Mt. Catherine

After nearly a month with no new snow the mountains were unusually bare and icy. This week we had 16" of snow at Snoqualmie Pass. Not a lot but at least enough to cover some of the ice. A number of folks expressed interest in a snowshoe trip but by Saturday night only four of us were in. Barry, Suzanne, and I met in North Seattle and we picked up Carla on the way. Avalanche danger was moderate but we wanted to be safe and chose Nordic Pass with a try for Mt. Catherine if snow and avalanche conditions allowed. We were parked and on our way by around 9:00 am.

The usual snowbank where we left the road was almost non existent. Only a few feet tall. Although the snow was pretty well consolidated we donned our snowshoes immediately. The snow bridge over the creek was thin but hard packed and icy. It easily held our weight. The route goes away from the creek but there was not a track to be seen that way. There was a track that paralleled the creek. It crossed the old railroad grade then came to the main crossover ski track from Summit Central to Hyak. Since Hyak is closed for the season this road was not groomed.

Our track continued right heading up the ski route. We were able to guesstimate the place where the Nordic Pass Trail crosses the road and we headed straight uphill. By the time we reached the meadow we were back on the blue diamond Nordic Pass Trail. It was clear on our drive up but cloudy as we reached Snoqualmie Pass. At Hyak Lake we were in the clouds. I could barely see across the lake.

We headed on and crossed one set of groomed cross country ski tracks and reached the big power line corridor. This is where the route crossed groomed tracks several times and can be hard to follow. All of us had done the route a number of times and had little trouble finding the diamonds once across the tracks. From here up we were on fresh snow. It was not deep but not crusty either. The diamonds were nearly ten feet above eye level. Hard to believe how little snow there is so far this year. We contoured around Frog Lake and managed to follow the diamonds all the way to Nordic Pass.

At the pass I could just touch the Nordic Pass sign with my pole fully extended. I'd say it's about 12 feet above the current snow level. It was still a fairly balmy 32 degrees and there was almost no wind. We had a short food break and decided to head on to Mt. Catherine. The snow was deeper above the pass but not too bad for climbing. I forgot my MSR extensions so I had the most weight and short 22" snowshoes. I was still sinking even when fourth in line. We stayed right on or very near the crest most all the way up. There were some "whoomp" sounds but no signs of sloughing. As was mentioned early on in the trip the ridge seems to go on forever.

We reached Nordic Pass in 1:50 and it took us over an hour to do the much shorter climb to the summit. It does gain another 1000'. The crux of the climb is the summit block. The first time Suzanne and I were stopped by thin rotten snow just below the top. On my second attempt we cut across the left side all the way to the far ridge and had an easy walk up from there. On my third attempt we cut left then steeply up to the ridge and along it to the summit. This one was much like number three. The snow was too soft to make an ice axe useful. We slipped and slid and climbed the last 75 or so feet to the ridge top. Barry went up the narrow ridge and Suzanne and Carla cut across the face then up. I tried the lower route but the slope broke away. I went up the ridge.

We had some views towards Silver peak and across to Granite Mountain while ascending but the views from the summit were minimal. We stayed long enough for a few photos and then headed down. That first 75' was the tricky part then it was easy. After dropping 150' we stopped for lunch. Thankfully the wind was still light. The slog down the ridge went much faster. Soon we were back at Nordic Pass. Coming down from the pass I had a few twinges of cramps and had to slow down. I finished off my water and took smaller steps and the twinges did not get worse.

Back at the groomed tracks we met two Nordic track skiers who thought Gus's bark was a wolf coming after them. After apologies we continued down. Those two skiers were the only people we saw all day. Almost total solitude a few miles from a major interstate highway and surrounded by ski areas. I was very happy to make it down without the cramping becoming a serious problem. I only had that problem once last year in 90+ days out and it too was on a steep snowshoe trip. We were back in time to hear the Seahawks lose yet again. The Gold Creek sno-park was a zoo. Cars were parked all the way across the interchange to Hyak. Dozens of them parked right next to the "no parking" signs. We had light snow coming down and it turned to rain as we crossed the pass. It turned out to be a fun day with far more solitude than expected.

Start Of Trail
Across The Creek
Big Meadow
Hyak Lake
More Fresh Snow
Nordic Pass
Heading To Ridge
Silver Peak Ridge
Flocked Trees
Steeper & Deeper
Mt. Catherine Summit
View Along Ridge
Nordic Pass Below
Olallie Meadow
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2010