Stevens Pass was again the site of a quick road trip recently.
Located just off Highway 2 is the former town site of Wellington, Washington. This tiny spot, once a small railroad community, is situated near the east entrance to the original Cascade Tunnel that ran beneath Stevens Pass. The community was found in 1893 and was an instrumental location for the early railroad days in the region. It is more famous today though as the site of the March 1, 1910 Wellington avalanche, the worst avalanche in United States history.
You can reach Wellington by taking the first road on the west side of the summit of the pass, right across the highway from the entrance to the ski area’s lower parking lot. That road is known as either the Tye Scenic Road or the Old Cascade Highway, depending on who you talk to.
After reaching the parking lot, we went to the left first, or headed east, for the chance to view the western entrance of the original railroad tunnel. This structure looks great. The trail leads to a nice viewing area and has some good information on historical markers along the way. There are also some old foundations from various railroad related structures still visible too. Water flows at a pretty good rate out of the tunnel mouth now and it is well marked as too dangerous to enter. Still, seeing it from the outside is very cool.
After this viewing opportunity, we returned to the parking lot and continued on the same path, this time to the west. Down this path, past a small meadow, is the entrance to the old snowshed. Early in the season, water flows down the mountain near the mouth of the snowshed at a pretty good rate. We were there late in the summer and there was very little water running. This is also one of the entry points to popular Iron Goat Trail that goes through the area.
The snowshed has aged some since it was built in the years following the 1910 avalanche. It was dark inside and if you look past the small amount of graffiti, it’s very impressive to see such a huge structure that was built so long ago. This is a great piece of history that I and my kids both enjoyed being able to walk through.
About halfway through the snowshed, there is a pathway that leads to a observation deck that overlooks the forest. Reading the markers there tells you that what you are actually looking out at is the avalanche field where rail cars and occupants were moved down the mountain with the flowing snow and debris. There is quite a bit of good historical information on the markers there.
Continuing on down the path through the snowshed makes you feel more and more isolated. It’s a very interesting experience. By the time we reached the end, it was nice to see some open sky. The point where the trail leaves the snowshed is interesting in its own way. Here you will see a portion of the snowshed going through a slow collapse. Even my son said that the suspended chunks of concrete in the twisted rebar had an almost artwork look to them.
From here, you can continue on down the Iron Goat Trail to a couple of different exit points. We went a short distance down the trail and then turned around and returned through the snowshed and back to the parking lot. On the way back, one feature that was very interesting was the leftover evidence of railroad tracks inside the snowshed. There are no rails left there but there are plenty of railroad ties, most of them in some sort of decay.
The 1910 Wellington Avalanche was responsible for the deaths of 96 people, some of them passengers on the train and some railroad workers who had been working to clear the tracks of snow. The avalanche and the massive death toll made the newspapers across the country. Later that year, the community of Wellington was renamed Tye, after the local Tye River, in an effort to distance itself from the memory of the tragedy. The depot that the community was centered around closed in the late 1920s with the opening of the second Cascade Tunnel which exited the mountain further to the west.
Even though we had been there before, we had a great time at Wellington again. The combination of history and nature is perfect. It’s a great destination for a road trip and also works nice for a stop on US 2 if you’re on the way to somewhere else.