– Ben Martens

Iron Goat Trail

On Saturday, I headed to Stevens Pass to hike along the Iron Goat Trail. This trail follows the old railroad bed and contains numerous old concrete snowsheds, concrete walls to protect the wooden snowsheds, and tunnels. This also happens to be the spot of the deadliest avalanche in American history which wiped out a train in 1910 killing nearly 100 people. Dad, Luke and I have all read a book about this called The White Cascade. It's good reading, but if you want the short version, you can read this newspaper article which is a decent summary.

My hike started at the Windy Point trailhead which is about in the middle of the Iron Goat Trail. There are some ADA accessible trails, but I headed up a series of switchbacks to get straight up to the railroad grade. Unfortuantely, on the way up I missed one of the switchbacks and ended up on a large scree field. I figured the trail had been washed away by an avalanche and I knew the railroad grade was probably at the top of the scree field. So why not hike straight up? Well this probably was one of the dumber moves I've made while hiking. The field was about 500 feet long and very steep. I knocked many boulders loose on my climb up but eventually made it to the top. I was hoping that I would find the trail on the way down so I didn't have to try to down-climb that field.

Once I reached the railroad bed, I headed east and quickly came to the west end of the Windy Point tunnel. This is about 3 miles west of Wellington where the train was hit by the avalanche. A short hike around the tunnel (it's not safe to go through it anymore) brought me to Windy Point which offers a nice view of the pass. A group of volunteers and some rangers were there eating lunch so I chatted with them for a bit before heading on.

My plan was to hike 2.5 miles from there up to Wellington, but at about 0.4 miles, I started to hit snow. That quickly transitioned to full snow. While it's not terribly hard to hike through, I kept breaking through spots where streams of water were running underneath. I decided to turn back and avoid 4 more miles (2 each way) of that kind of hike.

After finding the trail down which avoided the scree field, I got to my car and drove to the top of the pass. Tye Road near the top of the pass leads down to Wellington and it's a short hike from that parking area to the scene of the disaster. Unfortunately that road is still covered in 3-4 feet of snow so I wasn't able to make any progress.

Viewing of the Wellington area will have to wait until another day later in the year, but it was still great to hike along the trail. Railroad spikes and old scraps of iron are easily found all over the trail. It's so nice to see it all preserved there and not carted off by all the hikers!

On the way back down US 2, I stopped on the side of the road to see if I could figure out where Wellington was. While I'm not sure I found that spot, I did see the concrete snowshed which was just west of Wellington. It also looked like the trail had a bit less snow on it near the east end so I wonder what would have happened if I had kept hiking. Oh well, that mystery will have to wait for another sunny weekend!

Photos are available under Outdoors > Iron Goat Trail. I tried to give some description on each of the pictures.