Iron Horse Trail

Three Days on the Iron Horse Trail part 2

Memorial Day Mini-Tour day 2 - Rando's disappearing into the Snoqualmie Tunnel
A trio of randonneurs disappearing into the Snoqualmie Tunnel.

  I awoke to find it damp with streams of mist running down the trail. I made breakfast and broke camp and then walked down to Alice Creek to clean my dishes. A lively creek that ran though trees and over rocks into an aged cement culvert under the trail where it disappeared from my view. As I returned to camp a hiker came up asking me for directions to a side trail, which I had happened to notice the sign for the day before so I was able to help him out.  I had to filter water for this day, which with my tiny little hikers Katydyn takes some time. So after all of this it was nearly 11 by the time I left.  This was my day solely on the trail so I could take as much time as I wanted, but it would limit how far east I could go.

Memorial Day Mini-Tour day 2 - Culvert under the IHT
Alice Creek vanishing into a culvert

The trail was heavily fogged in, limited the views down onto the I-90, but the ever present white noise of traffic filtered up. It turned out to be a pretty short ride up the trail to the next campground at Carter Creek, which looked nicer than Alice Creek Campground in that the camping sites were right on the river. There was a group of cyclists camped there though, so Alice Creek had that going for it.  I rode on and not much further on came up the next big landmark on my way up to the tunnel: the avalanche shelter.  Back when this was an active railway, it got plenty of snow and there was of course not other route up to these areas. So they built huge wooden shelters that the trains could hunker down in when an avalanche occurred. These were built in the regions were avalanches were common but there is only one remaining at least on this side of the mountains.

Memorial Day Mini-Tour day 2 - Atlantis in the avalanche shelter
Avalanche Shelter on the Iron Horse Trail

From the avalanche shelter it was only a few more miles to the Snoqualmie Tunnel. It was still very foggy on this side of the pass by it seemed to be receding a bit. At least I could see more of the slopes surrounding me and the lush greenery that this early warm spring weather has brought. This is my third time riding up to the tunnel, the first time the trail was still covered with snow near the tunnel which hadn’t been opened up for the season. The second time I rode up it was drizzly and cold and I rode through the tunnel after sunset and then turned around and rode home in the dark.  This would be the first time that I significantly rode on the east side.

Memorial Day Mini-Tour day 2 - Creek down the hill
Little waterfall up by the Snoqualmie Tunnel entrance.

I reached the tunnel entrance a bit after noon and as I pulled up I there was three randonneur-ish looking cyclists at the entrance. As I passed them one took a look a my bicycle and called out 650 or 700? Somehow I grokked what he was asking (about my wheel size) and replied 700. He immediately lost interest and went back to his preparations. “Cool bike” another one called out. Having ridden though the tunnel before I knew it was refrigerator cold and that icy water could drip on you at points. So I pulled over, took some pics and put on all my rain gear. My generator lights are always on, but I turned on my bright “be seen” handlebar light (which I don’t run on trails normally) and hit the tunnel.

Memorial Day Mini-Tour Day 1 - Snoqualmie Tunnel Westside Entrance
Snoqualmie Tunnel Westside Entrance.

The other time I rode through the tunnel it was deep twilight and I only saw a few other people. This time noon-ish on a Saturday during Memorial Day Weekend there were throngs of people.  Endless streams of riders, people walking through with no lights, a guy standing right in the middle at the eastern end filming people with his cell phone.  It was cold and there was those icy drips of water, but mainly I was happy to get through the tunnel to get away from the crowds.  The explanation for the crowds was clear as just a few hundred feet past the east entrance was the Hyak trailhead which was a major destination with a huge parking lot, bathrooms and even showers. The parking lot was packed with people who had driven up to do day hikes or rides.

Memorial Day Mini-Tour day 2 - Mist rolling down the slope
Mist rolling down the slopes at Hyak

I had lunch at the picnic tables at Hyak, cleaned up in the nice bathrooms and then continued east.  I had several options for what to do this day, but since I’d taken a fairly late start I decided that I mainly just wanted to ride as far east as I could.  Tentatively I thought I’d ride most of the to Cle Elum and then do a short ~5 miles off the trail to Roslyn for dinner.  With that rough plan in mind I returned to the trail.

Memorial Day Mini-Tour day 2 - Atlantis on Keechelus Lake
On Keechelus Lake

The trail outside of Hyak quickly became very soft and sandy which would persists for about 4 miles.  It was quite flat as I rounded Keechelus lake, a large mountain reservoir with a  dam at the far eastern end.  As I got further from the pass the clouds began to break up and it was warming up a bit.  Not far from the end of the lake was the first of the two trailside campgrounds on the east side.  The second campground was just another four miles away.  The trail had turned back into handpicked gravel and the ride was quite pleasant. Warm, not too hot with clouds and blue skies.

Memorial Day Mini-Tour day 2 - Waterfall landscape
Waterfall just off the trail

I steadily made my way east, stopping to check out the scenery and take photographs. There were little waterfalls off the trail and several river crossings, the most major of which was the Yakima River.  Not far past that large river I came upon Lake Easton where you could take a spur trail to Lake Easton State Park. A big state park along the north side of the lake, it was well attended this warm Memorial Day Weekend.  If I’d had another day for this trip I would have gotten a campsite and left my camping gear here and done more eastside explorations unloaded.  This is definitely a trip I will do another time, as not far from here is a whole network of forest roads that one could explore.

Memorial Day Mini-Tour day 2 - Lake Easton
Lake Easton.

Memorial Day Mini-Tour day 2 - Riders in the tunnelJust past a large trestle that crossed over the southern tip of Lake Easton I came upon another tunnel just as a pair of horse rides came through. Horses on the Iron Horse Trail!  I came out of the woods a bit further on and was in the tiny town of Easton. The trailhead just outside of town had good fresh water, one of the few places to get potable water on the trail. I filled my bottles and continued east. I was now in a wide open flat mountain valley and the terrain had shifted to reflect the dryer climate. Dry brown grass, hard scrabble shrubbery, much less undergrowth, well spread out pines and so one. You could smell sage and mesquite every now and again and it was as warm as it would get on this trip.   The wind had really picked up as well coming from the west pushing me along the trail.  The trail looked like nothing more then a gravel road running along the farmland and through the thin mountain trees.

Memorial Day Mini-Tour day 2 - Arid Central Washington Plateau
Arid Central Washington Plateau

Just a about 5 miles outside of Cle Elum and a mile or so before I’d have to turn off for Roslyn, I decided I had to head back. It was already late in the afternoon and if I rode the ~7 miles to Roslyn and spent any time there I’d wouldn’t be back to even the more eastern campground until dark.  I had to ride all the way home the next day and I knew it would be better to make it to the more western campground.  So at a road crossing, I paused for a short break and then turned around into the now quite stiff headwind.

Memorial Day Mini-Tour day 2 - Tunnel ahead
Tunnel on the trail

Riding back to Easton was quite the struggle in this headwind which just added to the gravel trail in creating resistance I had to push against.  I was happy to reach the trailhead there and fill up all my water bottles as well as my water bladder for the nights cooking.  I consulted Google Maps and rode into Easton and then over to I-90 where I crossed on an overpass and went to a little store attached to a gas station. I picked up a bit of food to supplement my dinner and as I left ran into a Rivendell fan who questioned me a bit about my Atlantis and my ride.  From there I rode over to the State park and though it to that spur trail that connected back to the Iron Horse Trail.

Memorial Day Mini-Tour day 2 - Riding back along Keechelus Lake
IHT along Keechelus Lake.

Then it was just a retread of my route to Keechelus Lake and the two trailside campgrounds. Knowing that it’d be easier tomorrow if I pushed it to the second one, I decided this was a good choice as there was a large group at the first one. Four miles up the trail was Cold Creek Campground which I reached just before 8pm in the twilight. There was a family there in the best spot down by the river, but I found a nice spot in the trees and quickly set up and made dinner.  As I washed up after dinner I talked to the family a bit, it turned out they had down a similar trip as I did, though they had driven to North Bend where they started out.  It was nearly completely dark by the time I had cleaned everything up and put things away. I walked out to look at the lake to see a half moon rising out of the trees.

a pale pink half moon
rises between two trees —
spring winds stir the lake

Miles ridden today: 60m
Miles ridden to date: 123m
Photographs:  this day/all days
Iron Horse Trail Eastern Side Map.

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