A classic ski mountaineering adventure that deserves a write-up. A few alternative descents are possible if conditions permit!
Park at the Lake O’Hara parking lot west of Lake Louise.
The route begins up the Lake O’Hara road. After approximately 3km, branch right off the road when the trees clear and cross a creek. Our chosen ascent route is up the trees to the right of Cathedral’s east bowl, as it avoids having to bootpack up a southerly couloir.
The ascent through the trees was a bit heinous – densely forested, steep in places, and super faceted.
Finally breaking above the treeline on a beautiful day. Cathedral Glacier is in the distance off to the right.
A look down the south couloir into Cathedral’s east bowl. On this day, it was pretty crusty, but if you are patient, you could wait for the sun to soften it up and use it as an alternate exit!
Looking ahead to Cathedral Glacier. You must traverse across a steep, east-facing bowl to gain the moraines below the glacier using the approximate route above in red.
Looking back after gaining the moraines. Excellent skiing back down this slope!
After walking for a couple kilometers on Cathedral Glacier, you will be presented with a great view of the summit ridge. We were lucky with the conditions this day! The ridge was nice and fat. I would probably avoid this ridge if stability and/or snow is lacking, as you would easily die falling off either side. The summit is hidden in the clouds to the left.
Skinning along the summit ridge towards the summit with the glacier behind.
An awesome 1600m descent!
Actual GPS route above in blue. Optional north couloir exit above marked by a red arrow. There needs to be a lot of snow and stability in order to do this safely. The north couloir will bring you back down to the Transcanada and will require a hitchhike back to the Lake O’Hara parking lot. The yellow arrow marks the south couloir, which could be a good descent if the sun has had time to soften up the snow. We chose to return the same way through dense forest.
Distances and times are round trip.