Windy Mountain, just a few miles west of Stevens Pass, was the setting for the worst avalanche in US history. Officially, 96 people lost their lives in a matter of moments in the early hours of March 1st, 1910, but it is widely believed that the total was over 100 deaths. With steep, south facing slopes that in places are still scraped bare 100 years later, this mountain will always be potentially deadly.
Windy Ridge, as seen from SR 2 west of Stevens Pass. Windy Ridge in summer, from NFD 6095.
History of the area
In the late 1800’s, the Great Northern Railway searched for and built a route over (and through) the Cascade Mountains from Spokane to Everett. The town of Wellington was founded in 1893 to serve as the west base from which the Cascade tunnel would be built, and eventually as a train depot. A tunnel was necessary to avoid the massive amounts of snow that Stevens Pass receives annually- approximately 40 feet on average.
In late February of 1910, one of the worst snowstorms on record in the region stalled over Stevens Pass. Two trains, one passenger and one mail, became stuck in the snow at Wellington. For seven days, a relentless blizzard dropped up to a foot of snow per hour. Snow fell so fast that plows were unable to keep up with the snowfall. Some passengers, cold, hungry, and fed up with waiting, made the descent down to the community of Scenic. They would be the lucky few to survive.
On Monday, February 28th, 1910, the snow stopped falling, and the weather began to warm. Snow changed to sleet and then rain, a warm wind began to blow, and then a massive thunderstorm hit the area. At just after 1am, on March 1st, 1910, a massive slab of snow estimated at 10 feet deep, half a mile long, and a quarter mile wide broke loose on the south side of Windy Mountain. An estimated 3.5 million cubic feet of snow swept down the mountain, taking with it the train depot and both trains. 35 passengers, and 61 employees of Great Northern were killed, 23 passengers were ultimately pulled alive from the wreckage. Body recovery wouldn’t be completed until July of the same year.
In October of 1910, Wellington was quietly renamed Tye, in an attempt to disassociate the town from the disaster. Built in 1929, the New Cascade Tunnel replaced the original tunnel, and is the longest tunnel in the United States. Upon completion of the New Cascade Tunnel, the town site of Wellington was abandoned.
Iron Goat Trail
Construction of the Iron Goat Trail began in 1992, and maintenance continues twice a week from May through October. The trail follows the old railroad grade from the abandoned town site of Wellington to the Martin Creek trailhead, just west of the abandoned (and now completely invisible) town of Corea.
The length of the trail runs over six miles, but because it averages only a 2.2% grade, the Iron Goat Trail is very family friendly. A large portion of both the east and west trailheads is also wheelchair friendly.
A special note of caution:
There are three abandoned train tunnels between the two trailheads, and the east end of the trail is only 1/4 mile from the west entrance to the old Cascade Tunnel. It can't be stressed enough how dangerous it is to enter these tunnels. They have not been maintained in over 80 years, and they are
in the process of collapsing. The Iron Goat Trail circumvents each tunnel, if you must, enter the tunnels AT YOUR OWN RISK
There are four ways to get to the base of Windy Mountain, and three of the four are via the Iron Goat Trail
. Which way you go depends upon what you'd like to see.
Via Iron Goat Trail, from the west:
Drive SR2 to either milepost 55 or just after MP 58, and turn north onto the old Cascade Highway/USFS road #67. At 2.3 miles from MP 55, or 1.4 miles from MP 58, turn north onto USFS road #6710. Martin Creek Trailhead is 1.4 miles from this junction. Recommended for a casual stroll of the Iron Goat Trail.
Via NFD 6710:
Follow the above directions to Martin Creek Trailhead. Continue past
the trailhead for a few miles until you reach an unmarked and unnamed logging road on your right. Drive this road until you reach a gate. Park here. Recommended for a direct summer ascent of Windy Mountain.
Via Iron Goat Trail, from the east:
Drive SR2 to just after MP 64 (just prior to the summit of Stevens Pass), and turn north onto the old Cascade Highway. If crossing traffic feels dangerous at this point, continue to the summit of Stevens Pass (less than 30 seconds) and make a U turn. Once on the old Cascade Highway, travel 2.8 miles, and make a right (west) turn onto USFS road #050. There should be an obvious sign directing you. Note: this road is not maintained; while it is paved, it may be rough in places for cars that ride low. Your average car will have no issues. Recommended for a casual stroll of the Iron Goat Trail.
Via Iron Goat Trail, from Scenic:
Drive SR2 to just after MP 58. Turn north onto the old Cascade Highway, and immediately turn right. If you see a big red caboose and some restrooms, you’re in the right place. Recommended for a direct winter ascent of Windy Mountain.
Windy Mountain Access
To access Windy Mountain, you have one of three choices: a direct ascent from the south best done in winter, an indirect ascent from the east (or west, if you really want to make it a long day) involving hours upon hours of bushwhacking, or a direct ascent from the north, only accessible in summer. While the route from the east appears
safe, a certain degree of navigation is required to successfully reach the summit and return safely. There is no trail to the summit from any direction.
From the south:
Park at the Scenic trailhead mentioned in the Getting There
section. Ascend less than one mile directly from Scenic up to the Windy Point Tunnel. From here, you have one of two options:
West entrance to the Windy Point Tunnel.
1) From the west end of the tunnel, make your way above the tunnel. This can be accomplished by climbing up the steep incline to the right of the tunnel entrance.
2) From the west end of the tunnel, begin walking east around the tunnel. In just a few minutes, you'll find the only portion of the hill over the tunnel that you can access. It's steep, but it's doable. If you're faced with a short blasted rock face, you're in the wrong spot.
Once on top of the tunnel, ascend up steep (and I stress steep
) slopes. As it begins to open up, you'll notice that you're on a wooded ridge- follow that ridge to the top of Windy Mountain.
Round trip is less than five miles, but the elevation gain is over 3,000 feet in just about two miles, maybe even a little less than two miles.
From the east:
Park at the Wellington trailhead mentioned in the Getting There
section. Bushwhack your way up to point 5360 or 5383, and traverse Windy Ridge in a southwestern direction to reach the true highpoint.
From the north:
After parking on the logging road mentioned above, walk the road to the end, and enjoy a short, brushy scramble to the top. Take the path of least resistance to the top of the ridge, then follow the ridge southwest to the true highpoint.
A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at either the Martin Creek railhead, or the Wellington trailhead. A pass is not
required to park at the Scenic trailhead. Toilets are available at all three trailheads, but water is not.
The Iron Goat Trail is designated for day use only.
This mountain is best climbed in winter when the underbrush is snow covered. On top of the 10 essentials, be sure to bring snowshoes, crampons, and an ice axe. A topo map is STRONGLY recommended- either the "Scenic" USGS map, or Green Trails map #176 Stevens Pass.
These external links have doubled as my sources:
Official page for the Iron Goat Trail
Information on the avalanche from the free online encyclopedia of Washington state history
A link to a page with good information and great pictures
of the town of Wellington, the surrounding area, the avalanche, and the aftermath.
The Wikipedia page
about the avalanche.
The White Cascade
, by Gary Krist.
Additionally, be sure to check the avalanche conditions
prior to going out. This mountain is steep in places- you don't want to be a statistic.