My return journey from Chelan brought me over Stevens Pass on a sunny day. I had a schedule to get back for another meeting so wasn’t able to loiter too much but I still managed to take a few minutes out to stop and grab a couple of shots. There aren’t many places to stop going over Stevens Pass but, coming down from the summit heading west, there is a pull out and so I made my first use of that. I also stopped coming in to Index to grab a snack from the coffee hut there which has a nice view of Mount Index.
Snowy Cascades shots are pretty but I was shooting from an airliner on my way for a work trip and the mountains were sitting amongst the clouds. Getting a good shot from a plane of a white subject when contrast is not going to be great is a risk but this came out better than I expected. It won’t be too long before the snow is melted and we shall have to wait for half a year to get something like this again.
We made a trip across the Cascades in October to see what sort of colors there were in the trees. Choosing when to go is tricky because the timing of the color in the mountains isn’t the same as it is near us. Things were very pretty as we headed across Steven’s Pass. One the run down to Leavenworth, the road is tucked up against the banks of the Wenatchee River. There are a few places on the otherwise narrow road where you can pull off. The colors were pretty intense in parts providing a focus for the eye of the viewer of the photos.
Another post for the rail fans out there. My visit to Steilacoom has yielded posts about the ferry and McNeil Island but it would be remiss to not discuss the rail line that runs along the waterfront. The weekend day I was there, there seemed to be a lot of traffic. This is the BNSF line along the coast but it is also currently used by Amtrak services. That was due to have stopped a while back with the Point Defiance Bypass having opened but, with an accident on the opening run, trains have continued to use the old route. That will transition at some point this year, though.
A bunch of trains came through while I was there. Most of these were freight services but one was an Amtrak Cascades train. It was being operated with a Talgo Series 8 train owned by Oregon DOT and on which I have done a bunch of work over recent years. Since only one train is running per day in each direction as a result of the pandemic, it was a lucky coincidence that I was there when it came through. I did get a nice wave from the engineer.
The Cascades range has a few volcanos. One of the less frequently discussed is Mt Adams. I know of it as a result of something work related but have never thought much about it or where it was. However, from Mt St Helens, you have a good view of Mt Adams off to the east. I wasn’t planning on heading that way but it was hard to miss it from up there.
The drive to Mt St. Helens takes you south passed Mt Rainier. The weather was pretty crummy as I headed south so I didn’t get any views of the mountain as a drove. However, the weather had improved markedly by the time I headed home and the sun angle had come around to illuminate my side of the mountain. Consequently, I stopped a couple of times on my way back north to take some pictures. I want to do some hiking on Mt Rainier at some point but this was as close as I have got – at least on the ground.
Sitting beneath Mt St Helens is Spirit Lake. It was there before the blast but not exactly where it is now. The debris that rushed off the mountain and the side of the volcano collapsed pushed down to the lake and actually raised it up a couple of hundred feet. The water also rushed up the surrounding hills. These had been covered in trees which, as the blast expanded outwards, got snapped off at their bases. These stripped tree trunks got picked up by the water and washed back in to the lake as the water retreated. The result is that there are now thousands of tree trunks floating on the surface of the lake making a raft. This moves with the wind so its location on the lake surface changes all the time but it always covers a substantial portion of the lake.
The lake also covers the previous location of a lodge that used to serve visitors. The owner of the lodge died in the explosion and the raised level of the lake now puts it above the lodge’s original location. The owner had been advised to leave but he had lived there all his life and he wasn’t interested in going. He was one of the many people to die that day.
Long before we moved to the Pacific Northwest or even visited the area, there was one mountain in the area that I knew all about. Mt St Helens exploded in 1980 killing over 50 people and devastating a wide area. The idea that the side of a mountain would just slide away and the exposed volcanic activity would blow out with the force of tens of megatons of explosive was amazing to me then and it still is. I had been thinking of taking a visit for a long time.
The lack of a reason for time off this year means I have built up a balance of PTO that the company wants me to use so I booked a random day off in the middle of the week and, with nothing else planned, I thought a road trip was worthwhile. It is a little over three hours south of us to get to the mountain so I headed off earlier with a good forecast. I was a little skeptical as I drove south in the rain and low cloud but weather changes quickly here and altitude can make things change fast.
The road to Windy Ridge Viewpoint closes in the winter but it was still mild enough and there was almost no trouble on the road. The deep shadows combined with the sun breaking through the trees made for some awkward conditions to drive up while watching out for the sudden deteriorations in the surface which appeared without warning. The majority of the road surface is perfect but every once in the road, a little chasm will appear! Also, while the air temps were in the 50s, the shade meant there was the occasional icy patch on the road which gets your attention on steep sections with big drop offs!
As I got closer to my target, I started coming around corners which provided a view to the mountain. It is a dominant shape even without the 1,600’ or so that got blown off it forty years ago. This was not an ideal time to visit for photography purposes because the sun is so far south so it is a little backlit but the good viewpoints are in the north and, even if I had been there for sunrise, it would still have been a less than ideal sun angle. That would have required an overnight there which I didn’t feel was a great plan.
When I got to Windy Ridge, I was all alone. There were two vehicle parked up near the trailhead but the occupants were obviously off up the trail. It was just me. Consequently, it felt super tranquil. I read up on the disaster and what happened to the area and the people. I spent a lot of time just staring at the mountain. The hollowed out side of the mountain gives you an idea of just what got blown out. There are new bulges in the surface as magma pushes up from underneath which serves to remind you of just what you are looking at. This thing has blown on multiple occasions and will again at some point. Right now it looks benign. The eruption from 1980 continued on and off into the mid 2000s. It is quiet for now but it will cause trouble again at some point. The desolation of the area, even after 40 years, is a stark reminder of the power of a volcano. Some trees have. Grown up but most of the landscape is still barren. Everything was scoured clear by the high speed and burning heat of the blasts. Some areas were sheltered by geography and they are were things have grown back first but they are in the minority. Quite a place. One day I shall go back and do the hike to the summit.
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.
When starting up at rocky mountainsides, it is easy to spot trees that seem to be doing an amazing job of growing out of somewhere that looks like it shouldn’t be possible. Normally I am a lot further away that is practical to get a good look at how they do this. However, while hiking in the Cascades, we came across a spot right next to the trail where some trees were growing right out of the rocks next to us. It was so cool to see how they develop a root structure in solid rock from which they can grow and flourish. Here are a couple of shots to show how they have successfully embedded themselves in a rocky surface.