Cathedral Mountain attempt – October 11, 2008

Roundtrip time:  10:20

Mountaineering with Mark.

Cathedral Mountain first caught our eye in 2004, on all of three trips up Narao Peak (two failures and one success). In recent years Marta and Chester, and Raff and Kevin had ascended the peak in the Spring, via Chic Scott’s ski mountaineering route. Lacking the requisite skiing abilities, we set off on foot, before the heavy Autumn and Winter snow rendered the route too strenuous.

I forgot Chic Scott’s book at home, but had brought with me Graeme Pole’s route description, which appeared to be very similar. All started off very well. The weather was perfect and after an easy ford of Cataract Brook and then a hike up forested slopes, we found ourselves in a beautiful hanging valley, north of the objective. The lightly snow-covered slopes and interesting rock colours around us were beautiful, as was the view towards the summit of Cathedral Mountain. We both expected the day to be scenic and successful at this point.

With some key waypoints and a Gem-Trek map, we started up easy slopes, toward the toe of the glacier. Oddly, we arrived at that GR reference to find there was no glacier, nor any signs that one had been there recently. More baffling was the fact that the glacier clearly marked on the map, didn’t seem to exist at all. We continued upslope, in search of the glacier that wasn’t and in fact it WASN’T. The actual glacier is far smaller than the one depicted on the Gem-Trek map and doesn’t extend as far east and north. The NRC map is more accurate, but unfortunately we didn’t have access to that map at the time.

Instead, we found ourselves on the ridge of the northern end of the Cathedral massif, with the summit visible several kilometres to the southwest. Options at this point were to lose about 300 vertical metres of elevation and search for the described route (sans glacier!) or gain a highpoint to the west and hope we could traverse around and then down to where the glacier actually started. We chose the latter and slogged up tedious slopes of rubble and snow. The views were absolutely magnificent, especially toward the Waputik Icefield to the north and the wonderful profiles of Mount Hungabee and Biddle to the south. This made our failure even more bitter, when we arrived at the summit of the highpoint to find it was the end of the line; vertical rock-bands prevented us from going any further. We less than graciously conceded defeat and started back to the car.

Since we still had a few hours of daylight left, we decided to search for the correct route, for future reference. It was easily found within short order and we actually considered making an attempt at the summit right then and there. That would entail doing the entire descent by headlamp. Since the weather forecast was good for the following day, we decided to retreat, spend the night in Field, B.C. and then make another attempt in the morning.    

A wonderfully scenic, but terribly disappointing day.

A colourful cliff band en route to the hanging valley

The rock of that band

Arriving at the hanging valley

Same as above

Mark arrives; Mount Victoria North and Mount Huber to the right

Victoria North (centre), Huber to right; Hungabee at the distant, far right

Heading up the obvious slope in the middle

The ever-improving view to the south; Mount Biddle at the right

Same as above

Mark on the ascent slope; Cathedral Crags is just right of centre; the summit of Cathedral is just visible at the left

A distinctive feature near the summit

Checking the map to find out why we are not on the glacier

On the ridge, looking north toward Sherbrooke Lake and the Waputik Icefield beyond

Sherbrooke Lake; Balfour, Niles, and Daly behind

The north-eastern most end of Cathedral

The end of the line; the summit of Cathedral to the left

Huber, Hungabee, and Biddle

Mount Biddle

Looking northwest; Mount Carnarvon to the right

Perfect weather and the summit is unattainable

A closer look at the beautifully aesthetic summit block of Cathedral

A last look to the south

Mount Hungabee

Thin clouds make an interesting lighting effect

Trying to look happy that we failed!