Cathedral Provincial Park

North Cascades - British Columbia/Washington

August 12 - 16, 2007

Dave Svilar, Darren Rainey


Dave and Darren in the midst of a "lazy" day of ridge running.  Cathedral Peak in the background.

The way the weather of the summer of 2007 had played out, one had to spend just as long on Plan B as on Plan A.  Obviously, this in reference to a wily Cascades adventurer's plan if the weather is bad.  Usually Plan B calls for moving east where the weather may not be good, but may at least be less-than-miserable.  For the third consecutive year - a trend that will hopefully continue - Darren and I set aside a chunk of time for a bit of summertime fun in the mountains.  This year's objective was the Cascades' ultra-classic Ptarmigan Traverse.  However, on Saturday night as we pretended to dance at the Redhead's wedding, our point forecast for the coming week was mostly bleak.  Reluctantly, we decided to put the Ptarmigan on hold for another year and head to the far northeast reaches of the Cascade Range, the Cathedral Provincial Park.  Amongst climbers this area is known for solid rock and predictable weather, its crown jewel being the southeast face of Cathedral Peak.  I've never been amongst horseback riders - and hope I never will - , but based on the amount of crap on the trails in the area it must be a fun place to ride a horse.

This area appeared to have a variety of options in terms of approaches and destinations.  We leaned towards a well-balanced taste test, and being the marginal climbers that we are, decided to taste the two most notable peaks in the area, Grimface on the Canadian side and Cathedral on the American side of the border.  There were no good trails between the two, and our cross-country journey connecting the dots of our two destinations proved to be the true adventure and joy of this trip.

Day #1:  We underestimated the length of the drive, and by the time we arrived the trailhead there was only a few hours of daylight remaining.  Our boring hike ended at a flat spot in the trees in Wall Creek Valley, not far from the next day's objective - the Grimface traverse (it's actually called something else in the Beckey guide, but don't have it here to reference).  I fell asleep hoping the weather would be poor in the morning, but just dry enough to do our climb.  I did NOT want to wake up and see the shimmering glaciers of the North Cascades twinkling in the distance.  I wanted to have no regrets about not doing the Ptarmigan.

Day #2:  Darren and I awoke to cold air and clear skies.  Some vigorous hiking warmed our bodies and brought us to a beautiful meadow beneath Grimface.  From here our route was obvious, traverse the top of the Grimface ridge from the pass above Wall Creek Valley.  With a carefully folded Beckey topo in hand we carefully navigated the ridge that culminated in an easy scramble to the summit of Grimface.  The route just reassured my growing realization that mountain traverses - basically staying high in the mountains and connecting peak to peak - were much more enjoyable than climbing one peak and descending.  Based on favorable weather and a long August day there was no need to hurry, and rush we did not.  The granite was of the finest variety, shimmering silver-gray in the noon sun.  The climbing was more reminiscent, at least in my experience, to canyoneering than actual climbing.  We made short, bouldery moves over exposed drops, rappelled a couple of times onto enormous chockstones and squeezed through chimneys that proved the undoing of my fancy pants.  Never were we far from exposed drops on either side of the ridge, but at the same time never did we feel any stress regarding our position.  A truly enjoyable climb that wouldn't even scare your girlfriend, or in this case Darren and Dave.

The evening's fun quickly ended on top of the Wall Creek Valley Pass (has a different name, but I don't have the map...).  It's hard to enjoy a good night's camp when you don't have water, a toothbrush or toilet paper.  For water I was forced to descend several hundred feet back into Wall Creek Valley, for toothpaste I borrowed Darren's and used my finger as a brush, for toilet paper I...  well, there was no easy answer.  Darren had rationed his paper and did not have a square to spare.  This didn't bother me, as I had bragged over the past several years that I could perform the wipeless wipe.  It worked for diarrhea in Africa, but I soon found that it did not work for a thicker non-giardia stool.  I stood in the meadow with my trousers at my knees scooping water out of my drinking bottle and onto my bare butt.  It had the same effect as a fan on a fire.  After cleaning the drips on my legs, I collected enough nickel-sized leaves to complete a 50% wipe.  I was satisfied for the moment, but the cumulative effect of a 50% wipe proved devastating by the fifth day.

Day #3: We were satisfied to dedicate our day to traveling cross country to Cathedral Lake.  This involved climbing the ridge from Wall Creek Pass over the top of !@##$ Peak, dropping into the valley in which teh border crossed, and hiking through the woods to Cathedral Lake.  The Canadian side of the park was quiet and little-traveled, at least in comparison to the American Cathedral Lakes side which had trails that were more like trenches due to the heavy horse traffic.  We arrived upper Cathedral Lake in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day swatting flies.

Day #4:  The objective was obvious - the magnificent (if viewed from certain directions) Cathedral Peak.  The peak itself was meticulously sculpted using some of the finest granite a climber could wish for.  Cracks were so numerous that a route seemed feasible anywhere, particularly the south aspect.  However, this is all just speculation since Darren and I barely even laid a paw on the peak.  We started the day with good intentions, circling back to the north side where I figured things "would just fall into place."  The north buttress had been visible since our Grimface traverse and looked like an impressive and climbable line.  Upon arrival we quickly began to doubt, and our Beckey Guide, which had been so detailed for the Grimface traverse simply said: "North Buttress: go up."  We found Fred's description to be vague at best and upon closer examination of some of the wide, lichen infested cracks we decided for an easier route to the left.  Darren started up the first pitch where he decided throwing rocks would be more fun.  I too went up the first pitch and agreed with Darren's assessment.  Instead, we ran a long ridge leading away from Cathedral before succombing to the sun's rays.  Later that evening we capped a fun and relaxing day by engaging each other in a rock throwing contest.  Darren won.

Day #5:  With nothing else to capture his imagination Darren began to lust for his wife.  We bade adieu to gorgeous Upper Cathedral Lake and its riff-raff horseback riders, mosquitoes, and white trash-dog toting campers.  I was thankful that we didn't have to follow the dusty, horse crap trail back to the Washington trailhead and looked forward to a day of adventure finding Darren's Civic somewhere in Canada.  It didn't take long before I would give my right arm for a well-marked horsetrail.  Our bearings were dead on, but the route required some of the most heinous bushwhacking not located in the North Cascades.  Steep hillsides, dehydration, and so many god-awful blowdowns that if felt more like a practical joke than a feasible route back to the car.  The one positive event that transpired was Darren pitying me to the point that he lent two of his fireman guaze bandages.  After four days, I have to say, it feels really good to wipe.

The long, tiring day did not end at the car.  The trip back to Edmonds felt all of its five hours. 

A good place to go when the rest of the Cascades are wet, but unless you like driving, just enter from the American side and share the trail with the horses.  Thanks for another good, long summer trip Darren.







Playing on the granite on the Grimface Traverse.


On the summit of Grimface.  A good look back at the traverse on the left of the frame, and a good look on the upper right where we headed, cross country towards Cathedral.


Sunset on top of Wall Creek Pass where we camped the second night.


Camp on Wall Creek Pass.  The landscape amongst giant granite boulders, sandy platforms and scrubby pines was more like the Colorado Rockies than the Cascades. 


Sunrise near camp.  A foreshortened view of the Grimface traverse on the skyline.


Traveling cross country from Grimface towards Cathedral Peak.


Darren takes a moment to drop a rock over the cliff.


Descending towards the border.  Colorado Rockies???


Crossing the border into the United States.  A swath of trees is cut to mark the border between the two countries.


Sunset near Cathedral Lakes.


Darren approaching the North Buttress of Cathedral.  We were too weak with too little gear to climb the SE Buttress (see below), and upon reaching the north side decided we were too weak for it.  Good lines looked to be had on the north side of the peak, but would require a great deal of scrubbing.


The magnificent SE Buttress of Cathedral.  A reason to come back...


No toothbrush and no toilet paper.  A finger works surprisingly well as a second toothbrush.  The same cannot be said for a finger as a toilet paper replacement.


A border monument beautifully place along the clearcut swath.


Who said cross-country hiking was fun?  Darren suffers the most miserable six hours of the summer.

-written October 2007

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