Mt Catherine (5052’, p1212’)
Feb 24, 2013
BC Ski, West Ridge/North Face
Allison Caldwell and Franklin Bradshaw
Morning temps ~32+F, drizzle, Summit upper 20’s low clouds, some sucker holes.
After a great day on Saturday the crew for Sunday evaporated. Two of us pondered locations and joining other groups. One going up Yodelin, but we both wanted something different. Another doing Arrowhead, nice but that was the last one we did together and conditions seemed too reactive. A group going up Heather Ridge, but our thoughts were potentially too crowded and not liking the terrain traps with the present avy conditions. Another group was doing Catherine and after reading JohnM's TR (NWH TR) on it we decided it was objective one. Neither of us knew the route up and didn’t find any cheat sheets online. North Face had me thinking open chutes and bowls. Ridge sounded better with the current deep unconsolidated conditions. Years ago, I’d been from Hyak, past Grand Junction and part way up Radio Mt. That trip had low snow and we didn’t like the idea of skiing the rocks coming down so we cut it short (pics). I figured we could take about the same route from Silver Fir Chair and cut over to the west ridge. Maybe get lucky and see hints of a way up under the pile of new snow.
On our way we were in contact with Carla and a group of NWHikers heading up another route. I didn’t figure out what they were doing til much later. I think they started with about six snowshoers and two skiers. The parking lot at the base of Silver Fir chair (Ski Acres, aka Summit Central) was empty. Not even a clue of how to park. We parked up to the bank and shortly cars started arriving to do the same. Booting up the rain/drizzle was not inspiring. Had we made a mistake? Should we have gone to Stevens, land of eternal powder and beautiful snow? A TM from Carla said they were approaching Denny Creek. Maybe they’d catch us.
Blind leading the…
Skins on, shell donned, clicked in and still drizzling (8:20a, c2825). I kept quiet not wanting to make a scene of the weather. Little did I know Ally was not to impressed by the gray wetness either. Which way to go? Heck, guess up. The lifts were not open so maybe it didn’t matter. We found a sign that said snowshoe route, so followed it. I think we lost it crossing a groomed cat track and soon all the resort tracks had us bail to the groomed resort slopes. We kept left going up the old #9 trail as the first skiers/riders were coming down. Perhaps surprised to see us going up. Some young instructors blasted down and a ski patrol went off the groom and exploded. It was beginning to be like we were walking through a bomb filed. Three quarters of the way to the top we exited left on the crossover to Grand Junction. Close behind us was a line of troops following. Was this the blind leading the blind or the blind just walking?
The traverse to Grand Junction was easy on the unmarked corduroy (1.2m, 9:10, c3654’). The area was empty and the signboard well buried compared to my last visit. A groomer appeared and the snowboarders joined us as we headed up the ungroomed Radio Mt road in 5-6” of mank. I talked to Jeff as we each broke trail. He had some good advice and it sounded like our original plan would be pretty good. Jeff recognized me from some trs and trips with Scott (AleCapone). Small world… A dip down, up and we took the road to the left (1.9m, 9:30, c3741’). At that point we could have also started a traverse on the “Blue Diamond” trail. At the first hairpin we headed east on an “orange diamond” trail. We followed an old covered single track what seemed like forever to Nordic Pass. Shortly before arriving there we saw on a lower traverse the snowboarders heading our way. We paused for a break at the pass (2.9m, 10:18, c4030’, 2hrs). My thought was to head SEE and up the SE to gain the ridge. Later we found that would have given the NWHiker group a nice trail.
Gulleys and Ridges
The snowboarders started up a steep gully NE of the pass and then left up a ridge. We decided if they were kind enough to break trail, we’d let them and follow. It took a long time to gain the ridge. Hard going up steep in the deep unconsolidated snow and each person (seven of us) needing to wait in safe locations. Maybe it would have been faster if we’d gone back and up close to the pass. Oh well, we were here now.
Topping off at 11:15a (3.2m, c4550’), we said thanks and goodbye to Jeff and group as they heading south to Silver. On our own again we simply headed east. One warning we had was the final 50’ (???) –guess we’d find out when we got there.
Ally crossing the gulley bottom Ally skinning the ridge and obviously enjoying herself
The west ridge
Me heading up (photos by Allison Caldwell)
The ridge was wide, perfect tree spacing and beautiful. Wind sculpted snow and deep rime on the north sides of the trees. Branches looking like feathers and looking close the fragile hairs a beautiful pattern. Drizzle long forgotten, this traverse was heavenly. We lazily worked up the ridge. A TM from Carla said they were in Olallie Meadows. Ups with little downs, plenty of inviting gulleys to drop on the left –but not in these avy conditions. The ridge was narrowing with a rock wall in front of us. The pitch to the left was steep and exposed. The right (south side) was less steep, but much more exposed, the lee of the recent winds and out of the question. Some slope testing and a quick light careful traverse.
Ally crossing under the summit on the north side Cresting out
Ahead the ridge went down, we must have passed the summit. A few short zigs and we were on the summit (3.8m, 5052’, 12:11p).
Food and views
Wheh! Perfect timing for lunch. The sun made a few appearances and some views of Olallie Meadows far below and Lake Keechelus to the left. Not a single boot or ski mark on the summit. Was this the right mountain? I headed east to get a good picture of Ally on the summit to see to the east of the summit many tracks. Seems the skiers are into lap skiing and not peakbagging.
Summit views –Lake Keecheles and the clouded in Tinkham and Silver Peak area
Look… warm and sunny…. Just joking…
We settled in for lunch. Carla called on the phone. Their group had split and three of them were heading up the ridge wanting to join us for the trip out. Our guess was they were an hour behind. I dug a pit on the north slope about 20 feet below the ridge. It was wallowing to get down to it and easy to dig down about 1.75 meters. I isolated a block that shovel sheared barely touching at 75cm on a 1+cm thick layer of 2-4cm dia grauple. I was impressed with how reactive the slope was. Even more so at the many groups that were doing laps and none checking the snow conditions. I was curious about the leeward (south aspect), but without a belay wasn’t going to venture to check. As we were taking off for a quick lap Carla appeared from the west on the summit. It would be more time for Matt and Tom, so we took a short lap down skiers left of the first gulley east of the summit about 600 vert to a cliff drop.
Ally getting a nice payoff
The snow was nice and smooth easy skiing and the skies floated only 6-10” down. On our way down we passed a group of 6-7 heading up and another group of 4 heading down. A good place to stop was above a cliff bank where all the tracks traversed left (4.1m, 1:24p, c4450’). The track up was firm and wide, like an interstate.
Back up at the top of the ridge, Matt, Tom and Carla were waiting and Matt was checking out the map to figure how to get down (snowshoes) (4.4m, 2:04p, c5020’).
Matt, Carla and Tom waiting below the summit abandoned summit of Mt Catherine
He’d follow the up track, head to Grand Junction then west and down to Silver Fir chair base. It was 2:20 and we figured it was two hours out, three max for a snowshoer. Armed with map and Carla’s cell phone Matt was gone running in a flash. Holy smokes! All that trail breaking up and he had that much energy? Go Matt! The inviting gulleys from the ridge and much of the gladed area were skied out. It looked like we were skiing at a ski resort. I’d heard of good skiing here, but didn’t realize it was so popular. How would we get some nice turns up here? We went east on the ridge past the up track. A solo skier just reached the ridge and went east. Tom and Carla dropped near the up trail, while Ally and I went further east and found some good untouched lines. Leap frogging and photo ops.
Carla enjoying her payoff Me in my bright orange jacket –hard to miss, huh? (Photo by Allison Caldwell)
Heading left (west) before the cliffs we passed another group of 6-7 heading up. From a bump above the cliffs a great view of the cliffs far above, sunlight streaming through trees and mist shrouding. Taking a breath I took the sight in. I love the scenery. It’s always changing and drives me to come back and enjoy again and again.
Diffused sun punching through the trees Checking out the next pitch (Photo by Allison Caldwell)
A few more pitches down another group heading right (north). Gees, it was crowded. They were blocking a tight area and going slow. A brief chat with them and they said they were not going the right way so we kept going down. No tracks. Hmmm, snookered. They had followed the up track and we were off to do a flattish up/down traverse a little below our up track.
Past a pond, over a deepish creek and then following a “blue diamond” untouched route. Time to skin up (5.6m, 3:02p, c3777’).
I kept one ski on to stay above the snow, and had great entertainment as Tom fell backwards of his skis waist deep. Thanks for the light hearted entertainment.
I went on breaking trail to the cutoff where we’d split ways with the snowboarders on the way in. The skies were lightly overcast and bright. This was the first time is was clear enough for me to see the surroundings.
A relaxed skin glide down, right at a junction, past untouched snow except a line of bounding tracks. We all paused to take in the sights. –and hope it was going well for Matt. It was spirit lifting the end of a trip having great weather. The morning wetness forgotten we joyfully skinned to Grand Junction (6.7m, 3:36p, c3623). We should have tried calling Matt, but the idea of ripping the skins and gliding all the way back clouded my mind and judgment. Later we found we’d forgotten one minor detail… telling Matt how to pick up an incoming call. It can be confusing using an unknown phone.
Grand Junction - interactive pano
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Skins ripped we glided the crossover trail back to Ski Acres and the Silver Fir chair. I took a detour down a groomed run under the power lines. Fast gliding til at a sign saying boundary. Below was low snow cover, logs and stumps. Dang, now what? If I’d looked better I’d have seen the lower crossover trail far below. I dropped left onto thick crap snow. Not the way I’d wanted to end the trip.
A good leg workout I almost intersected a very deep ravine –oops. A snowshoe trail sign and a deep trough provided an entertaining descent that spit me out on a groomed flattish trail full of skiers heading west. Hmmm, good idea and not ravine to deal with! Spit out with all the other skiing minions I was finally at the base (8.2m, 3:55p, c2801’).
It was not bright at the base. More gray and dismal. In my mind I still remember the gladed skiing and the sunny views around Grand Junction. Carla Ally and Tom were patiently waiting. Now was to figure out if Matt would find the way to Silver Fir or Hyak. Elli showed up to give the others a ride and a we pondered what to do. Carla was voting for finding a beer. As we were about to make a decision out the trail pops Matt. Perfect timing and he was in good spirits. Improving weather, ski laps, new summit, nice touring and everyone out and safe. Turned out to be a great day.
Thanks Ally for joining and to Matt, Carla and Tom for catching us at the summit.
Stats: 7h36min, 8.2m, +/-2959
Gear: BC ski gear (skis, poles, transceiver, shovel, probe…)
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