Mt Catherine (5052'/1540m)
Telemark Ski Tour
February 19, 2011
The weather was beautiful this weekend and I really wanted to get out of the house and do some skiing. I called friends and family but no one was available so I ventured off to Mt Catherine for a mellow solo ski tour. I can't really say "solo" since I wasn't any further than 200 feet from another human at any given time. The Hyak Ski area and nordic trails are very popular!
I had a relaxing drive up to Snoqualmie Pass and arrived a little before 10 am. I had to park in the auxillary lot since the closer parking lot was full. Lot's of folks out enjoying the beautiful area and spectacular weather! As I was hiking up to the snow I looked back and appreciated the incredible views of the surrounding peaks. Being farther east I was able to see up the Gold Creek valley to Alta Mountain. Wow! So many mountains, so little time, I thought to myself.
After a quick stop in the rental shop to pick up a trail map, I started skinning up the trail to the Cold Creek trail. I had been on this trail several times before, but I knew how long it was so I decided to head north-northwest up the steeper but shorter trail to the right. Many skiers and snowboarders were heading down, so I kept to climber's right and hugged the trees to stay out of the way.
A steady pace with just a couple quick stops to look at the trail map found me on the Mt Hyak ridge. I could see Mt Catherine but I really didn't know the best approach, so I decided to ski down to the saddle between Mt Catherine and Radio Mountain. From my vantage point this appeared to be the most mellow aspect.
At the "Union Station" trail junction I met three ski patrollers and as I skiied by, one asked something like "have you skied here before?" or "have you used one of those before?" I didn't know if she was referring to my new Black Diamond Whippet ski pole with an ice pick in the handle. I just said, "Yep!" and skied by! I thought both of those questions were odd.
The "Sunrise Outer" trail took me under the power lines and down around to the left to the area I was trying to reach. From here I could see a fresh skin track up in the logged glades! At first I considered heading cross country to meet them, then I thought, "Why re-invent the wheel? If you ski down a little further you will probably find the spot where the skiers left the groomed ski trail." I did, and I did!
Following a skin track by yourself provides a lot of time for thought. From looking at the ski and pole marks in and around the trail, I guessed that there were a medium sized dog and two skiers in front of me, one with either short twin tip skis or a split-board. I never caught up to the skiers although I did hear them just below the summit, hooting and hollering with delight as they swooshed down through the fresh deep snow!
I was glad to be on the summit as it took a lot longer than I thought it would to climb up through the forest. The summit ridge was pretty awesome with some steep chutes down the southwest side that could be skied with a little more snow...
Since I was alone and I was on telemark skis, Caution, was the operative word for the day. I've really only tele-skied a handful of times, but I've been working on my technique a lot this season. I've been picking up tips from my tele-buddies: Loren Miller, Bryon Free, Andy King, Carson Guy, and Jeff Cheng! I spent about 20 minutes on the summit taking lots of pictures and videos with my camera phone before heading down. The first 800 feet or so were incredible with foot deep snow most of the way! The further down I got the more I ran into a hard older crust under four inches of snow. It was still nice conditions but I had to make sure I didn't cut too hard when turning.
Skiing down through the glades was challenging as the trees were so close together that I had to make several 180 kick turns to get headed the right direction. It finally opened up to where I could link some nice turns before it dumped me back onto the groomed ski trail! I felt tired but great with a new summit under my belt! I put on my skins and made my way back up to Creek Run trail where I was able to ski down with all the other skiers and snowboarders back to the parking lot.
I was 20 feet from the bottom when a downhill skier made an unexpected turn right in front of me and I took a hard turn to the left to avoid her and I fell! My only fall of the day and it was in front of 100 people and on hard snow. I laughed out loud while picking myself and my pride up off the snow and continued down. It felt good to be out enjoying the mountains on such a beautiful day! Looking forward to next time!