LoJ: #61 (Pre-LiDAR #62) / 13,952' Cathedral Peak

Range › Elks Range
Quadrangle › Hayden Peak
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 39° 02' 03.91", W 106° 51' 31.94" (Not Field Checked)

Peak Summary

Cathedral Peak offers a typical Elk Mountain ascent with a steep couloir climb that's often on snow and makes having ice axe and crampons handy. The climb is rated a Class 3. The trailhead is accessible to passenger cars. Cathedral Lake makes a great base camp area for those who would want to do this as an overnight trip. This is an outstandingly beautiful wilderness area, but also popular on summer weekends.

Cathedral Peak South Ridge & Couloir Route

Class 3
Long Day // Back for Dinner
RT From Cathedral Lake Trailhead: 8.6 mi / 4,025'
RT From Cathedral Lake Primitive Sites : 3 mi / 2,075'
From Cathedral Lake Primitive Sites: 1.50 mi / 2,075' (One-Way)
  • Trailhead
    • Cathedral Lake Trailhead

      From the busy traffic circle on the west side of Aspen on SH82 and just east of the airport business center, take the exit for the Castle Creek Road (CR15) and drive a long 11 miles to the townsite of Ashcroft. Continue driving south past Ashcroft and at just under 12 miles from the traffic circle there is a road on the right (west) that leads up to the trailhead. The road is graded gravel but may have some rough spots and potholes. It's a half mile to the TH. Coordinates for this road are: N 39° 02' 29.54" W 106° 48' 13.36". If you come to the Ashcroft Ski Touring Center and the Pine Creek Cookhouse, you've missed the turnoff. It's just a short distance back. The parking at the trailhead is limited. On summer weekends, all available parking will fill up and there will be vehicles parked all along the road leading up to the trailhead. Arrive early.


      Some maps indicate a "camping center/campground" at Ashcroft. Whatever is there, it is not a national forest CG. Along the road to the trailhead, there are a couple at-large spots right off the road. There are additional spots if you drive up the Castle Creek Road. You can also find some at-large spots at back north of Ashcroft at the turnoff for Taylor Pass. Otherwise, there are no national forest campgrounds in this valley.

    Approach Map Photos
    • From Cathedral Lake TH via Cathedral Lake Primitive Sites

      For additional information, follow this link to a White River NF publication on this trail: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5186764.pdf

      Though the mileage to Cathedral Lake sounds minimal, with nearly 2,000 feet of elevation gain, plan on taking more time than you figure. The trail #1984 begins by going up through aspen forest (beautiful in the fall) and contours SW above the Ashcroft Ski Touring area and the Pine Creek Cookhouse to eventually reach the Pine Creek canyon drainage. The trail remains on the north side of the creek all the way up and enters the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness increasing in steepness. As the terrain opens up, the trail goes through some sets of switchbacks. Then it enters an upper area with more willows than trees. There will be a section that crosses a larger talus field and after that, the trail gains steeply up a set of multiple switchbacks. When the trail tops out above the switchbacks, if you see any trail heading off on the right, it will be heading off for Electric Peak and Pass. Stay left to reach Cathedral Lake. The lake will be about 15 minutes more walking.


      As the trail flattens out above the multiple switchbacks there is an area of designated? primitive campsites, but there are numerous camping opportunities elsewhere. Camping on the lake shore is neither allowed nor practical. There is a knoll on the east side of the lake that has some nice spots near these coordinates with a couple less used trails that lead to the area. See coordinates below. Bear cannisters are required for backcountry camping here. Also, White River NF requires a self-register overnight permit to camp here. You can register at the trailhead. No fee is required. Dogs must be kept on leash.

      Campsite Locations

      Cathedral Lake N 39° 01' 45.57", W 106° 50' 23.22"
      11,925 ft.elevation

      Open This Approach in a New Window
    Peak Icon Route Map Photos

    Route Info Cathedral Peak South Ridge & Couloir

    Route Description

    Year Climbed: 1993

    Our route for Cathedral Peak basically follows that suggested by G&M. The couloir to contend with drops from the first major saddle south of the summit. Below the couloir, the terrain fans out into a large rock glacier that occupies most of the valley below the SE face of Cathedral. When you arrive at the lake, looking at the NW end of the lake, there is a large, prominent patch of green comprised mostly of willows & tundra. Slightly above and to the right is a fainter tundra patch and above there a little more tundra. You will want to utilize those areas as a means of gaining this basin and avoiding as much of the talus as possible.

    Once you arrive at Cathedral Lake, follow a trail to the outlet for the lake at its most northern point. Cross the stream and then head up some and west over to the first green patch of willows & tundra. Head up along the east side avoiding the willows and then follow the easiest path you can find into the rubble-filled basin SE of the summit. G&M mention an "old but well-preserved miners trail" leading up into this basin. In our 1993 account, we mention this trail. To find it, we took the trail toward Electric Pass a little bit, then turned west and south a little contouring below the prow of the mighty, rugged and spectacular east ridge of the peak. we intersected the trail at about 12,200 feet just below that prow. That trail led us into the SE basin climbing steeply on tundra then rocks before things leveled out some. In 1993, this trail was already rather vague. Two and a half decades more of rockfall may have all but obliterated it so don't count on it. Some faint sections may still be identified on GE.

    In the SE basin below Cathedral, there will appear to be three possible couloirs. identify the proper couloir. It will be the northernmost of the three. We have provided a photo to assist. Head to the base of it on almost all rocky rubble unless it's early season where you will likely find a lot of snow. The snow makes progress much easier. If the basin is filled with snow, the couloir will be as well. This gully is quite steep so when you reach the base, we suggest getting out the ice axe and strapping on the crampons if you have them. Carrie only had "instep" crampons, which we found not very secure because the angle was so steep. Micro-spikes may help but will not be as effective as crampons. Be prepared to spend more time in the couloir than you would expect if you have to kick steps. Some parties or party members may enjoy the security of being roped up. If so, some sling, extra biners and harnesses may be useful. If the couloir is not snow-filled it will be as G&M describe, "a tedious, tilted sand box where poor footing and gravity foil your best efforts." Before we headed up into the couloir, we contemplated going directly up one of the gullies on the SE face of Cathedral. Our climbing companion argued admirably for attempting that way, but G&M offer this advice: "The map contours do not indicate that this face is particularly steep; however, the nature of the rock leaves climbers wishing they had ascended the gully (couloir) instead." So, they prefer the tilted sand box over the SE face gullies.

    At the head of the couloir, if snow-filled, you may have a cornice to deal with. We found it melted out enough on the left side to get around without having to get too technical. Once out of the couloir, head north along the ridge to the summit. This final approach may also take longer than expected. It's never difficult, but there are several cliff bands to navigate around & through and you're still hiking on a lot of loose, broken rock similar to so many other Elk peaks. Shortly before arriving at the summit section where things level out, there is a more significant cliff band & something of a notch that may send you to the west to get around. When you arrive at the summit, the view is quite stunning with much of the Elk Range visible and Cathedral Lake glistening below. For the descent, we recommend descending as you came, but going down the couloir, especially on snow may be intimidating because of its steepness. Once back at Cathedral Lake, you will welcome the trail hike back to the trailhead.

    It should be noted that from the summit of Cathedral it is possible to follow the rugged north ridge to Electric Pass Peak. The route through all the crags & pinnacles is a minimum 3rd class and possibly 4th class depending on the exact route chosen. Most of the difficulties are avoided by traversing on the west side. A description of this traverse may be found under Cathedral Peak on Lists of John.

    Additional BETA

    Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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