miles with around 4,700 ft of gain.
Wall Creek Trail & Approach
This is an approach from Canada. I will make no comments as to the legality of crossing the International Border here. Be warned that the Border Patrol is active in the Pasayten. Their main quarry are drug runners but I'm sure they'd hassle you too. Besides, you're supposed to have a permit if you're in the Pasayten Wilderness. There are no permit stations for you north of the border. But don't let the patrol worry you too much. It is a large area this wilderness.
Drive Canada's Highway 3 between Princeton and Keremeos. The Ashnola River Road junctions off of the highway at 40 miles east of Princeton and 2 miles west of Keremeos. The road is not clearly marked. Distance signs on the road once you get in the valley proper are in kilometers. These are the yellow signs with black numerals attached to trees on the east side of the road.
At the 38km point (3,800 ft) there is a small pull-out on the left with a footbridge across the river. This is the Wall Creek Trail but it is not marked. Hike the trail for about 2 miles to 5,000 ft. When the trail starts going up to the left toward Wall Creek Meadows you want to leave it for it doesn't lead you toward Cathedral Peak.
If you wish to approach Cathedral's north side then take to the ridgeline east of Cathedral Fork and take it for about 7 miles, passing under Orthodox Mountain on the way. Once you get high enough you will transition out of the annoying lodgepole pine forest and onto parkland. It is possible to cross high on Cathedral's west shoulder to get to Upper Cathedral Lakes. No trail but open terrain. Total distance from car to lake is approximatly 11 miles with 4,200 ft of gain.
If you wish to approach Cathedral's southwest side, drop southward from the Wall Creek Trail and cross the creek and continue a short distance but no more than a quarter mile up the winfall clogged Cathedral Fork. You DO NOT want to continue up the bottom of the valley. Move right (west) and make a diagonal ascent southward in easy forest to the north end of Border Ridge, whose highest point (7,404 ft) is in the United States. Gain the ridge crest or its immediate east side and follow it to the International Border (roughly 3.5 miles from the trail). Cross the weird swath cut through the forest. The ridge turns southwest, goes over the highest point, then turns south again. In about one mile south of the highest point the trail to Lower Cathedral Lake will be crossed at c. 7,080 ft. As I recall this trail was not all that obvious. Take the trail as it wanders eastward to the lower thence upper lakes. Total distance is approximately 10 miles with 4,400 ft of gain.
A Trail Park Pass is required at the Chewuch River Trailhead and the Andrews Creek Trailhead. At these trailheads you are asked to fill-out a wilderness permit. You could ride a bike up the Chewuch River Trail at least to the wilderness boundary sign, which was passed at someplace in the first few miles. It would be possible to ride all the way to Mile 36 on the map. The trail is not steep up to that point. The only red tape for the Canadian approach is the invisible red tape that is stretched endlessly along the International Border.
When To Climb
The best time is summer if only for the fact that access is an issue at other times of year. Early summer would be ideal for the enjoyment of wildflowers and green grass. But lingering snow could hide these, so let's say July is the best timeframe.
Camping is available in several places along the approach routes. Care must be taken not to trample vegetation, some of which is found only in the Pasayten and then only rarely--such as the tusssocks west of Amphitheater Mountain. Please stay on the trail through here and resist the temptation to make a shortcut. Upper Cathedral Lakes offers excellent camping and is only a short skip away from Cathedral and Amphitheater.