Saturday, October 26, 2013

Iron Goat

Mountain Goat

The photo of mountain goat shown above was taken several years ago in South Dakota but he had to have some space because the trail we hiked this week is called Iron Goat and is located near Stevens Pass, Washington.  The logo for the Great Northern Railroad is a mountain goat, hence the trail name Iron Goat refers to the company and the iron rails.  It was part of the railway but is now an interesting historical and interpretive hike.  The tracks were removed years ago and this line was not used after 1929 when a longer tunnel and safer route opened. 

 Start of the trail

Sign at the trail head

There are still a few artifacts left from the railroad days and placards are here and there along the trail to explain and give some historical facts.  Not too far from the trail head it climbs steeply up the bank to connect with the main trail.  After getting to the top portion it climbs very gradually, about 100 feet every mile, and is easy walking; however, like most hiking trails this one is narrow in places and rocky. 

Iron spikes

When the railroad tracks were first installed by Great Northern in 1893 hundreds of trees on the hillsides were cut down.  At the time it was not known that by doing so they put the new rail line in jeopardy from slides and avalanches.  The remains of snow sheds, one made of timber and others made of concrete, are still visible along the way.  We puzzled over how they were able to construct the huge cement wall so far into the wilderness in 1893 but the one we reached is still standing and there are others farther along that we did not walk to.  One of the tunnels has caved in or been blasted shut but the opening is still there and the placard explained how all the work was done by manual labor using pick axes, blasting, and hauling out all the rubble.  

Placard explaining about the tunnel construction

Mouth of the old tunnel

The forest is mixed, broad leafed maples, alder, birch, evergreen firs and cedars even a few golden larches.  The trail was deep in maple leaves in places and I felt like a little kid rustling through them, kicking leaves.  We did not see any animals except for a garter snake and birds.

The little garter snake froze when we approached so a picture was possible.  I have not seen a snake for ages thus it was fun to come across a harmless little one and be able to take a photo.

There were some late flowers in bloom and some of the trees still had pretty autumn colors but many trees had already lost their leaves.  Mushrooms or toadstools were hiding under the downed leaves everywhere along the way. 

Vegetation and water are now making a new home on the old cement snow shed wall.  

Looking up the leaf strewn trail

Mushrooms growing on the trees

Mushrooms—not checking to see if they are edible and choice but preferring to think of them as toadstools—fun to look at, not going to taste.

Thimble berry in bloom in October

Besides the Thimble berry we saw tall yellow violets, cinquefoil, foamflower, a few white daisies and miner’s lettuce. 

Tall yellow violet

Golden Larch trees formed a line on the hill across the way

View looking out from the snow shed wall

The four mile round trip for us was from the trail head up to the first large cement snow shed wall and back.  All the way to the end is 6 ½ miles or a 13 mile round trip.  Neither of us is ready for that yet.  Some people leave a car at each end and just hike the 6 ½ miles but it is possible to stop anywhere along the way and return.  The railroad put up convenient mile markers, like the one below--at least one is missing--which makes it easier to tell just how far one has walked.  

This would be a good hike for families with children.  The only slightly difficult part was the steep rocky ascent to the main trail which, of course, has to be gone down on the return trip.  Going down is always harder for me because it jars the knees and puts additional stress on my legs.  There is an outhouse at the trail head with a compostable toilet.  It is nicer than the outhouse at the Ranger Station and the only restroom facilities with flush toilets are miles and miles away.  Just something to consider especially when taking children along.

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