On this October 19th Sunday, JB an I planned to hit the trailhead at 7:30AM, but a late start from seattle plus a gas and food stop made us start hiking at 8:40. Despite being late we thought our error margin would cover it. The first 2 miles to sqaw lake were fine : in the cold morning, our body started to warm up and the usual pain in muscles and joint eventually got away.
At about 10, we reached Sqaw lake and took some pictures : the first snow fall decorated the surrounding boulders with a thin layer of snow giving the scenery a magical look.
After the lake, the path continued to get more and more covered in snow. After a while we where struggling hiking in new inconsistent snow. We eventually had to bushwalk to reach the ridge and get a wonderful view on Mt Daniel, as well as on our objective, Cathedral Rock. It is an impressive piece of rock, with a very vertical South East face. We located the three gendarmes and figured our gully was just south of them. Late on the schedule. we ditched our pack on the ridge and geared up for the climb : two 60m double ropes, a trad rack plus a few slin and alpine quickdraws and a liter of water. It might seem overkill given the Beckey description, but we were in a better safe than sorry mood (And i'm glad we were)
We started the climb on the obvious and large gully just slightly east of the ridge. It is easy scree climbing for most of the gully, the right side being usually better as you can use solid rock for hand holds. Once on top, we discovered a rather steep snow slope which made us regret our ice axes that stayed with our packs. The view was getting better an better with Mt Stuart in the background. We carefully climbed up the snow patch to reach the bottom of the lowest gendarme.
Later in the gully
From there it was and interesting mixed climb on snow and rock where, once again, an ice axe could have come handy. after the second step. i got stuck by wet rock and JB led the way, climbing on the left of the gully, on the rock, instead of staying on the snow like I did. At this point we started using the ropes, in combination with a few very well located tree for anchoring.
After the class 5 part
Once we reached the 3rd gendarme, we took the gully imediatly to our right and kept climbing. It is a mid class 4 gully that leads ... nowhere. Indeed, we were pretty disapointed once on top to be stuck in front of what looked like an unprotectable 5.10. An option would have been to downclimb a little and then climb the 5.8/9 slab that was barely protectable. Not really confident in the ability to climb a slab in moutaineering shoes, we prefered rappelling down the whole gully to the base of the third gendarme and then find another route. We figured that the right way to climb was to go a little higher on the scree and to use the second gully. That is the only real low class 5 climb, with a fun exposure but easily protectable (I'm glad we had our trad rack after all). We found an anchor at the top of the pitch which was handy to set up a belay station. Once on top, we crossed a scary traverse in fresh unconsolidated snow that lead to an easy scramble and another good rest area. A few pictures later, we continued to climb/scramble on the last ridge, belayed all the way. It is rather a class 4 scramble but the exposure makes us apreciate the rope.
At 3:30 Pm, 2 hours late, we finally reached the sumit and enjoyed for a moment the wonderful panorama. Mount Daniel view was stunning, but we know we had to go back. The idea of downclimbing the ridge was not the most appealing one but after unsuccessfully looking for rap anchors, we figured out the only way out was our way in. downclimbing was slightly easier than expected even though exposure made it "interesting". Obviously our rope got tangled and we were very late when we reached the top of the low class 5 part. I gotta say downclimbing that would be scary without a rope. On the other hand, we had a really good time rappelling down that part. Because we were late and everything started to get dark, we chained fast rappel, instead of downclimbing the scree. We finally reached our pack at dusk and struggled again in the fresh snow til we reached Sqaw lake. At 8:30 we were warm in the car.
Before the summit
Mt Daniel from the summit
A very fun climb surrounded by gorgeous fall colors. Trad rack and ropes definitely came handy even though we may have overprotected the way : if free soloing up is doable (I guess) We both felt more at ease knowing we could rappel down. The View at the top is stunning !
Mt Stuart at dusk
Length : 8.0 miles
Elevation gain : ~3500 feet
Time : 11.5 hours (moderate pace, no simul climb and a lot of belaying)