Just as the first real round of winter snow began a constant and threatening descent onto the Cascade Mountains, my feet took me to the Iron Goat Trail for a little exploring along the old rail routes from the early 1900's.
The snow wasn't too deep yet - only about four inches in the deepest locations. However, this is just temporary as this Iron Goat Rail Route crosses numerous avalanche paths and it is not a wise place to be once the snow really begins accumulating on the mountains high above you.
One such avalanche occurred just a few miles to the east, at the location of a small railroad town named Wellington. The avalanche wiped out two passenger trains, pushing them down the mountain, with few survivors. This remains the most deadly avalanche disaster in the lower 48 states.
As mentioned earlier, this hike occurred just as the snowfall began accumulating - before any avalanche conditions could build up.
It is my recommendation that you not visit this trail until late in the summer of 2012. In the meantime, read the fantastic guide book published by VOW and the Mountaineers. It's currently available here.
There is a whole lot of really great (historical) stuff to see here, in addition to the scenery. It's one of my favorite destinations when I'm looking for something low-key but always interesting.
This hike is great when the weather is wet or the sun isn't sunny.
The trail head is easy to access, right off Hwy 2 before you start gaining elevation up to the pass. There are actually three trailheads: Wellington (eastern trail head), Martin Creek (western trail head) and Scenic (the middle trail head with it's own Caboose).
This particular hike started at the Scenic trail head and immediately gained about 700 feet of elevation via the cross-over trail to Windy Point Tunnel.
Once at Windy Point, a left turn starts you off to the west, toward the Martin Creek trail head. This is also where you can venture a short ways into the Windy Point tunnel. Hold onto your hat - I almost had to chase mine into the dark.
Heading West, the trail will follow the old rail road route along its upper grade, often next to the inside wall of long-gone snow sheds which would aid in keeping avalanche debris off the tracks.
There are other neat things to see, including wash outs that left a retaining wall standing by its lonesome, with a 6 foot tall hole in the bottom of it, or tunnels that are being gradually filled in by Mother Nature herself.
Look closely... there is a mile marker in the center of the picture.
After about 2.5 miles of hiking on the upper grade, a trail junction with the Cortea Connector trail makes for a good shortcut down to the lower grade. Taking this shortcut means you won't go by the Martin Creek Trail head... but it will pop you out near the lower grade's twin tunnels, a new wooden bridge and finally back to the parking lot for a 6 mile loop.
Here is a short video and a GPS Waypoints image.
Feel free to post comments or ask questions.
Links to my other Iron Goat Trip Reports:
Wellington To Windy Point Tunnel (Aug. 8, 2009)
Exploring Windy Point (Aug. 12, 2007)