Home > Trip Reports > March 15, 2003, Mt Catherine, 5,052'

March 15, 2003, Mt Catherine, 5,052'

WA Snoqualmie Pass
Posted by MW88888888 on 3/15/03 10:35pm
Vertical: 2,600;
Total length: 6 miles

What a wonderful introduction to the bounty that is the Cascade Crest!    

Being new to the Northwest and unfortunately solo (always makes me nervous to ski alone, but I gotta have my fix), I decided to start on something not too committing and close to home.   Having lived in Colorado for the last 7 years, I have taken with me their sensitivity and unfaltering fear of the avalanche and the reports of last week's high avalanche danger gave me the willies thinking of slide paths or high exposed slopes.  So I decided to find a treed slope of lower elevation (it seemed the danger was worse the higher you went) that would still provide a long ski descent.  I chose Mt Catherine on recommendation of my new best friend Martin Volken (per his new book on skiing Snoqualmie Pass).  My biggest concern was the steep sections in the forests - would the snow pack be too dangerous?  

I arrived at 6:30 am and was able to ski up past the Snoqualmie East Ski Area well before the lifts were in operation to avoid any unpleasantries with the ski patrol, and found myself at the Union Pass Nordic trail intersection in no time flat.  In a gracious gesture of fate, the foggy clouds that hovered low and menacing miraculously began to lift, so I put away my compass and just followed my nose out past the Nordic trail system toward Mt Catherine.  My first test of the snow pack was in the large logged area that surrounds the base of the mountain.  I nodded in approval as I found the snow dense and consolidated and only punched through the upper developing corn in intermittent short breaks.  OK, I thought, green light from here, let's see what the trees are like.

Entering the old growth forest at the edge of the logged area, I felt like I was transported back to the White Mountains of New Hampshire of my youth.  Now this was a snow pack I recognized!  It was obvious to me that what ever evil the rain had done to the new snow and its associated danger due to avalanche probably happened already.  In the thicker areas of the forest, the snow was hard and dense and almost incapable of sliding.  Where it was open, it was smooth and "mashed potato" like, but didn't have the dreaded hidden depth hoar that plagued early corn snow outings in Colorado.  ahhhh....

I found the plateau below the cliffs mentioned in Martin's book and traversed below them, eyeing them suspiciously.  I could see the remnants of small wet slide activity from earlier in the week, only one large enough to give me pause.  I found a hole in the snow and checked the snow layers and once again confirmed that it was safe for me to proceed.  Luckily, I also found an old set of ski tracks from the prior weekend and hoped this party was also going to the summit so could piggyback on their tracks and speed my ascent.  It worked - kind of.  This group worked its way up a steeper section of the ridge to gain the Northwest rib than I think I would have chosen on first pass, but I was glad to see their criss-cross switchback tightly working its way up a particularly steep section, thinking at least there weren't any deep instability.  Maybe.  I was very cautious on the skin up onto the slope but soon found the steep section was just like an April gully in the Whites - very wet, very dense, but with little inclination to slide.  My biggest concern on this short section was to not slide myself and tumble into the trees knocking myself silly.

This proved to be the crux of the route, and once on the rib, I entered a fantastic old growth forest.  I could contour around toward the East face of Mt Catherine and choose the densest sections of trees as this was where the most frozen snow appeared to be.  As I went higher, little flashes of my internal caution light started going off as I could see a LOT of snow had fallen in the last storm cycle as I gained elevation, creating a white blanket of deep snow.  In no time at all it seemed, I emerged on the timbered ridge crest - elated!  The sun was making patchy appearances and beautiful mountains all around emerged from the passing low clouds.  Wow!  The skyline to the north was a cornucopia of great skiing potential.  Some highlights being the slide paths off Granite, the hairball descent off Kaleetan, the grand descents off Snoqualmie Peak and Red Mountain.  I could also make out the abundance of clear cut hills that would make for endless yo-yo tours on powder days during upcoming storms.  Yes, indeed, this was a place I could call home and be proud of.  I was already eager to try them all out.  But now on to the summit of Mt Catherine.  

I followed the ridgeline toward the west and worked my way up onto the wave-like cornice that marks the true summit.  I howled a howdy-do to the gods, thanking them for my first Washington State peak and sat down for nutrients and pictures.

Now the work began.  I think the descent could have been good if I was on my snowboard, but with my skis on, I kept punching through and turning was a laborious task.  I followed my ascent tracks in a fast "attack pose" of little style but lots of control, and worked my way back down to the logging area in one piece.  It was not the best skiing I had ever experienced, but could see myself returning on a day of fresh powder when I could thoroughly enjoy the widely spaced old growth forest of the Northwest rib.

From here I was glad for my skis and made quick work of the flat area over to the ski area, trying to blend in with the trees when Nordic skiers would approach.  I reached the ski area and had a blistering, smooth run down the corduroy, skiing right down to my car.

I was pleased to have found the snow conditions stable enough to enjoy a peak descent, I was expecting only a recon to the trees really, and was glad to have bagged my first peak in Washington.  It's a little more like home now.                    
You nailed one of our classics; a really fun glades ski... maybe the best in the Snoqualmie.  Nice way to indoctrinate yourself to the area and welcome!

could see myself returning on a day of fresh powder when I could thoroughly enjoy the widely spaced old growth forest of the Northwest rib.

Been there, done that, it's awsome.  

Makes me smile to think of the day when the snow conditions are just right and you too are able to enjoy some of the best widely spaced old growth skiing.

nice TR! and nice *not* to hear 'can't believe you poor pnw'ers, skiing this horrrible snow...now let me tell you about colorado!'. in case you haven't already, you can make friends with rainer burgdorfer as well, his book covers a lot more and higher ground than martin volken's. higher ground is especially good since, given its low elevation, powder days at snoqualmie are few and far between.

Indeed.  I must admit that in my years of skiing in Colorado I became quite spoiled.  If I didn't have a day of untracked light and dry powder, it was an off day.  But isn't that the way it is everywhere??  The problem with Colorado is that deep powder days are rare indeed, and even when it does fall, the constant threat of hidden depth hoar makes even the best powder days a victory only after the fact.  To play it safe, I found myself skiing at three areas over and over: Loveland Pass (which was way too crowded to call "backcountry" in the text book sense), Berthoud Pass (which is not much better than Loveland and has the added detraction of a commercial cat skiing operation, and when it was running a ski area to boot) and RMNP (which was my farorite to avoid crowds but which lacked great snow).  Yawn.  It was just too dangerous to explore in most years.  

Not to mention the 10 year drought cycle they're currently enduring. I had to hang my skis up in - perish the thought - May last year!  

Ah, but there I go talking of Colorado!

Anyway, thanks for the comments - I certainly feel welcome and look forward to carving some turns with you fine folks!


Even with our low snowpack you'll not likely need to hang up your boards in May 'round here.  The good corn is just coming out by then!

Ahh, indeed, when it becomes time to get out and ski some of the BIG tours in the Cascades! I'm getting excited just thinking about it. Check out Burgdorfer (book mentioned above) for getting psyched to try out some of WA's great spring/summer skiing after everyone in CO has turned to mountain biking (and the day after your big tour, head out to mountain bike for some active rest!). So many mountains, so little time...

Ok, some truths must be revealed.  Don't be at all defensive of your NW skiing with me, it's one of the reasons I moved here.  When I moved to Colorado I was on my two year and x number month straight skiing (forget now the number, but am reviving my count) - having enjoyed a month in South America skiing 6 volcanoes one summer and my 3rd trip to Mt Shasta the next for the dreaded Aug-Sept Northern Hemisphere doldroms.  How bummed was I when Colorado couldn't muster the guns to make skiing through my third year??

My brother arrives in June and our itinerary includes: Hood's Cooper Spur (weather dependant), Mt Adams SW couloirs, Mt St Helen's (just 'cause, dammit) and a finish off with Muir Snowfield.

If you couldn't tell, I haven't jumped out of the pond by moving to the NW, but left the pond for the Ocean!

and BTW - surf and turf with me will include rock climbing, where I will certainly need a partner.  Still looking....(hint hint, nudge nudge)

My friend Skip always tells our CO friends that their state is full of "mere gravel bars." He can go on for hours on this topic (and he is always looking for what he calls "belay slaves," by the way). The best part is, the magazines seem to not notice how much great skiing we have here!

Good!  We'll meet sometime to ski and then your friend Skip can lead all the hard pitches...

re: climbing partners, check out the forums on cascadeclimbers.com if you haven't already. do not be put off by the amount of junk on those forums compared to this one, just goes to show bc skiing breeds more character than climbing  ;) ;)

Ah, cascadeclimbers isn't that bad.  There is a ton of spray, but there is also an incredible amount of good information and lots of good people.

MW8+, you mentioned admiring the descent off Kaleetin.  After ticking a few days tours off my list earlier this winter, this one has risen to the top.  First day weather and snowpack permit, I'm planning to ski it.  Interested?

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2003-03-16 06:35:58