Cathedral Mountain

October 12, 2008

Mountain height:         3189 m
Elevation gain:            1600 m
Ascent time:                8:15
Descent time:              4:20

Mountaineering with Mark.

Move over Edith Cavell, there’s a new number one! Up to this date, if I had to pick one ascent as my favourite, over the past seven years, it would have been the east ridge of Edith Cavell. We completed that trip on August 14, 2005. As of October 12, 2008 the honour of “Best of the Best” now goes to Cathedral Mountain.                            

After failing to make the summit of Cathedral the previous day, we spent the night in Field and then got a nice and early 6:30 am start. The forecast was for sunny skies all day and that seemed to be the case as innumerable stars filled the heavens. With daylight, however, came cloud cover. We thought it to be morning cloud that would quickly “burn-off” in the later hours of the morning. That was not the case and the weather continued to worsen as we arrived at the hanging valley. Needless to say, this was extremely disappointing, especially given that we had the chance to make the summit in perfect weather, 24 hours earlier. There were more than a few eloquent expletives, expressing our frame-of-mind, uttered throughout the ascent.

We slowed down our pace in hopes that the weather would improve, but when the cloud ceiling dropped below 3000 metres and it started to lightly snow, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would have to return another day with better weather. Being denied a perfect summit view on this mountain was simply unacceptable. Nevertheless, we did decide to continue on to the base of the north ridge to check out the remainder of the ascent.

Even in the dismal weather conditions, this was a scenic and enjoyable ascent; the aesthetic curves of snow and glacier contrasting wonderfully with the craggy profile of Cathedral Crags. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see anything beyond the confines of the mountain itself. 

At the base of the north ridge, we took an extended break to debate the issue of whether to continue to the summit or turn around. On the one hand, if we did complete the ascent, we might find it difficult to make a return trip on a perfect weather day, given that there are so many other objectives of interest. On the other hand, we had just spent two consecutive days on this mountain and it would seem a real shame to not make the summit that was now so close. The stunning beauty of the north ridge itself also was starting to push us in the direction of continuing. Eventually we decided to attempt to complete the ascent, even though reaching the summit in the dismal weather would probably elicit yet another barrage of abuse language in light of the unexpectedly awful weather.

Though the ridge looked very intimidating from a distance, its grade appeared much more user-friendly close up. Mark led the entire ascent. There were certainly a few sections where you wouldn’t want to slip or start an avalanche, but they were short-lived and generally the ascent was fun and not unnerving.

Just before we reached the summit, a totally amazing event occurred: the skies cleared. This wasn’t your standard “patch of blue appears and then slowly expands”. The low-lying clouds that blanketed the entire area literally disappeared in what seemed like an instant. It was unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Usually you can see the clouds dissipating, but in this case they simply weren’t there anymore. The experience was astounding! This did elicit some abuse language, but only in a positive sense of complete awe and amazement. As expected the views were utterly phenomenal in every direction.

We hurried up to the summit to enjoy quite probably the best summit panorama we’ve ever seen. The Waputik and Wapta Icefields to the north were stunning; Mounts Stephen, Vaux, and The Goodsirs to the west were stunning. The best view was to the south and southeast, where stood the huge form of Mount Victoria, the shapely form of Mount Huber, and the strikingly pointed forms of Hungabee, Deltaform, and Biddle. The continuation of the ridge of Cathedral to the south provided an outstanding foreground for this spectacle, prompting a huge amount of photo-taking. Heavy cloud-cover persisted to the east, but did little to impair the amazing view. 

Our summit stay was long and immeasurably gratifying - perhaps in large part due to the emotional roller-coaster we had been on the past 24 hours: failing to make the summit in perfect weather the previous day, doing the overwhelming majority of the return trip in miserable weather conditions, and then being greeted at the summit by great weather and a phenomenal panorama.

The descent was as enjoyable as the summit stay. We had to stop every ten seconds to photograph the unbelievable scenery we had missed on the way up. The craggy form of Cathedral Crags was truly a sight to behold. Even much lower down the mountain, innumerable photo opportunities presented themselves, as late day sun lit up Huber, Hungabee, and Biddle. We finished the trip by headlamp, tired but in great spirits. What a day!

Perhaps this trip is more of a sentimental "Best of the Best" than anything else, but I can't remember enjoying a day in the mountains as much as I enjoyed this one.          



Just the weather we were expecting! (heavy sarcasm)


More of the same garbage weather


At least the layers of rock above were interesting to look at



The occassional patch of blue would appear and then inevitably give way to more cloud



Finally, on the glacier



Cathedral Crags


The beautiful north ridge/summit block of Cathedral; even in this sucky weather it’s gorgeous!



Cool cliff-band


Looking back to the Crag



Mark prepares to lead the ascent; Mount Victoria is consumed by clouds to the east

Typical views on the ascent



Mark manages a smile (in between profanities)



More of Mark’s lead



Approaching the summit



An interesting effect, as the Sun tries to make an appearance



Looking back at the ascent ; the line of gray cloud seemed to indicate that the weather wouldn’t change 


Mark nearing the summit



Looking back again; this and the above photo were taken only minutes apart


Mark rushes towards the summit, as the weather clears


Arriving at the summit, in much better spirits



The view towards Mount Stephen



A close-up of Stephen


Mark at the summit (Victoria and Hungabee seem to be creating their own weather)



Hungabee (right); Ringrose (left)



The continuation of the ridge provided a scenic foreground



The view to the southeast


Looking south west towards Mount Odaray (centre) and The Goodsirs (to the distant right of Odaray)



Mount Des Poilus to the north


Looking north 

Getting ready to descend 


Niles (left) and Daly (right)


Hands down one of the best mountain scenes we've ever laid eyes on


Same as above



A closer look

Shadows start to further improve the scenery




Mark descends the ridge



Descending curvaceous snow slopes

Kind of an odd photo

More terrific views 

That cool cliff-band again; Hungabee and Biddle in the distance



Hungabee is finally cloud-free



Perhaps the best view of Cathedral Crags throughout the day

This one wasn't too shabby either


Several 11,000 er's and one that's close (Biddle at the far right)

Looking back at the summit block 


Mark on a shapely arete of snow

Mark sits on the arÍte to take in the gorgeous view for the last time

Same as above


Same as above

The Sun disappears below the horizon

Back on easy snow slopes


Shapely Mount Huber


More decent scenery on descent





Huber and Hungabee again




A final look at Hungabee