More from our hike on the Iron Goat Trail. I described the snow sheds in this post previously. There were some areas of the route that suffered such regular disruption that an alternative solutions was needed. When the track got taken out, trains could get stuck in the mountains, sometimes for days while things got repaired. One of the trestle bridges was washed away in a land slide and, since this wasn’t the first time, the chosen solution was to cut new tunnels.
A tunnel was also cut at Windy Point to avoid a tight curve on an exposed promontory. These tunnels are still there. They were cut from the rock by hand. Timber linings were inserted to prevent anything falling on to the track but the timbers are no long gone in most areas. However, you do see a few pieces lying at odd angles in places. There are also some access tunnels that were used for the crews to access the tunnel during construction allowing multiple faces to dig at the same time to speed construction. It must have been tough work up on the mountains in all weathers hacking through the rock to build this.
The tunnels are not considered safe to enter these days. Some are blocked by falls. I wasn’t interested in heading in there anyway. I wasn’t equipped for it and the hike was why we were there. However, I did peak in to the entrances of several tunnels to see where they had been cut in to the rock faces. We had made an easy drive to get to this location followed by a simple walk but, when this was all being built, this was the middle of nowhere. The process of picking an alignment and building it all from scratch is most impressive. Ultimately, a new Cascades tunnel was cut and the train no longer needed to take this route. Instead of turning up on to the lower grade, trains now continue up the valley and enter the new tunnel to head east.
Our hike on the Iron Goat Trail was more than just exercise. It proved to be quite an educational experience. There were many relics of the old railroad and a lot of signs telling the tale of how the railroad was built and why it was abandoned later. The Cascades get a lot of snow and in the early 20th century, the snow depths in winter were a lot more than they are now. It was not uncommon to get 15-20 feet of snow along this part of the alignment in those days.
This snow caused trouble with avalanches as a result of the amount of trees that had been cut for timber when building the railway. Landslides were also a problem in other seasons. To protect from the snow, sheds were built over the track at places most vulnerable to avalanche. This practice is continued to this day in the mountainous areas of US railroads.
These snow sheds had a reinforced concrete wall on the uphill side. A timber structure was then built out over the track to provide cover with concrete bases for the supporting timbers on the downhill side of the structure. Most of the timbers have either been removed for reuse or have decayed after a century up on the mountainside. The concrete walls are still in reasonable shape. Some spalling of the concrete has occurred but otherwise they look solid. A lot of plant life has grown over them and they do have water cascading over the top in many places. The bases for the timber supports are still visible in many places.
There are many of these sections along the trail. The first one you come across is quite a surprise but, after you have seen a few of them, they start to be normal when you get to another section. They are pretty large structures though.
With the weather nice and a holiday weekend upon us, we wanted to get out and get some exercise while staying away from the crowds that seemed to have forgotten about a pesky virus. We took a trip up into the Cascades to check out the Iron Goat Trail. I shared a picture of the caboose at the trailhead a couple of years ago in this post. This time we decided to stretch our legs a bit more. The trail is a pretty straightforward one for a lot of it because it is an old railroad right of way. Consequently, the grade is gentle. However, the connection sections are a different story.
The lower grade section is a lot more clear and wide so makes for a very easy stroll. The upper section was more heavily overgrown when we were there and the trail was a bit of a test of faith at times. The path was probably down there! It also went across some of the old railway infrastructure so a couple of narrow concrete sections were negotiated. However, the upper grade did provide some lovely views of the surrounding mountains.
The railway needed some significant infrastructure elements to make it functional. These will be the source of some follow up posts because they are interesting enough on their own. In the mean time, I shall share some shots here of the run through the wooded areas and the views across the Cascades that we had on a lovely July day. I think a return trip is in order. However, I suspect we won’t do the same route as this time because we ended up covering nearly nine miles and some very steep ascents and descents so were a bit bushed by the end of it. I will pick the route sections a bit more selectively next time!
The old path of the railroad across Stevens Pass has been abandoned and replaced by a new route that is lower down and has tunneled through sections of the mountains to avoid the tricky climb that was previously required. This abandoned right of way has been turned into a trail called the Iron Goat Trail. Since it is a railroad trackbed, it is not a steep trail which means that a substantial portion of it is actually wheelchair accessible!
Our day out did not include time for hiking but the trail looks well worth exploring and, come the spring, we shall be making a specific trip to go hiking. We did stop at the parking lot to read the signs about the history of the pass. Also, an old caboose is kept at the entrance to the trail and I figured it deserved a shot!