StatsCathedral Peak (13943’) – CO Rank 62
via South Ridge
“Electric Peak” (13635’) – CO Rank 177
Via south slopes
June 10, 2006
11 miles RT, 5660’ gain
Participants: Doug Hatfield, Patrick Thornley, & Kevin Baker
Cathedral Peak is an intriguing mountain that sees few visitors considering the incredible views it has to offer from its lofty summit perch along with its many challenges. Gerry Roach lists only one route in his 13ers book, which seemed rather odd at first, but after seeing the heinous ridges that guard the summit, I can see why there is only one sane route! Climbing Cathedral in the spring when snow conditions are favorable avoids the nasty, dangerous scree slog up the gully to the south ridge. This was probably one of the most scenic climbs I have been on in Colorado.
The drive over Independence Pass down to Aspen was enjoyable as always as I made my 4th trip up the Castle Creek Rd, this being the first time in daylight! We all arrived at various times Friday evening and as usual I had problems catching winks in the car. I found out I forgot my headlamp, so the 2000’ grunt up to Cathedral Lake would be interesting. We left at 3:19am as I walked in front of Doug initially to see where I was going. It was a rather warm 47 degrees at the start, which had us worrying about avalanche potential later in the day. After about 20 minutes or so, it began to rain. Great, another epic weather day in the Elks. Fortunately, the shower didn’t last long and it turned out to be a great day to climb. My eyes soon adjusted to the light, so I just followed behind Doug. At one point, I stepped off the trail and wiped out, but no blood no foul. We could hear Pine Creek roaring below us and looked forward to what we would see on the way out.
We took a leisurely pace up to Cathedral Lake knowing that we couldn’t begin the routefinding phase of the climb until dawn, arriving at around 5:45am. We soon found out why this is such a popular tourist hike despite the steep climb to the lake as the views of Cathedral and its jagged ramparts are stunning.
We could also easily pick out the route up a narrow gully to the south ridge. We were worried about safely descending this route as the sun was already beginning to hit the gully. There were no bailout options, so we hoped the snow was consolidated.
The standard gully route up Cathedral is the right branch of the "V" in this pic.
After a break at the lake, we picked our way over to the north side of Cathedral Lake. Crossing the head of Pine Creek proved to be more than we bargained for, but we made it across the slick rocks without any mishaps. From here, we scrambled across an annoying boulder field to a steep tundra climb littered with loose rock that eventually dumped us into a huge morraine. I decided to just follow snow fields to the base of the gully as it was very solid despite the warm temps. This was very efficient and we regrouped at the base of the gully, anxious for the inviting climb to the ridge. The views continued to astound me as the jagged east ridge flanked us to our right.
The jagged east ridge of Cathedral makes the great 14er traverses look like a cakewalk.
I don’t know if anybody has climbed this ridge, but it makes any of the great 14er traverses look like a cakewalk. I let out a yell in this basin and the echo carried for quite a few seconds! It was shaping out to be an awesome climb, and the steep climb up the gully did not disappoint. After a long break to gear up, we headed up the gully at 7:55. The lower portion of the gully was wide enough to cut switchbacks, but as expected the snow became softer the higher we got.
The view down the gully from about halfway up.
As the gully narrowed, I decided to just front point the crampons into the snow the rest of the way, which is a killer calf workout! It seemed to be counter productive to cut short switchbacks in the narrow gully. I eventually topped out in about 50 minutes from the base and was rewarded with an incredible view of the nearby Elk 14ers. You don’t get too many better views than this!
Stellar views of the Elks from the saddle on the south ridge of Cathedral.
After a long break at the saddle taking in the views and enjoying the stable weather, we headed up the final ¼ mile of the route along the loose, class 3 ridge to the summit. Doug led the way as we followed a decent climbers trail which zigged to both sides of the ridge. The rock on the ridge was questionable as usual in the Elks, but the climbing was fun. Doug and I were surprised at how quick the ridge went and we topped out at 9:49am. We could see some folks on the summit of Castle as it flanked Cathedral to the south.
Castle (l) and Conundrum (r) from the summit of Cathedral.
We were the first to sign the register since a late May ascent with an east face ski descent! I am amazed at how few people climb this peak, but the gully climb would be miserable without snow. We took a short walk along the north ridge and took a quick look at the traverse over to nearby 13er Electric. The ridge looked a little more doable from above than below, but there were too many question marks to make an attempt.
After a one hour stay on the summit, we headed back down the nasty ridge. The routefinding wasn’t too difficult going down, but I did miss a turn at one point. Back at the saddle, we geared up for the exhilarating glissade down to the upper basin. Doug and I brought beacons and went ahead and put them on, although the odds of a slide were very slim with the well consolidated snow. I arrested a couple times before starting to test if I could indeed stop, and the soft snow was perfect to stay under control. The bumpy ride at the bottom felt like a roller coaster!
We then followed fingers of soft snow that was still hard enough to support our weight, which expedited the descent. Back at the lake, we retrieved our snowshoes and took another break. I met fellow summitposter CharlesD and his dog at the lake, who was out with some friends enjoying Cathedral Lake. Pat decided to call it a day here as it was his first big climb of the year, and Doug and I headed to top 200 “Electric Peak” at 12:55pm. The weather looked like it was going to hold for a late climb. We saved any further elevation loss by contouring to the Electric Pass trail at 12200’.
The heavenly spires of Cathedral's amazing north ridge.
The trail was mostly clear, but we did cross several patches of snow. The mellow climb to the saddle began to take its toll as we both slowed down. The final 500’ climb to the summit was typical loose Elk rock, but wasn’t too bad. We arrived on the summit of “Electric” at 2:38pm. This summit reminds me of Redcloud with all the red dirt The views from this peak did not disappoint either as we gawked at majestic Cathedral and Castle to the south.
Classic view of Castle (l) and Cathedral (r) from the summit of "Electric."
Knowing that I had a long drive home, we kept our visit of Electric’s summit short, leaving at 3pm. Instead of following the heavily switchbacked trail, we followed fingers of snow with a couple glissades down to the basin, rejoining the trail just above where we cached our snowshoes and helmets. Just before we got back down to the lake, we met our friends John and Renata Collard who had backpacked in to climb Cathedral on Sun. We had originally planned to climb with them, but our schedules would not allow it. We gave them some beta on the great conditions and wished them well on their climb. The remaining hike down was cool as we got to see all of the waterfalls we had missed in the dark. We arrived back at the trailhead at 5:16, just under an hour from the lake. What a heavenly day on one of Colorado’s finest peaks!