Post subject: Mt Catherine - Snoqualmie Pass, WA - 12/22/2007
Posted: Sun Dec 23, 2007 12:56 pm
Joined: Mon Dec 18, 2006 4:18 pm Posts: 41 Location: Bend, OR
We toured out to Mt Catherine yesterday Sat 12/22, Tophervw and I. Considering the high avy warnings, we had no goal to actually ride much downhill, our only idea was to head out for some exercise and dig a pit to study conditions for ourselves. The NWAC forecast for Saturday quoted "becoming high above 3 to 4000 feet". That statement raises my alertness and fright levels to "becoming high" as well. We consider not going out at all and also wish we had a couple more of our partners available to go with us. But we have developed a degree of confidence from our education and knowledge of the area and we always need to grow that experience with first-hand observation. We also "Remember there are avalanche safe areas in the mountains during all levels of avalanche
danger." You just have to be smart about where you go and constantly vigilant throughout the trip.
We chose the cold creek trail (FS 9070) which was "open" even considering the high avy danger. It is shared use with the Snoqualmie nordic trail system, but we have unlimited season passes for Alpental which also gives us the right to use groomed nordic trails just in case we get grief. So, we felt good that it would at least give us a few miles of safe skinning for a good workout.
We only saw one nordic skier on the way out. We started at around 7:45am and it was dumping snow even at the low 2800 ft elevation where we started. Later in the afternoon on our return, as there was a break in the snow for about an hour, we met many more skinny skiers as well as patrol and rangers who all chatted with us and gave us (and our oddly shaped planks) funny looks to varying degrees. That patroller started with a scolding tone "[sigh] oh you guys weren't in the backcountry were you?". But, as we informed him of our outing he was ultimately interested/grateful to hear the results of our tests/observations.
So, on to the interesting parts:
When we arrived at some of the South aspect open glades on Mt Catherine we looked at stability just off the road and felt good about skinning up a little ways. We dug our pit at perhaps 300 vft above the road at around 4000 ft on a 31-33* slope. At this elevation and S facing we found the snowpack to be only about 5 ft deep to the brush and ground below. We isolated a couple columns that took several poundings from the shoulder to finally fail - top 18 inches to the first weak layer then another 2.5 ft down to the rain crust. We did a Rutschblock test as well that took 3-4 jumps to fail breaking all the way down to the rain crust.
We aren't snow scientists or experts so we won't theorize as to why we found relatively good stability in this one particular area during a "high" avy danger period. But, we reasoned that our observations gave us a green light for a couple laps on this aspect. The downhill was very sweet especially because accessing it was so outside the realm of our expectations for the day... riding the typical PNW powder we have grown to love and developed an addiction for. Nothing moved on us even though we started with gingerly turns and proceeded to enter-white-room heavy turns.
Here are a couple of pics (note natural trippy photo-effects ala Wyomingsplit_ride on shots after the camera entered the white room)