Nordic Pass

It had been 11 years since we had a day replacing blue diamonds which mark the route on the Nordic Pass Trail. It was well past time for another. Gary was one of the originators of the trail. It was built to allow skiers access to the backcountry. I skied up to Nordic Pass with Gary from Windy Pass on a number of occasions. It was years later when I first went up via the Nordic Pass Trail. That was back in 2006. I have been back a number of times. Often we went beyond and climbed up Mt. Catherine. My last visit was in 2012. In fact I made three visits in 2006. My first one was the work party replacing blue diamonds. I put up a trip report with info on finding the trailhead. That report is here. A recent report at NWHikers bemoaned the missing diamonds and the difficulty in following the trail. Hence the impetus to improve the trail markers. One of the persons from the NWHikers thread contacted Gary and we set a time for the work party.

Gary, John, and I met at Eastgate at 7:15 and headed east. We met Louise, Bill, and John and were on our way by 8:30 am. Gary had procured some additional blue diamonds and Louise picked some up from the Forest Service that morning. The road walk uphill from Hyak (Summit East) was a bit slick but not bad at all. We reached the switchback left and climbed up old boot prints to the top of the snow wall where we put on snowshoes. John had a new pair of mini skis. The creek crossing was no problem. A bit of a drop but a solid snow bridge across. We were prepared for cold and snow showers but the conditions were pretty good. We found missing diamonds almost immediately. All in all, the lower part was not in bad shape. You should now be able to see at least one blue diamond ahead most all the way up. There are a couple more difficult parts that I will address as I go along.

There was fresh snow but not so much as to slow us way down. Gary's memory proved very good. In those spots where we could not see the next diamond he directed us ahead until we did then we filled in with new diamonds. Having six people helped a lot. Every one of us put up a lot of diamonds. In a few places we touched the ski area's Atlas snowshoe trail. The Nordic Pass trail was built for skinny skiers and seldom goes straight up. There are a number of switchbacks to maintain a gentle grade.  The Atlas trail, on the other hand, goes straight up along Hyak Creek. The Nordic Pass trail is a little longer but I think it is more scenic. Our route passes one very big old tree. I skirts a big meadow too. Our pace was pretty slow with the ongoing blue diamond work. The diamonds need to be high enough to be seen in high snow years. There was just not enough snow the past few years. The snow depth at Snoqualmie Pass was almost up to 100" now. We still nailed on the diamonds as high above our heads as possible.

The route goes a short ways down low on the old cross pass railroad grade. A left turn sign sends you off the grade. The diamonds are mostly nailed on vertically. When there is a sharp turn they are horizontal. There are a few larger signs with a left or right turn arrow on them. If you see a horizontal diamond look left or right for the next one. Generally that will be uphill. The route crosses over a groomed crossover trail between ski areas. The next crossover trail is the big one. Signed "Intermountain 90 (aka InterSummit 90 on ski area maps)" it is wide and has overhead power lines. The route climbs steeply up to the road/trail near a power line pole. This point needs to be marked better. The trees are smaller with many downward sloping branches. Not many places to but blue diamonds. Cross the road/trail and turn right a short ways. Look for a lone small tree with a blue diamond hanging off of it. Climb up the snow embankment to the tree. Look straight up into thick forest and see a big tree with a blue diamond facing you. Climb up the bank into the forest and from that first big tree the diamonds are continuous once again.

The next landmark is the meadow. There was still a little sunshine when we arrived. It was already nearing noon so we dropped our hammers, nails, and diamonds and stopped for lunch. While eating it began to hail. John commented that "we were all hammered and having a hail of a good time". And we were.  From here, the trail skirts the right edge of the meadow. We hung a few diamonds and nailed on a few more here. Shortly past the meadow is Hyak Lake. A sign shows the left turn that leads along the shore. The Atlas trail meets the route here. At the end of the lake the Atlas trail continues straight ahead and the Nordic Pass diamonds show a sharp left turn then a sharp right turn. Diamonds continue to the Outer Loop (14F) groomed trail. Here the route takes a right turn, crosses the groomed trail and climbs up an open spot. Forest is just above once again. Three diamonds form a left turn marker. The route winds in mostly flat forest until a difficult place. The trees are smaller and covered with down sloping branches. It's hard to find a spot for diamonds. One is on an old broken snag. Look closely for the route. This is now near the big power line corridor. The forest was cut down in the not too distant past. Keep looking. There are just enough diamonds to find your way. Alternately, follow a true bearing of 210 deg for about a tenth of a mile to the powerline corridor.

The small trees give way to more open ground. The diamonds are more visible. The last 100' to the power line corridor is marked by hanging diamonds. The trees are small and each diamond can be seen from the last, though barely. The route now pops out on the wide power line corridor. There is a big tower just right and uphill a bit. The old route went straight ahead into small trees. Now the trees are bigger and tightly spaced. It would be a lot of work to cut even the short trail needed. We headed up to the tower and at the edge of it the groomed cross country ski trails are met. Cross over the groomed trail and turn left. There is room to snowshoe well off the groomed tracks. In a short distance is a small tree with a hanging diamond. Just ahead and to the right is another small tree with another diamond. This is the start of a right turn to a wide trail. It drops down in a very short distance to another groomed trail. Cross over it and there are no more roads or trails the rest of the way to Nordic Pass. If the diamonds are missing along this stretch, the trail could be followed by following a true bearing of 210 deg from the powerline tower for about a tenth of a mile until diamonds are spotted on large trees on the far side of a groomed trail.

The route parallels the groomed track in forest (barely visible in spots) a short way to a tree with a Nordic Pass Trail wooden sign. From here to the pass the diamonds are pretty good. We added a few heading up but had minimal trouble finding the route. Mostly a long traverse then a right turn heading straight up to the pass. There were many missing diamonds heading down and we added quite a few. More would be helpful heading back along here. We reached Nordic Pass at 3:10 pm and spent about 20 minutes there. For one of my few visits there was no wind.  There was enough snow that the sign was only head high. In some low snow years it is many feet above me.

We started down at 3:30 pm. John was using his mini skis for the first time and did pretty well with the downhill. Still, the first time was harder than snowshoeing. With only three hours of daylight left we did not plan to put many diamonds up high but the gaps were big. We spent quite a while nailing up more. I was nailing up one when John called me to bring my camera. He had found a snow finger. Now I have seen fingers of snow dropping down a rock field but this one really was a snow finger. One of the most amazing things I have seen while hiking.

Down at the groomed trails we marked the route between the first and second groomed trails. We decided to mark the route up to the big power line tower. We crossed the power line corridor dropping down the hill to where we need to reenter the forest. Here the groups parted company. We thanked Louise, Bill, and John for their help and they sped on down. Gary, John, and I marked the hanging diamonds from the edge of the power line corridor to where we had diamonds nailed to the smaller trees. Back through the short confusing spot to open forest with clearly visible blue diamonds once again. We crossed the Outer Loop groomed trail and dropped down to Hyak Lake. We had already put away our hammers, nails, and diamonds for the trip down. Next we reached the big wide "Intermountain 90" crossover road/trail. We then hung the diamond on the small tree just above the road/trail. It was getting late and getting out before dark was no longer an option.

There were many more ski tracks than we saw in the morning. It was now snowing too. As daylight slipped away it became harder to see our route. We crossed the lower groomed crossover trail and continued down. With half an hour to go we put on headlamps. We made it back out to the paved road at 6:53 pm. It was just past 7:00 pm when we reached the car. We spent 10.5 hours out on the trail. We snowshoed 8 miles with about 1400' of gain. Most of our day was spent putting up blue diamonds. Taking an informal inventory of the diamonds we had left, Gary estimated we placed 160 diamonds along the trail. It is much better signed now than before. It was definitely worth all the effort. We would like to thank Louise, Bill, and John for their efforts. The six of us accomplished a lot.

The Nordic Pass trail is a gem. It is gently graded. The avalanche danger is very low. A good place to go when avalanche danger is high. The meadow, the lake, and a few big trees are scenic enough. The section between the groomed trails and the pass seems like wilderness. There was a flurry of trip reports and other documented usage when we worked on the trail and posted reports back in 2006. I'd like to see more usage now because a loved and used trail has advocates. This trail needs to be used and maintained.

++++ Gary recorded a GPS track for the trail. The GPS track, waypoints, and a map of the trail can be obtained by sending Gary an email at ++++

Link to online map with GPS track for Nordic Pass Trail. (Waypoints are shown along the track. Click on them to see written instructions.)

Getting Ready To Go
Crossing The Creek
Starting Out
Crossing Open Spot
Left Turn Arrow
Another Diamond
Ski Tracks
Low Diamond
Nailing Up A Diamond
Big Tree
Through The Forest
Turning Right
Louise & Gary
John Hammers
Crossing InterSummit 90
Marker Tree
At The Meadow
Lunch Time
Alongside Meadow
Approaching Lake
Alongside Hyak Lake
Hyak Lake
Into Open Forest
Plastered Tree
Power Corridor
Nordic Pass Trail Sign
On To The Pass
Gary At Nordic Pass
Group At Nordic Pass
Heading Down
Snow Finger
Adding Another
Hanging Blue Diamond
Second Groomed Track
Mt. Catherine
View From Pylon
Across Power Corridor
At Hyak Lake
Another Turn
Down After Dark
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2017