photo-A look at the East Couloir of Cathedral Peak. photo by Zach Taylor
13,943' Cathedral Peak
ascent route: south gully to west ridge
descent route: east gully "167cm"
members of group: Andy "Danger" Mention and Zach Taylor
I had been at it climbing and riding peaks the last few weeks and my vacation was winding to an end. I had met up with various friends for different parts of the trip and ridden peaks all over the San Juans, Sawatch, Front Range, and now the Elk range. I had met up with Andy two days prior to do some Elk range peaks. We had skied Castle Peak the day prior and I had had my eye on Cathedral since Brian (Lord Helmut) on 14ers.com had posted a trip report and piqued my interest.
I did not have to twist Andy's arm much to get him interested in skiing this steep, rarely skied line, and often overlooked 13er that sits next to Castle peak. We got up a couple hours before sun rise and began hiking from the Cathedral Lakes trailhead where we had camped the night before. Snow line was at treeline at this point in the spring which was more than 2000 above the trailhead so we walked for a couple hours in the dark. The sun began to rise as we got to treeline and be were greeted with beautiful views of Cathedral basin.
Once we got to snowline the snow steepened significantly and we only skinned for a few minutes before putting on axe and crampons and snow climbing up into the small sub basin below the east face of Cathedral and above Cathedral lakes. Clouds swirled overhead and the wind blew hard making us wonder if we would be able to ski this very steep line. We hung out below the east face for a bit waiting to see if clouds would clear up and things warm a bit. We decided to go ahead and start climbing up the more low angled south gully and watch the weather closely. As we began climbing up the south gully the clouds cleared up and things warmed very quickly.
We realized we needed to move fast now to beat the thawing snow so we hurried up the south gully to the west ridge and scrambled up the loose ridge towards the summit.
photo-Cathedral Lakes Basin. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Andy at treeline on Cathedral Lakes Basin. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Zach Taylor on the west ridge of Cathedral Peak. Photo by Andy Mention, 2013.
photo-Andy Mention in the south gully of Cathedral Peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
The snow was softening quickly and we were beginning to worry that a wet avalanche problem could be starting very quickly. The upper hundred feet of snow between the summit and the couloir was melted out and we felt like we were pushing time a little bit so we geared up without running up to the summit. Based on Brian's trip report I was pretty sure the couloir would go through but was a little nervous about it because I could see a 90 foot high cliff below us at the bottom of the couloir. I dropped in first on the steep low 50 degree terrain and began making jump turns down. I got a bit of surface sluffing but that was all. I continued making turns down toward the cliff that loomed below. As I got near the cliff I could see a sneak around to skier's right and excitedly yelled back up at Andy that the couloir went clean through.
My splitboard is 159 cm long and I just barely squeezed through the exit on the rider's right side of the cliff. I made a couple more turns out into the basin below the couloir and stopped to watch Andy ski the couloir.
photo-Zach Taylor riding the east couloir/ "167cm" couloir. photo by Andy Mention, 2013.
photo-Andy skiing 167cm. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Andy skiing the East couloir. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Looking back up at the east couloir. Photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
Andy dropped in making cautious jump turns on the steep terrain. As he neared the cliff he cut right and began scraping through the sneak around on the right side of the cliff. My board is 159cm and was barely short enough to make it through. Andy's ski's were 167cm and not quite wide enough. I felt bad for his skis as I listened to the scraping on rock through the exit. After our narrow exit around the cliff, we decided to name the east couloir "167cm" since we had not heard any other names for this line before. We knew it had been skied before but quite possibly had never been snowboarded (though I would not be shocked to hear of another rider doing it before me either). First snowboard descent or no first snowboard descent, we are naming the line 167cm in honor of Andy's skis!
This is a steep technical line that pitches out around 52 degrees and there is no room for mistake because you will go flying off a 90' cliff if you take a tumble. That said, if you like extreme skiing/riding, this is a classic line and a beautiful peak where you will find solitude hiding from the 14er ski crowds above Cathedral Lakes...