Day 262 – North Cascades Loop

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Day 262 – North Cascades Loop

Petey and I went on the neatest hike this morning.  It was so unsual, interesting and
scenic.  To get to the trailhead near
Stevens Pass, VANilla took us through valleys of fruit orchards, followed
alongside the Wenatchee River, and climbed a 4,000 foot pass before turning
onto a gravel road which took us four miles to a parking area at the old town
site of Wellington.

The trail runs along the old Great Northern Railway passage
still marked with mile post numbers representing the distance from St. Paul,
Minnesota.  We walked about 1.5 miles to
mile marker 1712 where we found a cache to complete finding a cache in each of
the lower 48 states.  Along the way we
walked through a concrete snowshed that stretched nearly 2,000 feet and was
somewhat eerie.  As we followed the path
we encountered several interpretive signs depicting one of the worst railroad
disasters in the nation’s history.

Despite the Great Northern route being the best engineered
of the transcontinental railways with the old Cascade Tunnel replacing a series
of switchbacks in 1900 and snowsheds added for safety, winter conditions still
presented serious hazards.  Many times
trains were stopped for days during winter storms.  One such time, in the winter of 1910,
passengers boarded a train in Spokane and began their fateful journey to
Seattle.  They were halted for 36 hours
in the First Cascade Tunnel while crews worked overtime to clear the tracks of
snow. Once the tracks were cleared, they moved through the tunnels and parked
at Wellington.

After three more days of waiting, passengers demanded that
they be moved back into the tunnel, but the railway superintendent feared the


coal exhaust in the tunnel would cause asphyxiation.  To get food, supplies, and additional help,
the superintendent struggled along the grade to Windy Point and down a steep
slope to Scenic.  Some passengers
followed, while others planned on making the trek the next day.  Unfortunately, these passengers never got a
chance.  An avalanche roared down the
mountainside and pushed two trains into the gulch below.  While many came from Seattle and Everett to help;
after the spring thaw, the total count was 96 dead.  The disaster is documented in The White
Cascades by Gary Krist.

As rail traffic increased, a new Cascade Tunnel was
constructed in 1929.  The new tunnel is
still used by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.  The old tunnel and associated grade was abandoned
and is now the Iron Goat Trail.  The
trail passes by enormous concrete walls to the north periodically marked with
algae and moss from water trickling over the edge, beneath alders and
evergreens, and through ferns and wildflowers towering chest high which partially
block the view of the mountains to the south still with a few patches of

I would have liked to continue another mile and a half to
Windy Point overlook, but despite the glorious temperatures, Petey didn’t seem
to feel the same way I did!  We returned
to the trailhead, continued west in VANilla for a few more miles where we found
Deception Falls.  The falls tumble down
the mountainside beneath the highway.  It
might be the first time where I enjoyed the views of the crystal clear creek
and moss covered trees along the half mile loop more than the falls.  Certain parts of the creek are so clear that
it is essentially sterile.  The
conditions are such that the water can’t soak up minerals and the sunlight
can’t penetrate the shade of the towering trees for algae to grow thus life in
the creek is nearly non-existent.

The moss covered trees were mystical, but I really found the
springboard stump to be fascinating.  Loggers
cut trees in the area during the 1890s construction of the Great Northern
Railway to use as ties or trestles.  It took
two men hours to cut the trees down using a large crosscut saw or misery
whip.  Standing on a springboard, they
could cut above the butt swell which would save them time and energy.  To insert the springboard into the tree,
loggers chopped holes in the stump.  When
they stood on the board, its metal protrusions jabbed into the roof of the hole
in the tree to stabilize in place.  These
enormous stumps had a smaller tree growing from its middle.

A bonus to visiting this popular area was finding another
cache.  In fact, caches were everywhere
along the Iron Goat Trail and simply in the general area, but I was rarely able
to keep connectivity with my phone to get to any of them!  After our visit to Deception Falls, where
Petey rested in VANilla, we found a roadside fruit stand selling a basket of
cherries for a $1 and then we pulled into Zeke’s Drive Thru for a mushroom
swiss burger and some greasy onion rings.
So many cars were there far after the regular lunch hour, that I just
had to stop.  My body is currently
thanking me for the extra fat!

I attempted visiting Wallace Falls State Park; however,
being Labor Day weekend the parking area and campground were full, so I think I
will return in the morning to see another waterfall.  In the meantime, I steered VANilla through
several back roads where I found a cut in the forest with remnants of an old
campfire.  It’s where I plan on spending
the evening.  ETB


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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

4 thoughts on “Day 262 – North Cascades Loop

  1. …I guess I watch too many police stories… be careful Beth staying in isolated places. I think your mother would back me on this one.
    …It’s too bad Petey is a big boy; I see people carrying dogs in dog-packs on their backs.
    …Such an interesting story about the train disaster.

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