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Mt. Catherine, March 7, 2009

Winter is back, and we're glad to see it. After a few inches of wet fresh on Tuesday, colder weather and a new storm system moved in on Thursday and Friday, and dumped a good 18 inches to 2 feet of light snow in the Cascades. Sensing a mass migration to the ski areas on Saturday, I e-mailed Kevin about touring and he called after getting off work in the morning.

The NWAC forecast called for considerable avy danger above 4,000 ft., transitioning to high above 4,000 ft. in the afternoon as a new storm front moved in and heavy snow began to fall. They were calling for 8" or more, with snow continuing into the night and on Sunday. With the increasing danger, we tossed the usual Snoqualmie area suspects around - Kendall and Catherine - and came up with Catherine.

It's always nice to start at Kevin's house for this tour and just walk down the block to put the skis on. There was a full parking lot at Hyak, with the XC crowd seemingly not deterred by the fact that the chairlift was out of order. They laid down a nice corduroy skin track for us and we set off at a very moderate pace trying not to exacerbate the colds we were both getting over.

The wind picked up and snow started to fall heavily, and the crowds thinned to nothing as we crossed over onto the Mt. Catherine loop. Our hopes of finding a nice new skin track already in were dashed as we hit the bottom of Catherine, so we sucked it up and began breaking trail. Progress was a bit slow, but steady, and about 2/3 of the way up we hit a well-worn track from the day before with only a few inches of new snow on it. The remainder of the skin up was a breeze, especially with Kevin in the lead.

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As forecasted, the weather was taking a dive in a hurry. The snow was really coming down, as was the temperature, and the wind was howling. We put on more coats and quickly took on some hot liquid, and got ready to ski.

Deciding on the "direct" line that we had skied with Seth last season, we moved away from the summit a few hundred yards and began to ski. Stability was good, with the gradually deposited "right side up" snowpack holding firm for the most part, and just the top few inches of snow sloughing as we skied due to the angle of the slope. Lower down, in open areas subject to some wind loading, there was a bit of slab formation (see photo second from right in the above thumbnail series), but nothing stepped down and we enjoyed some of the best turns of the year.

Another advantage of the direct line was that we skirted the cliffs and the attendant traverse that wastes vertical and makes for a long trudge out at the bottom. We popped out right at the Catherine loop, which was starting to fill in with some 6" of snow since the groomer had last passed by. Unfortunately this made the skate option sound like a lot of work, so we re-applied skins. Right about then a couple of other skiers (the only other people on Mt. Catherine this day) came out of the trees, and Kevin recognized them as Jim and Chris from his Avalanche II class last month. Chris was having skin problems, but Jim joined us in skinning up the ancient "Dinosaur" lift and taking a quick run down to the Hyak lodge. From there we all retired to Kevin's house, where Francine was just taking a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies out of the oven and a fresh pot of coffee was brewing . . .

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