Mt. Catherine

Last weekend Suzanne and I joined Gary's work party on the Nordic Pass Trail. We nailed up diamonds for four hours and only made it part way up the trail. This week I wanted to go back and see the rest of the trail and take a shot at the summit of Mt. Catherine. The summer trail up Catherine is only 3 miles round trip. It's too short to waste a long summer day on so I had never been up it. I have looked down on it from the summit of Silver Peak. In the week since we were there was about five inches of new snow. The weather forecast was for a 3000' snow level and about three inches of snow. It was raining in Seattle, pouring in Issaquah, and still raining in North Bend. By the time we reached Hyak it was just very light snow but some wind.

We walked the road to the start as described in my previous weeks report . There were plenty of new snowshoe and ski tracks. One ski track looked like it was from earlier in the day. By luck I saw a report posted the day before by Opus which detailed his trip to just below the summit of Mt. Catherine. Knowing there was a fresh track meant we would have a firm track to follow from Nordic Pass to the summit. No worries of sinking knee deep into the snow. We snowshoed up to and along the old railroad grade when we stopped to take a close look.

The main track continued along the grade while the Nordic Pass Trail turned off to the left. There is a diamond on the right affixed to a board pointing to the left. There is a right turn arrow for those coming down pointing back down the grade to the trail beginning. Even so, most folks headed beyond the trail. We turned left and uphill on the Nordic Pass route. The trail makes a number of gentle switchbacks rather than going straight up the hill. We soon reached yellow "Atlas Snowshoe Trail" markers.

Opus described these in his report but we did not see any just the previous weekend. At a yellow marker most of the track went right following it. Just a few prints continued following the Nordic Pass blue diamonds. Without the maintenance work we made good time. We reached Hyak Lake and our track again met a yellow snowshoe trail marker. As we came to the big Powerline corridor we saw a lone skier ahead. It was Don who was on our work party the week before. He was back to fill in some gaps with blue diamonds. We exchanged pleasantries and were back on our way.

We quickly reached our previous turn around point. Now we were into new territory. Suzanne was especially good at finding the next diamond as we crossed the groomed trails several times and headed back into the forest. We met up with another group of tracks and the combined sets were now very easy to follow. We skirted around Frog Lake and near Dick's Creek we heard two snowshoers gaining on us. They stopped there and we saw neither them or any fresh tracks on our descent.

The route continued at a moderate grade all the way to Nordic Pass. It looked like lots of people had been through in the past week. It was about 11:20 at the pass and we stopped for lunch. It took us about 2:20 to reach the pass. I have skied up to the pass several times from Windy Pass but this was my first time from the other side. We continued following tracks and diamonds down past the weather station and just beyond we saw the track made by Opus the previous day. It turned left and quickly climbed a rib up onto the ridge of Mt. Catherine.

The Gold Creek Sno-Park is at about 2600' and Nordic Pass it at 4000'. The summit of Mt. Catherine is 5052'. That last 1000+ feet is over about 1.2 miles. From the ridge we could look straight down on Windy Pass. Silver Peak was close by but we could not see it. The cloud cover was a little above us and very thick. Surprisingly, since that little spit of snow at the start it had been completely dry. Once we were on the trail in forest the wind was no problem. Only near the powerline corridor did it blow hard and cold.

Back in forest we were fine. We both feared the wind on the ridge but it was not a problem. Opus laid out a fine track and we followed it along the ridge. The ridge itself was a series of steep climbs and flat sections. There were four bumps we climbed over before the top. Where the snowshoe track was too icy on steep sections we made short switchbacks along side it. Just below the summit we found a spot with few trees and a view. The top of Granite Mt. was in the clouds but we could see Snoqualmie, Guye, Red on one side and Bandera, Defiance, and Humpback on the other.

From there we quickly reached the crux of the trip. The last 40 vertical feet was steeper with no run out below. The snow was very crusty. I took off my snowshoes and took out my ice axe to give it a go. When I kicked a step I sank in to beyond knee deep. The snow was crud. My axe went in to the hilt and did not stick. Bad snow with no way to belay was too much for me. We called it quits. With better snow it would not have been so bad.

The trip down was much faster. It took us 1:30 to climb up from the pass and 30 minutes to descend. When we reached Hyak Lake we decided to try the yellow marked snowshoe trail. It descended right up against Hyak Creek most all the way from the lake down. No long gentle switchbacks for this route. It is definitely shorter. When we again spotted blue diamonds we switched back to the Nordic Pass Trail. By 3:10 we were off snow and back on the road. It took us 4 hours to reach the "almost summit" and only 2 hours to descend.

I calculated the distance as about 9 miles on snowshoes plus the road walk. We gained about 2800' with ups and downs. This is an interesting ski or snowshoe trail. The avalanche danger is minimal and on a clear day the views could be great. I guess I'll have to come back on a nice clear winter day to see for myself.


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Trips - 2006