Change of Plans… The Cathedral and Hanging Lake Story


After climbing Lackawanna yesterday I drove 4 hours to Ashcroft and arrived at 1pm. The winter closure started here.


My intent was to spend the night, wake up early and attempt Cathedral Peak in the morning. There were tons of vehicles in the lot when I arrived, and groups getting ready to leave for the day.


This is a popular trailhead as a starting spot for many winter activities (mainly skiing and snowshoeing, not necessarily mountain climbing).  I asked about conditions and was told the snow was firm in the morning and soft in the afternoon (lol!).  I saw some snowshoers with a guide ready to go out for a short trek (dressed in jeans) and several groups on hut expeditions.

The bathroom was open but dirty, so I got out my Clorox disinfecting wipes and quickly cleaned it so I could feel better about using it over the next few days.


It was still early but I decided to make some Mountain House Stroganoff for dinner and go over my notes for tomorrow. There wasn’t any recent information on this peak, and in fact not much information at all, so I wanted to be prepared.  I checked the weather report I’d saved on my phone and calculated start times.  I wanted to be on the trail no later than 2:30am so I could potentially make it to the Lake by 5am, with a summit between 5-7am to avoid the warming of the snow and avy conditions.

As I was sitting there, all I could think of was how beautiful the mountains were, and how perfect the weather was right now. It was probably spectacular here in the fall.  Even though I’d hiked a centennial already today I wanted to be out there hiking again.  I gave it some serious thought but in the end knew the snow at this time of day would be too soft, so it wouldn’t be worth the attempt anyway.

The sun was already warming up my truck and I began to feel sleepy. By 3pm I’d decided to try and get some sleep because I was waking up super early to hike tomorrow and needed my rest after this morning’s climb.  At 5pm I was woken up by an intense thunderstorm but was able to fall back asleep.


My alarm went off at 1:30am and I woke up to 3 inches of snow outside but check this out: I was warm!


I’ve never been warm sleeping at a trailhead, but for some reason I was this morning, even though it had obviously snowed. I didn’t want to get up but I also knew I didn’t have a large window of opportunity for this climb, so I had to get going.  I was on the trail by 2am, following Castle Creek Road.  After a little over a mile I saw a gate and a sign indicating I was to take this trail


I exited the road, climbed over a 5 foot tall ice wall and landed face first in the snow. Boy, was I glad no one was here to see me do that!  How embarrassing!  I picked myself up and in the 3-4 feet of snow (in the dark) struggled to get on my snowshoes.  This was going to be an interesting hike!

For the next mile and a half I postholed up to my knees in the snow, doing my best to route find a class 1 trail that hadn’t been hiked in quite a while, buried under several feet of snow. I came to an avalanche area.  After a few minutes I found my way around it, but quickly came to another one… or maybe it was a continuation of the first?  I’m not sure, but this avalanche was very recent and in the dark I couldn’t find a way around it.  This was a 15-20 foot wall of compacted snow with tree trunks and branches sticking out from every angle.

I had 2 options: Wait for daylight to see if I could find a passable route, or cut my losses, head back to my truck and drive to the next trailhead. I knew if I waited until daylight I wouldn’t have enough time to complete or even attempt the climb past the lake, so I decided to just head back.  That postholing had sure worn me out!  I was incredibly tired, but it was probably due a little bit to yesterday’s elevation gain/climb as well.

I hiked back to my truck as the moon rose over the mountains and in and out of the clouds. I no longer needed my flashlight and wondered to myself if the moonlight would have made a difference in my navigating the avalanche?  It was 5am when I made it back to my truck.  I stowed my gear and hopped in, intent on driving to the next trailhead for the peak I’d intended to hike tomorrow. For reference, here’s where I encountered the avalanche


My truck wouldn’t start. Drat!  I got out, cleaned 3 inches of snow/ice off the hood of the vehicle and popped the hood.  After fiddling around with the battery for a bit I was able to get the truck started and I was off.  This had certainly been an interesting morning!

As I was driving to the next trailhead I saw a sign for Hanging Lake. This hike has been on my bucket list for years now, but it’s so short and so far away it hasn’t seemed worth the drive.  Well, today I was right here, the new reservation system begins next week and I’ll most likely not go if I have to reserve a spot.  It seemed my day was already shot and I wanted to turn it around, so I took the exit for Hanging Lake.

I arrived to a half full parking lot at 7am. (I’ll apologize here: My camera was fogged up due to the change in conditions from snow to warm, so the pictures came out a little hazy).

The trail is well marked and easy to follow. I walked along the river on a well kept paved trail for about half a mile


And at the official trailhead turned left


There’s a sign with some rules and information


As you can see from the sign, there are 7 bridges to cross.  This hike can be summed up in a few simple pictures:





And signs every ¼ mile or so letting you know how far you’ve gone:


There were a few short sections of snow/ice, but traction would have been overkill


There were also a few waterfalls along the way


And signs of a recent avalanche


After a mile of hiking up 1000’ or so in elevation I came to a steep set of winding stairs and arrived at Hanging Lake.


Wow! Talk about beautiful!

Hanging Lake: Video

I took a selfie to prove I was there


And a few pictures of the lake itself (it has fish!!!)



I saw a sign on my way in for Spouting Rock and decided to see what that was all about. It was a 2 minute walk up more steps to an area just above Hanging Lake.


Spouting Rock is a waterfall.


The hike back down was very quick. The only drawback was navigating through all the people on the trail!  This is a very popular hike, and on a Saturday morning the last weekend before the reservation system started quite busy, even for 8am.


I made it back down to the river and followed the sidewalk back to the parking lot


There’s a nice bathroom there


And the parking lot was full!


I made it back to my truck a little before 8:30am, making this a 3.5 mile hike in 1.5 hours.


Relive: Video

The hike had totally been worth it! Bucket List item checked off!  I was now in a much better mood, and ready for my next adventure!

Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

2 thoughts on “Change of Plans… The Cathedral and Hanging Lake Story”

  1. I love looking over the curvature of the hood of Your truck as it blends into the road.I realize that sounds a little corny but being an over the road driver for 16+years,I measure things a little differently than most people.Women are so much better at lane control. You have a very impressive video of Hanging Lakes.It’s mind boggling to see such beauty before You.It’s like having a cake that’s to pretty to eat. Their is so much to say in regards to You sharing these precious moments that You may deem Your private affair with nature.You give so much to so many and maybe with little or no thanks.Please accept my heart felt thanks. I look out of my back window everyday and realize that it looks different every time I view it’s vastness and think of the many feet that have made that ascent over so many years.I consider that Your mountain Laura because the many times You have made the ascent to it’s summit.You even have a ring with it’s mountain design.As Your daughter stated;You are married to Pikes Peak. Thank You Laura.


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