American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Cathedral Peak, Noble Beast

Wyoming, Wind River Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Justin Loyka
  • Climb Year: 2018
  • Publication Year: 2019

Cathedral Peak’s big east-facing wall, rising above Cathedral Lake in the eastern Wind Rivers, has a long history, attracting the attention of climbers since at least 1979, when Fred Beckey and Jim Kanzler completed the route they named Orion’s Reflection. NOLS courses camp nearby every year, and Wyoming hardmen like Greg Collins and Dave Anderson have passed through the area.

I didn’t see the wall until 2015, when the NOLS course I was instructing made a base camp nearby for a week.It was hard to stay focused while teaching camp cooking or rappelling techniques with the headwall looming through the clouds in the background.That’s why I was so excited when internet research and chatting with experienced Wind River climbers didn’t turn up any beta about the prominent crack system splitting the center of the lower face and the tantalizingly steep cracks and corners leading to a bizarre, overhanging summit block. Two other routes had been completed since Beckey’s route—the South Tower Direct (McNamara-Rowell, 1999) on the left side of the face and the Flight of the Golden Camalot (Hunt-Keith, 2001) on the right—but this central line appeared to be unclimbed.

Three years later, toward the end of July, I finally hiked the seven miles from Dickinson Park to the base with Ben Dueweke. The line looked as good as I remembered, but our attempt was stymied by mild altitude sickness and some ridiculously good fishing, not to mention the challenging steep section with tricky gear at the top of the third pitch. We descended from two nuts fixed at an obvious bail point by a previous party. (The lack of other tat and the position of loose blocks above this leads me to believe the rest of the route we eventually climbed was virgin territory.) Despite our setback, the rock quality was promising, and the intimidating low roofs went easily with some gymnastic, but moderate, moves.

A week later I was back, this time with my friend Chris Kalman. We left camp at 5 a.m. on July 28 and began climbing an hour later. Chris quickly dispatched the difficulties and runout at the previous high point and we were in business. Two more 5.11 pitches led us to the massive cleft that splits the upper two-thirds of the mountain into the soaring buttresses from which its name is derived.

We moved the belay up to the base of one of several beautiful crack systems accessible from our five-pitch start, chasing what we hoped would be the best rock available in a long left-facing corner. Three pitches of sustained but moderate jamming led to a great ledge. The steepness of the wall was impressed on us here, when a dropped rock bounced once then hit nothing but air from 900 feet up. All the climbing up until here had been free, though Chris fell while leading the first pitch, and I fell repeatedly while leading the fourth. We never considered pulling the ropes to retry these sections, as there was still a ton of unknown terrain above.

The next pitch, with more burly 5.11 laybacking, started out brilliant before deteriorating into badly exfoliating rock, requiring Chris to pendulum left to maneuver around it. He took an ugly, swinging whipper while attempting to free climb above the pendulum, with a marginal piece protecting him from a much more violent impact, before finally making it to more protection and a belay stance. Unfortunately, the rock remained flakey from here on out. We were feeling pretty whupped by the physical climbing, and had we carried two ropes and some extra tat and nuts, we might have bailed. But with only one rope, we were more committed, and so we took to aiding (with no hammer, pins, aiders, or daisies) to finish the upper pitches.

The final four pitches went slowly. We were both parched, and I was cramping up badly. We stepped left and climbed a flare turning into fingers, then easy aid, below a prominent triangular roof. We exited the 25-foot roof to the right via a wild hand traverse, assisted by a heel-toe cam evolving into horizontal chimneying. Chris then aided a vegetated crack while in the smoky sky a blood-red full moon rose behind us. My cramps finally subsided just as Chris was starting to bonk, and I led a final pitch of delicate choss-wrangling to the summit as the stars came out.

A huge gully to the north was the obvious descent, and we clattered down, arriving in camp around midnight after 19 hours on the go. We called the route Noble Beast, due to the elegance of the line (noble) and the burliness of the climbing (beastly). It is 1,300 feet long and was climbed in 12 pitches at 5.11 C1. The occasional exfoliating stone detracts from the overall quality of the line, but I have never done so much sustained crack climbing on a Wind River route.

– Justin Loyka

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