"Cathedral Spire" in Absaroka

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"Cathedral Spire" in Absaroka

Postby TomTuriano » Tue Sep 27, 2005 11:17 pm

On September 27, 2005, Stephen Koch, Wesley Bunch, and I drove over Togwotee Pass and north of Dubois to climb Cathedral Spire (11,080+ feet) on the ridge between Horse and Twilight creeks. I had spotted the peak several years ago during a climb of Raggedtop Mountain and hoped to give it a try someday.

South side of Cathedral Spire from Horse Creek.

View of the west side of Cathedral Spire taken from Horse Creek in 2001.

Our route took us from the trailhead on the bench above the west side of Horse Creek (see "Select Peaks Updates" topic ) three miles down to Horse Creek. We crossed Horse Creek and continued up the trail in Twilight Creek for another mile or so through forest to a point that seemed close to the south ridge of Cathedral Spire. A bit of hiking up the ridge in the forest brought us to a cliffband, which we traversed underneath to the right for a half mile to a point where we could climb gullies to regain the ridge. A bit more scrambling along the ridge past some small towers, gave us this disheartening view of the south face of Cathedral Spire, the route that I intended for us to attempt.

South face of Cathedral Spire showing no reasonable way to the top.

Undaunted, we spotted a possible alternative to the right on the east side of the peak and began a long traverse, initially through some forest, then over a narrow arete and down a series of steep ledges at the foot of a big wall on the southeast face. Another several hundred feet of traversing brought us to the base of a large hollow or bowl formed by the 1,000-foot walls of the east face. However, the left side of the bowl appeared to allow access to a ramp system that we had spotted in profile from the south.

Stephen Koch makes his way around the foot of Cathedral Spire on the east side. Twilight Creek below.

We scampered up into the bowl a couple hundred feet and, despite thickening clouds, decided to make an attempt. After stashing our packs, we climbed Class 4 terrain in the bottom of the bowl for 250 feet trending left toward the only practical exit from the bowl.

Wes Bunch makes his way carefully toward the top of the large bowl on the lower east face.

At the top of the bowl, we traversed horizontally left for 150 feet, around an arete, and out onto a large ledge on the southeast face, where we roped up for some Class 5 climbing.

Wes Bunch scoping out the route above.

I took the first lead, trailing two 8mm ropes, up two consecutive 30-foot corners (5.5), both with good protection. I belayed both Stephen and Wes simultaneously with a Reverso. As Stephen approached the top, the rope dislodged a softball-sized rock that fell about five feet directly onto Stephen's middle finger, severely bruising the finger tip.

Still game for climbing, we coiled the ropes and Stephen led on ahead trending up and left for 400 feet along a series of Class 3 ledges and ramps. A 40-foot Class 4 chimney led us up to the south ridge, where we perched ourselves on a narrow ledge immediately over a 1,000-foot drop and roped up for some more Class 5 climbing.

Wes Bunch belays on a precarious ledge.

Stephen then belayed Wes and I together, but at a point when I was about 10 feet above Wes, the hold that I was mantling on snapped sending a baseball-sized rock down. I yelled "rock!!" and Wes was able to hunker down, but the rock still hit his kneecap. Yowwch!

Wes on a 5.5 pitch shortly before getting his kneecap whacked by a rock.

Once all safe on the ledge, it started to drizzle and snow. We quickly moved up and right over Class 3 terrain to the southwest summit. A narrow ledge on the northwest side then led us over to the main northeast summit, where we were surprised to find an old summit cairn!! Some other party was crazy enough to make this ascent, but we saw no slings or any other signs. We figure that there must be an easier way up on the north side of the mountain from the col between Cathedral Spire and Cathedral Peak. If anyone has any information about the prior ascent or ascents of this peak, I am very curious to find out how they went up. Probably some cowboy going for an afternoon stroll.

Me on the summit with big cairn and snow squall coming in.

Cathedral Spire from the northwest showing a possible Class 3 route to the summit.

We spotted an interesting-looking chimney leading northeast down from near the summit, but with the storm upon us, we thought it was best to descend the way we knew.

Stephen and Wes reverse the narrow ledge from the summit. Heavy snow begins to fall.

Several hundred feet of very careful downclimbing over extremely exposed easy-5th-class terrain led us safely to our first rappel, but not without serious discussions about which way to go and which breccia horns were safest.

Wes and Stephen set up the first rappel at the very edge of the abyss.

Very concerned that our supple 8mm ropes would get stuck on the tacky breccia during retrieval, we set up our rappels to minimize this possibility. Firstly, we tried to set the rappel right on the edge of the abyss so the rope would not have to drag over low-angle terrain. Secondly, we made sure that the ropes were running over the smoothest rocks possible. Our first rappel took us 200 feet down to near the bottom of our first Class 5 pitch.

Stephen Koch searches for an anchor for rappel number 2.

Stephen Koch angles at a 45 through the fog during the second rappel intending to hook his rope over the large knob to his left to access another fall line.

At the second rappel anchor, we left two stoppers and a slung knob. We rappeled about 100 straight down to a ledge, then traversed across the ledge for 50 feet until we could continue rappelling down a more northerly aspect into the large bowl at the foot of the climb. 200 feet of rope took us to the end of the difficulties not far from our backpacks. Celebration was in order when our rappel ropes were successfully retrieved.

Wes finishes his rappel to the bottom of the bowl.

Red was our ascent route on the east face of Cathedral Spire. Light blue is where we made our two rappels.

A careful descent for another 500 feet down loose scree brought us to the forest, which provided easy travel for another 1,000 feet into Twilight Creek, where we picked up the trail down to Horse Creek. We reached our vehicle at about 7:00pm.

Thomas Turiano
Last edited by TomTuriano on Thu Jan 05, 2006 9:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Possible early ascents

Postby TomTuriano » Thu Oct 13, 2005 9:03 pm

Since I posted the above report, a couple people have chimed in with ideas about who might have done the first ascent of Cathedral Spire and built the cairn that we found:

The first suggestion was Allen Steck, who is mentioned in Bonney Guide as having done the first ascent of nearby Boedeker Butte. The second suggestion was Bob Scarpelli, Vedauwoo off-width pioneer and avid hunter who has spent some time in the Absaroka. The third suggestion was Jim Underwood and party (from Casper or Laramie), who, according to Bonney, made the first ascent of nearby Cathedral Peak in 1966.

Any other ideas would be appreciated.

thanks, tt

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