Skiing Cathedral Peak in Yoho

Cathedral Peak is a magnificent massif located in Yoho National Park near Lake Louise. The Cathedral Massif is comprised of several summits, the tallest main summit rising to a towering 3,189m (10,462′), one of the loftier peaks in what is already a large and prominent range (Lake Louise Group).

While Cathedral Peak is a classic ski mountaineering objective in the Canadian Rockies, it is not one to be taken lightly! The route features substantial elevation gain (over 2100 meters from the car), over a significant distance (21km round trip) and is subject to a wide range of complex hazards ranging from steep avalanche terrain, exposure, glacier travel, and a steep couloir and terrain traps.

There are options for the descent, including the super classic and very long North Couloir down to the highway near Field. However, this option is quite complex – often requiring rappeling equipment, and significantly elevated avalanche risk due to the large seracs overhanging the route, the angle, and the scale of the line.

For those wishing to climb the peak via the normal route, there are a few options as well. I will only be covering the “South Couloir” line, as this is the only route I have experience with.

The views on Cathedral Peak are absolutely breathtaking… or so I’ve heard. Unfortunately, on the day we did the route (March 27, 2022) we had near ping-pong ball whiteout conditions, and the summit was completely socked in with no visibility at all. We did manage to get a bit of visibility on the descent but sadly did not get to experience the world-class views of the surrounding peaks for ourselves.

A bigger day than expected…

The day I did this peak turned into quite an epic, and was definitely a bit of a lesson in big mountain ski mountaineering for me. We had an early start to dodge potential warming, and I did not manage a great sleep the night before. I was also a little off the couch, without a lot of ski touring under my belt in the 2021/2022 season. I went with who are now two of my best friends – Craig and Kris – who are both highly accomplished road bikers and runners and probably some of the highest-performing cardio athletes I know.

Not wanting to disgrace myself in front of my two new friends, I set out at a pretty quick pace, thinking that Cathedral wouldn’t be too big a deal. Somewhere around the middle of the glacier, I realized that not only was the small sub-peak we were passing not the summit, but a further 4 or 5 prominent false summits awaited me. Along with not nearly enough food throughout the day (or water), I arrived at the summit feeling extremely sick and exhausted. The complete whiteout we were in wasn’t helping, and the world was spinning around me.

Turning around to head down, I was feeling so nauseous that I had to stop every dozen or so turns to keel over in the snow, dry heaving for a few minutes before I could stand up and get another 100m down the slope before keeling over again.

Despite being a little worried for me, Craig and Kris were very patient and eventually, we made it down to the lower drainage and out of harm’s way where I laid in the snowbank for close to 30 minutes to recoup before we finally pushed onwards and made it home.

Lesson learned… go slow, eat WAY more food and drink more water for a day this big.

The entire route – looking north

The Route

The route itself is roughly a 21km round trip, plus or minus, again with a pretty substantial elevation gain of nearly 7000′ (2100m) from the car. Competent and fit parties can likely nick this off in as few as 6 hours, however, it would be very wise to plan for a very full day and a VERY early start due to the scale of the route. This is a very big ski mountaineering objective.

To access, park at the lower Lake O’Hara parking lot (same as for Narao Trees), located almost exactly halfway between Lake Louise and Field, BC (roughly 11km from both towns). The lot is located on the south side of the highway, across the train tracks, and is typically plowed.

After skinning up, begin by following the road south toward Lake O’Hara for approximately 3.5km before heading right towards the prominent “canyon/drainage” just right of Vanguard peak, a small subpeak on the eastern flank of Cathedral proper.

The lower part of the route, cutting right to follow the large canyon/drainage feature just right of vanguard sub-peak. The summer trail ascends to the flat shelf-like feature on the right of the drainage

Various options will likely exist here, most likely your choice will be determined by the existence of the best skin track to follow. Leaving the road, you will continue slowly climbing up the drainage for approximately 2km until you arrive at the roughly 200m long South Couloir, which will come into view at the very back of the drainage on the right.

You will want to assess conditions here as the couloir has significant objective hazards. It is quite steep, with significant overhead exposure and some rockfall hazards. Most importantly, you will want to be out of this feature on decent well before any solar warming starts to affect this very dangerous feature.

If conditions permit, climb the couloir (bootpack may be necessary!) and begin contouring around the wide open basin towards the main glacier and very long ridge to the summit. You will contour around for roughly 2km to the glacier, passing the sub-peak (not the summit!) on the right, and then following the absolutely wild ridgeline for another 1km to the summit of Cathedral, passing multiple false summits along the way before finally reaching the true summit.

While the route is somewhat low angle for the remainder of the day, it’s critical to take note of the slopes above the couloir. This long traverse section is most definitely steep enough to avalanche, and is subject to significant solar warming during the day. It is pretty critical to start early and be off these slopes as soon as possible.

The top part of the route

Final Considerations & Disclaimer

Not to beat a dead horse, but Cathedral Peak is a very large and very serious ski mountaineering objective and sits high up in the Canadian Rockies. This summit features pretty much every objective hazard possible – Glacier travel (with possible crevasses), significant avalanche hazards, steep skiing terrain, major terrain traps, significant risk of solar warming in the afternoons, rockfall, and exposure (particularly later in the route near the summit). Do not attempt this peak without the requisite training, experience, and skillset. Always check avalanche conditions at and get an up to date weather forecast from before you go.

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