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Cathedral Peak

July 5, 2016


Cathedral Peak (13,943'): 9 miles, 4,063 feet elevation gain

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Elk Range Bliss

Cathedral Peak, in my opinion, is one of Colorado's best kept secrets. One of the pinnacles of experience in climbing Colorado's hundred highest mountains is getting to see all the different trails and valleys that I would never visit, simply because I wouldn't otherwise know about them. Cathedral Lake by itself is a worthwhile destination, but the remainder of the journey from there to Cathedral Peak's summit forms the setting for one of my favorite climbs thus far in Colorado. It isn't all that difficult to get to: the entire round-trip came out to about 9 miles, but the area above Cathedral Lake was about as wild a place as I've experienced.

Ascent line is the couloir on the right.

The trail to Cathedral Lake is a good one. While it is steep much of the time, the switch-backs are well-made and the trail is wide enough to keep from getting wet from the encroaching willows and underbrush along the way. I enjoyed the hike to the lake, and the dominating views of Malemute Peak along the way.

Cathedral Peak Video:

Once at the lake, Cathedral Peak's lower ramparts, including its snow-filled east-facing gully and incredible east ridge, finally came into view.

Cathedral Peak's east ridge is full of other-wordly towers, stretching hundreds of feet into the air, seemingly defying gravity. Still, these are formed from the typical Elk Range choss, leaving mere mortals like me to stay on the sidelines and admire these anomalies from a safe distance. Rockfall was common even while I was hiking past this ridge.

Utterly Wild.

A giant basin of broken talus shards leads to the foot of the real climb: the 500 foot gully leading to Cathedral's south ridge. I had previewed this gully the whole way from the lake, and conditions looked good. The worst part of the gully was the bottom, where the snow had already melted out leaving steep dirt and gravel in its place. Above this, the snow was solid and enjoyable to climb, the whole way up to the ridge.

Hard-packed snow.

The final ridge to the summit provided its choice of routes. Some of the time I stayed true to the ridge and climbed directly up over obstacles, and occasionally a climber's trail led me around the left side of the steepest towers. There was plenty of fun scrambling to be had. The rock was loose in places, just like anywhere in the Elk Range, but I did not mind. The weather was perfect and the surrounding scenery spectacular.

View back toward "Castleabra".

At 12:10 I stepped onto the summit, embraced by views of the Maroon Bells, Capitol, Snowmass, Pyramid, "Thunder Pyramid", Castle, "Castleabra", and a myriad of other colorful lower peaks of the Elks. I stayed about 20 minutes at one of the finest resting spots imaginable.

Summit Shot.

The descent was a little tougher. After breezing down the ridge, I had to take my time in the gully, carefully kick-stepping much of the way down. I was only able to occasionally make short glissades, but most of the snow was too littered with stones and pieces of rock; I didn't feel like tearing up my legs today.

Castle and Company.

Once below the snow, I made good time back down the basin. I took a nice break at Cathedral Lake's tributary, and was surprised to see all sizes of trout swimming around here. As I joined the main trail again, I saw a number of other hikers out enjoying the day, and I would pass a couple dozen more people the rest of the way out the trail. No one was going higher than the lake, except for a handful of hikers headed to Electric Pass.

View down the snow slope to Cathedral Lake.

My wife was due to pick me up at 3pm, and I was about half a mile short of making it out to the trailhead by this time. Turns out she had hiked up to meet me, and we enjoyed the remainder of the hike back out through the tall aspens together.