Northwest Hiking Trails

Mt. Catherine Loop

Mt. Catherine loopIn a year of record snowfall and nasty weather, I managed to get up to Snoqualmie Pass's Ski Acres Cross-Country Center on a clear, sunny Saturday. I bought an $8 lift ticket (good for two rides on the easternmost Silver Fir chair) and headed for the top. There, I waxed up, packed away my coat, and headed up the groomed track to Grand Junction.

Photo: Looking toward Grand Junction from near the top of the Silver Fir chair.

There had been about a foot of fresh snow the night before, so everything was covered in pristine powder. The temperature was a beautiful 50F. Grand Junction was crowded with racers and their loyal spectators, clearing out after a race. From the junction, you can select from a variety of trails. The Mt. Catherine Loop circles the two peaks that define Nordic Pass and returns to Grand Junction. Straight ahead are several shorter loop trips of various difficulties.

I went to the right, down into Rockdale Canyon. The shade provided an icy glaze on the downhill track, and the first few kilometers flew by quickly. Then came the steady uphill climb to Windy Pass, aptly named, where I stopped for lunch. This area has been clearcut, which is a shame because this was once a lovely forest; it also makes for an expansive view of the surrounding peaks, and there was plenty of room to practice telemark turns on gentle, unmarked slopes. With map and compass, you can cross Nordic Pass and end up back at Grand Junction.

The descent from Windy Pass is more gradual than the ascent in this direction, but there were times when I had to slow down and let the exposed skin on my face warm up a bit. I reached another junction, from whence I could go downhill the rest of the way to the Hyak parking lot and walk a mile to my car at Ski Acres, or I could climb back up to Grand Junction. I chose the latter, which turned out to be a lot of work. One short stretch of this trail is rated Expert, and it's appropriate in the other direction: a steep downhill straightaway ends in a sharp curve, with a long drop straight ahead. The people I met were walking down, shouldering their skis. (That just messes up the track and defeats the challenge, but, whatever.)

From Grand Junction there are multiple options for getting back to the road. You can even ride the lift back down, only at specified times. Returning to Grand Junction near sundown.I followed a group of nordic ski patrollers down the Serpentine, one of the more difficult descents that cuts through the forest and rejoins the alpine ski run near the bottom. The whole loop took about four hours, plus lunch.

Photo: The sun sets over Catherine as I return to Grand Junction.

Stats: The loop is about 8 miles of skiing. Elevation gained and lost is 1100 ft. Getting there: Drive to Snoqualmie Pass on I-90, exit 53, and park at the Ski Acres Cross-Country Center's parking lot. If you get there late on a weekend day, you'll be parking elsewhere and taking a shuttle. There are several "lower trails" available to beginning skiers; the "upper trails," including the loop, are for intermediate and above.

Note: This is backcountry wilderness travel. Any trail can become very dangerous in winter conditions. You are responsible for informing yourself of the hazards and taking the necessary precautions. Please read Terms of Use.

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