Like most of the west, the railroad has played a large part in the settling of Washington. The two main access points to the Puget Sound area are across Snoqualmie/Stampede Pass and Stevens Pass. Rail came earlier to Stampede Pass area. Northern Pacific Railway choose Tacoma as a terminus and the rail line opened over Stampede in 1888.
The Great Northern Railway went farther north and cross the Cascades at Stevens Pass to the terminus of Everett and Seattle in 1893. In February/March 1910, two trains were delayed by snow and avalanches for several days. The trains made it to Wellington where they waited for the tracks to be cleared. On March 1, 1910, thunder triggered an avalanche which swept the trains off their tracks and down 150 feet. The accident killed 96 people and is one of the worst rail disasters in the history of the US.
To protect the trains, a series of show sheds were built over the 9 miles of steep tracks at the pass between 1913-1915. A new tunnel was build in 1929 and the old steep grade and tunnels were made obsolete. Today, the tracks have been turned into the Iron Goat Trail. Do you remember the train with the Mountain Goat as its emblem. That was the Great Northern mascot from which the trail gets its name.
Today Highway 2 parallels the train tracks to the top of Stevens Pass. Just a few miles from the pass, is the Iron Goat Trail Interpretive Center. It includes several informative panels on the history of the railroad and a bright red caboose. Today the trail is the result of the hard work of the Volunteers for Outdoor Washington.
A new crossover trail between the Interpretive Center at Scenic and the upper grade opened two years ago. It is a short 1 mile trail which gains 700 ft over 25 switchbacks. The group did a great job on the trail.
Monday we decided to check out the trail. We decided to hike up the crossover trail to the main grade, then to Windy Point and continue east towards Wellington. It took about 1 1/2 hours to drive from our house to the Interpretive Center. The clouds had closed in and lowered by time we reached the trail head. It was wet and misty.
We took our time climbing - enjoying the woodland flowers which were in bloom. We reached the main grade and went to explore the tunnel. I was amazed at the size and darkness of the tunnel. It was also amazing to see that much concrete in the forest.
We headed for Windy Point. It took us along a narrow edge on the side of the tunnel and a short way through the forest. Unfortunately the clouds and mists prevented us seeing the vista. We could hear the traffic below on Highway 2. We continued along through the forest. For a while we hiked along side one of the snow shelters. Railroad spikes littered the forest floor. We came along one of the rail mileage posts. The forest was dark and rather spooky. I had heard that someone had seen a large bear on the trail the previous week and we could see bark that had been torn from trees - a sure sign of a bear in the neighborhood. It was getting colder so we decided to turn back. We stopped at the Windy Pass overview which was still clouded over and ate lunch.
We headed back down - fast and smooth. We arrived back at the parking lot in no time. We took a bit of time to read the history and explore before heading back to civilization.
There is much more to explore. We would like to return and explore from one of the other two trail heads. For more information - see the Iron Goat Trail website.
Red Caboose at the Interpretive Center trailhead