Cathedral Mountain

September 21, 2021


North Shore Mountains, BC

Cathedral Mountain is considered as the “crown jewel” of North Shore Mountains by most baggers and I would agree. It’s not the tallest nor the most prominent but it’s very iconic. From climbing perspective this peak is difficult to access requiring over 2500 m cumulative gain by traversing up and over Mt. Burwell. A competent party can day-trip this objective but most prefer to overnight at a small tarn immediately to the north of Coliseum Mountain. This peak is also somewhat illegal to climb as it’s entirely in the Great Vancouver Watersheds but it’s not uncommon in the past two or three decades to see reports of climbers sneaking in and bagging the prize. Most stories were kept “low profile” on the internet, but then all the sudden this peak was included in the Bagger Challenge in the last couple years. Ever since then the route had been well flagged and a “path” had developed and these days probably close to 100 people summit Cathedral Mountain in a calendar year.

I had been wanting to sneak in and bag this peak for at least 5 years but the biking approach was one major deterring factor as I did not, and still do not own a bike. I also have very limited biking experience. I eventually decided to finally pull the trigger this year as the baggers from that group had told me there’s virtually no bushwhacking required anymore. That also indicated the legality probably isn’t really an issue here. I was able to borrow an expensive bike from Matt J. and his North Shore Bike Shop as well as the biking helmet and gloves. Francis and I started the biking approach shortly after 5:30 am in the pitch dark. We rode up the Seymour Valley Trailway and hiked up the Paton Lookout trail. We ascended “Paton Peak” and then traversed over Coliseum Mountain and Mt. Burwell. About 5 hours into the trip we were nearing the bottom of the long and complicated descent into Burwell/Cathedral col.

Cathedral Mountain et al. via the standard route. GPX DL

We were briefly off-route while down-scrambling a band of steep wall about 2/3 of the way down Mt. Burwell’s north ridge but after traversing across a flat ledge we were back on track with plenty of flags and cairns guiding the way. The path was also more visible as we got closer to the col. There were a lot of zig-zags and weaving but since the route had been flagged we decided to just stick to the known. At the bottom of the col we took another long break ditching a bunch of unnecessary gears including extra layers, head-lamps, gloves and water. At this point we were all somewhat tired and we wanted to carry as minimal as possible for the final 700-m grunt.

Palisade Lake looks cool on the west side of Burwell-Cathedral ridge
The mighty Cathedral Mountain from partway down Mt. Burwell’s north ridge
There were plenty of water sources on the north side of Mt. Burwell
Francis doing a leap of faith on the boulder garden
Me nearing Burwell/Cathedral saddle, looking ahead

The “trail” was actually more obvious on the Cathedral’s side so we had a while of cruising but then all the sadden we lost the trail. We decided against backtracking but the bushwhacking was slow and wet. We soon found the trail again and paid extra attention to not lose it again. There’s one stretch on the lower slopes where the trail dropped to the east side of the ridge and traversed some tedious boulder fields with some undulating up-and-downs. After this annoying stretch we were able to resume that steep grunt but then a while later we came to another boulder field. This time the cairns and flags led us ascending this boulder field on a rising traverse direction towards climber’s left and for the next few hundred meters of elevation we wrapped around to the far western corner of the peak. There were some 3rd class scrambling on wet terrain but the route was still very easy to follow.

Me traversing that zone of boulders on the east side of the ridge
Francis ascending yet another field of boulders midway up
This piece of slab traverse was wet and slippery
For once in a while we had to tunnel through some bush but well-flagged
A view into the core of Capilano Watershed from Cathedral’s SW Ridge
Upwards and onward.
The end of a long stretch of steep scrambling

After ascending back onto the ridge we again, had a section of undulating terrain leading into a small notch feature. This notch required at least 20 m of elevation loss and the opposite wall was a long zone of steep scramble on tree roots and rock steps. There were definitely some 3rd class moves but the exposure was minimal at most places. Once the grade tapered off again we popped onto the summit ridge but to reach the true summit there was still some up-and-downs to content with. Needless to say this was a long haul on some tedious and tiring terrain and we eventually summitted at almost 7.5 hours into the trip.

As typical as the terrain is on the SW Ridge of Cathedral Mountain
Francis scrambling up a 3rd class step with Palisade Lake behind
“Pinecone Peak” etc. on the skyline looking north
Ahead is that steep zone after the notch feature.
Me following flags to weave around bluffs
The flagged path led us weaving into bushes around bluffs
This wet slab was probably the hardest part of the entire ascent, with some exposure
Partial Summit Panorama from Cathedral Mountain. Click to view large size.
Partial Summit Panorama from Cathedral Mountain. Click to view large size.
Crown Mountain is another fine objective in the North Shore Mountains
Looking towards the city of Vancouver past the summit of Mt. Burwell
Mt. Elsay and Mt. Seymour
“Bagpipe Peak” in the foreground with Atwell Peak barely poking behind
A zoomed-in view of the south face of Meslilloet Mountain
Mt. Judge Howay etc. on the skyline behind Fannin Range in the very foreground
Me on the summit of Cathedral Mountain
Francis and I on the summit of Cathedral Mountain

There’s a layer of high clouds rolling in obscuring the lighting so we didn’t linger too long. While descending the upper ridge Francis realized that he had dropped a pole somewhere and that’s an expensive carbon pole. Francis debated about to leave it up there but eventually decided to scramble back up towards the summit to search for it. Meanwhile I kept descending until that notch feature to take a long break. Francis did manage to retrieve the pole. The rest of the descent back towards our gear cache at Burwell/Cathedral col was uneventful as we paid very close attention to not lose the trail. This tiring descent was immediately followed by the 300-m re-ascent on Mt. Burwell. Thankfully the view was more open on this stretch and the lighting had gradually improved as the band of high clouds were dissipating. We also found the correct route through that steep rock band where we got off-route a few hours earlier.

Time to descend. Note the three ugly dildos on the summit…
Me down-climbing that tricky wet slab
The typical terrain on the upper ridge
Me down-climbing yet another tricky step
Traversing back across one of those boulder fields on the mid zone
Cathedral Mountain and a small tarn on Mt. Burwell’s north ridge
One last look at Palisade Lake
I saw some fun granite so on-purposely did some off-route scrambling
Francis scrambling up a fun but optional step
Me searching for a route up the major rock band on Mt. Burwell’s north ridge
Back onto the north ridge of Mt. Burwell, looking back at Cathedral Mountain
The north ridge of Mt. Burwell was a fun ramble
We remembered this spot from a few hours ago. Burwell Lake below
Sky Pilot Mountain was finally free of clouds
Mt. Bishop and its sub-summits is the forested peak in foreground
One last look at Cathedral Mountain from near Mt. Burwell’s summit

Nearing the summit of Mt. Burwell we decided to skip “West Burwell” as none of us wanted to count that as a separate peak anyway despite the inclusion in Bagger Challenge. We traversed across the east side on an obvious ledge system to skip re-ascending all the way back to the summit of Mt. Burwell. The plod from Mt. Burwell back to Coliseum Mountain was surprisingly long and never-ending so we took one last break at the tarn to eat some food and filter some water. We managed to skip the summit of Coliseum Mountain by traversing around the SW corner and then it was that 1200-m plunge down the steep trail back to the bike stash. This descent was both physically and mentally exhausting as the trail was mostly on slippery rocks and roots such that we had to watch our feet for almost every step forward. I had absolutely no idea how some people were able to “run” the North Shore type of trails. We eventually got down to the bike stash with half an hour’s spare of daylight. I thought we might have a chance to finish the entire trip without having to turn on the head-lamps so we pushed quite hard on the bike-out. I treated this ride as an oppourtunity to train my biking muscle endurance. The trailway was a busy place as we got passed by at least 20 bikers. Most of them had bright headlights on their bikes. Nearing the end we overshot our vehicles and had to backtrack a bit. I found biking on the street at night with vehicles was the crux of the entire day. I simply did not feel safe at all to share the road with cars especially with no light whatsoever on ourselves nor our bikes.

Me leading Mt. Burwell’s east side bypass aiming at Coliseum Mountain
Francis after bypassing Mt. Burwell’s very summit
One of the few smaller tarns between Coliseum Mountain and Mt. Burwell
This is that major tarn near the summit of Coliseum Mountain
The Needles and the city of Vancouver from the south side of Coliseum Mountain
Descending into the forest…
There were still boulder fields even in the forest….
In the North Shore we call this a “trail”. Oh well…
Finally time to bike…
Me biking back along Seymour Valley Trailway

Our round trip time was exactly 14 hours which was pretty much as expected. I don’t think I can do it any faster as we were moving pretty steadily on the entire trip. The views were excellent but this was a massive type-2 fun slog fest. Ten minutes after finishing the trip I was back to Matt’s home to return his bike and helmet. I was amazed by the performance of this bike compared to the crappy cheap ones I borrowed from other people years ago. I later learnt that the cost of building this bike was almost 4000 dollars and that explained why I loved it so much…