Cathedral Rock
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Climbing is dangerous! Every year many climbers are broken, maimed, and killed. Don't be so foolish as to trust your life to what you see here. I'm not a guide and neither is this web site. If you don't know what you are doing or where you are going, please take a course or hire a guide!

Cathedral Rock, Northeast Buttress

July 20, 2003

The Mt. Daniel area is one of my favorites in the Cascades. Not for technical climbing, but for the exquisite high alpine wandering that it offers. Access to Mt. Daniel, Circle Lake, and Peggy's Pond is guarded by an aged volcanic plug called Cathedral Rock. A 2nd class traverse across its southwest face is the technical crux of the route to Peggy's Pond, which sits at the base of the west face.

I've lookup up and across at Cathedral Rock many times, and it slowly crept up my objective list. It was a secondary goal on a trip in June of this year, but we left it off due to rain and fatigue.

This time it is the primary objective.

Jens arrives at my place at 4:00 AM. We want an early start to escape the heat and to allow for some cragging afterward. His older edition Beckey Volume I doesn't list the Northeast Buttress, so I show him mine. Seven pitches, 900 feet, 5.7, grade III. He's decidedly more interested in that than the two class 3/4 routes he'd read about.

We depart the busy parking lot at 6:20 AM and start up toward scenic Squaw Lake. After four switchbacks, Jens, who never met a swtichback he didn't dislike, takes a shortcut. On the steeper grade I get to experience my lack of condition and I grumble all the way to Squaw Lake.

There we pump some water and eat a bar before continuing up the trail. The bugs are thick.

A nice hike past several ponds brings us to the PCT junction. We walk north on the PCT for a couple minutes, then cut across the meadow to a stand of trees. There we cache the gear we don't need on the climb, slather on more bug spray, and start a rising traverse under the east face of Cathedral Rock.

Past the meadows, with the northeast buttress in sight, we start across a loose talus slope. Half way across a large rock slides out from under my right foot and I hit my left shin on a remarkably sharp stone. Ouch.

Across the talus we can see the start of the route, at the top of a short, but rather steep snowfield. We both glance downward at our tennis shoes, then up at the snow, then back at our tennis shoes. Jens picks up a sharp stick and I find two stones. Out of respect for the loose and, as I discovered sharp, rocks below, we carefully pick our way to the top of the snow. On the way I notice that I'm leaving a lot of red in the snow.

We exit right at the top of the snow onto ledges. I break out my first aid kit, a film canister of ibuprofen, and take four. I don't want to get sore or stiff on the route. The route description calls for gaining a ledge and then traversing rightward toward the  crest of the buttress, 4th class. It looks harder than 4th to me, so I veto the simul-climbing plan and we tie into a doubled-up 50m 8.1mm PMI Verglas. I picked out and carried the rack this time, so it's about twice the size of what we need. Jens takes it and starts up. Then he tries left. Then right. Then up again. When he realizes that we are decidedly not at the correct start, he comes back to the belay. We exit back left into the moat at the top of the snow and start back up on much easier terrain.

We simul-climb for a while, the, when the route begins to traverse on ledges, Jens sets a belay. I put him on and he starts across. We keep at least one piece between us as we again simul-climb the ledge system to a tree belay. By the time I reach the tree I have blood gurgling out of my shoe, and the bleeding hasn't slowed. Jens has one bandaid, which I use to pull the cut closed, then I wrap my Thorlo socks around it and tie knots over the top. A light mist is coming down and clouds are threatening from the north. I'm starting to feel just a little light headed. I carried the oversized rack in because I wanted to lead some pitches. But with an injury and rain threatening, Jens becomes the designated leader, while I'm relegated to the role of designated bleeder.

The next couple pitches blur together, but the crux comes after a 3rd class rightward traverse to a dirty notch next to a tower. Here we find a bolt, which appears to be for the purpose of bailing. Jens climbs up from the bolt and then traverses right to a finger crack. The gear is questionable and the moves are balancey. As he climbs above I hear Jens yell and the sound of significant rockfall. Thankfully he's okay and the traversing pitch has taken me out of the fall line.

I move up to the bolt so Jens can reach a belay, then he puts me on and I follow. The spot where he loosed the rockfall is a dirty, loose, 3rd class gully. One more short pitch of 3rd and we're on the summit, enjoying the views. We finish off our water and I retool my dressing. A few pictures and a bar and we start down the south side. We slowly pick our way down. A few short 4th class sections go smoothly and we soon back at our packs. We stop at Squaw Lake on the way out. Jens takes a swim while I clean up blood soaked gear.

The trip back to the car is quick. We make a brief stop at an obscure crag about Lake Cle Elum. Jens dispatches a two-pitch 5.9 while I lazily belay in the shade. The quirky Ronald General Store augments our first aid supplies: A bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a box of bandaids, and an ace wrap make me presentable enough to head into Village Pizza for dinner.

This route on Cathedral Rock is fun as an adventure climb, but don't get suckered by the 5.7 rating: Dubious protection and copious loose, friable rock make it a serious objective. More frequent traffic on the south side minimizes loose rock.

This page was last edited on Tuesday, August 30, 2005
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