Trip Report: Elk Range, CO – Class IV Cathedral Peak, CO Summit Push

Clay Malott | | Trip ReportTrip Report
Making our way up the south ridge. Photo credit: Clay Malott

I woke up yesterday morning fairly early at 5:45 AM and began the drive to Cathedral Peak at round 6:15. At 13,944 feet, Cathedral Peak is the 62nd highest peak in Colorado. The peak is commonly climbed and skied in the spring due to the dangerous nature of the East Gully route without substantial snow cover.

We arrived at the Cathedral Lake trailhead at around 7:00 and got going shortly after. We made good time up to Cathedral Lake, covering the 2.75 miles and 2,100 vertical feet in just under an hour. We stopped at the lake to grab water and noticed some people camping near the trail. It quickly became fairly evident that they had a campfire, which is VERY illegal right now considering the dry conditions here. August saw some of the largest fires in Colorado history.

We left the main trail and began bushwhacking through the shrubby terrain along the east flanks of the lake. We continued over to a large face of scree that led up to a bench that was the start of the upper basin surrounded by Cathedral, Leahy, and Malamute Peak. Up the rocky face was a faint miners trail from the silver boom of Aspen 150 years ago.

Heading over to the miners’ trail into the upper basin. Photo credit: Clay Malott

The climb into the upper basin was fairly easy, and the upper basin was a sprawling expanse of boulders that came down from the abrupt ridges that wrapped 270 degrees around us. This upper basin sprawled up to the bottom of the east face of the south ridge of Cathedral Peak. Our ascent route was up a gully to a small saddle on the south ridge, which we would then use to ascend up to the peak.

East face of Cathedral Peak’s south ridge from the upper basin. Our route to gain the ridge would take us through the far-right broad notch on the ridge. Photo credit: Clay Malott

Once we reached the bottom of the gully, things became difficult quickly. The slope became very steep and full of super loose dirt and small rocks. It steepened to upwards of 45 degrees, and ascending without clinging the walls became difficult. Without good handholds on the solid walls on either side, travel would have been impossible without slipping all the way down the couloir. We obviously wore helmets for rockfall danger. The ascent up the chute to the ridge was definitely class IV climbing, and sections of unroped class V climbing to climb up and past obstacles via the walls. We finally topped out on the ridge at 9:20 AM.

Topping out on the east gully. Photo credit: Clay Malott

Smoke from the fires all over the west had drifted into the mountain valleys of the Elk and Sawatch ranges and created the opportunity for some pretty cool photos.

Smoke in the distant mountain valleys of the Sawatch from the top of the notch on Cathedral’s south ridge. Photo credit: Clay Malott

Once we got on the ridge, things were pretty easy. We had some class III-IV climbing on both sides of the ridge to attack weaknesses and slowly made our way up the 500 vertical to the summit. We topped out at 10 AM, which was incredible time. We covered 4,200 vertical feet over 5 miles of class III-IV (with the occasional IV pitch) in just under 3 hours.

Continuing up the ridge. Photo credit: Clay Malott
Topping out on Cathedral. Photo credit: Clay Malott

We spent a few minutes up top before heading down. Downclimbing the ridge was about as slow as ascending, due to all the loose rock and route finding.

Descending the ridge. Photo credit: Clay Malott

When we arrived back at the saddle where the east gully meets up with the south ridge, we put on our climbing harnesses so we would have the option to hand belay or sling a rock and rappel, due to the loose nature of the gully. We began down the gully, using very careful foot planting and just taking it slow in order to not slip or kick rocks down onto each other as much possible. Whenever we could, we stuck on the solid rock along the walls, since it drastically reduced the risks. It was very slow going, but we eventually made our way back into the upper basin. We descended back down to Cathedral Lake and continued on down the hiking trail. We ended up running into my extended family about halfway down the trail, who were continuing up to Cathedral Lake. We ended up heading all the way back up to Cathedral Lake with them and then back down to the trailhead.

We finished off a great day with a relaxing late lunch at Pine Creek Cookhouse just minutes down Castle Creek Road. Total, we logged about 13 miles with 6,000 feet of elevation gain (I forgot to start my Strava, so I lost about 2 miles and 1,500 vertical). Great day, onto the next Colorado Centennial!

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