Iron Horse Trail To Tunnel

     There are many reasons not to like this hike. It's on an old railroad grade that is now just a gravel road. It passes under four huge power transmission towers. Several sections are in sight of a main road. This is not a trip I would take on a sunny summer day. However, on a cold fall day it can be very beautiful. It had been 10 years since I last hiked all the way to the tunnel. In an unusual twist it was clear all the way to Snoqualmie Pass and cloudy over the east side. I reached the trailhead just beyond South Cle Elum at 8:30. I was the only car in the small lot. There was a little snow on the ground and it was about 35 degrees. Thankfully, there was not much wind. I dropped down to the trail and quickly left the road and houses. The trail follows the Yakima River with a steep hillside on the other side. Most of the way was on a thin layer of snow which looks much better than gravel. All the still water was frozen solid. In season the leaves would make a great display. I was a little late although some color still remained.

     After about a mile the Teanaway River merged with the Yakima. The water flow improved significantly. Since the last snow someone had driven the whole distance to the tunnel. It would have been much nicer with no tread marks in the snow. There were many footprints in the snow at first. They thinned out farther down but at least one person went all the way to the tunnel. At about 3 miles I reached the power lines. They are huge and numerous. The buzzing was just a bit unnerving. Across the river are several farms with animals out in the fields. Earlier the grass would have been golden. Now it is just pale as the color has faded. Beyond the power lines is an enormous cement drainage ditch. When it is flowing it looks like a scary water slide right into the Yakima River. This day it was empty. Soon I came to the old water wheel on the other side of the river. It is no longer used but is in relatively good shape. I have seen deer along the trail and many birds including raptors. This day I kept flushing birds and the flapping noise against the complete quiet startled me every time. Some were the size of grouse but I seldom had much of a view before they disappeared again.

     The next sight was a large open field on the right. It is usually empty but this day it was full of horses. They were munching breakfast through the snow. Every one of them looked at me as I passed. More to the point they never took their eyes off of me. I guess either they don't see many people along here or they expected me to be the guy bringing some real food. There wasn't much grass for them to eat. After the field the canyon narrowed again. High above and out of sight and sound is the I-90 rest area on Indian John Hill. Down in the canyon there was just me and the river.

     At about 5 miles I came to the old "town" of Horlick. Harvey Manning called it a town in his 100 hikes book. It would take lots of imagination to see a town in this spot. What must have been a train depot is still standing between the grade and the river. It is just barely still standing.  "For rent" is painted on the building but I doubt they will have any takers. One other building is still standing as well. I think on my first time here there was at least one more building standing. After Horlick there are steep walls to the canyon all the way to the tunnel. The operating trail tracks are on the opposite side of the river just across the way. Highway 10 is also now just across the river. This was once the main cross state highway before I-90 was built. It is still a much more scenic way to get to Ellensburg. My feet were telling me I must be getting close to the tunnel. I can hike all day on soft trail but after 21 years of constant hiking I can not take much hard gravel. At least the snow softened my steps a little. A few more twist and turns of the river and I could see where the tunnel would be. A few more minutes of slogging and I finally reached the tunnel after 7 1/2 miles. In that distance I had dropped a whole 200'. This is about as flat a hike as can be done. You can't hike this far and not go through the tunnel. It is not very long as it took only about 5 minutes to transit. The fun is in the fact that the tunnel makes a continuous curve. As you walk into total darkness there is no light ahead for a short distance. When you see a sliver of light ahead there is none behind. I carry a headlamp but that would be no fun. I walked through without a light. The black in the middle is such that you can't see your hand right in front of your face. I enjoyed hiking through. Of course, I also hiked through the long Snoqualmie tunnel without using a light.

     There used to be signs stating that the next section was closed to travel. I did not see any signs this time. Perhaps it's now OK to keep going. I had lunch just above the river. It took me 2:22 to reach the tunnel. That works out to 19 minutes per mile while slowing to take 75 photos. It was cold enough that within 30 minutes I was ready to get moving again. The return trip was a little warmer as it likely reached near 40 degrees in the afternoon. The return was slower as I took more time for photos and my heels let me know how much they hate hard packed gravel. Even at a slower pace I made it back to the car at 2:30. For about the 20th time this year I saw nobody the whole day. I really like getting away from the city and getting away from everyone once in awhile. A little snow and no people makes this an infinitely more enjoyable trip than it would be in the summer.

     On the way home I stopped in South Cle Elum to check out the official Iron Horse State Park - John Wayne Trail trailhead. As I expected it requires a $5.00 parking deposit. I was pleased to see that the city and Washington State Parks have collaborated to restore the old train depot. It is not open but looks to be nearly done. The totals on the day were 15 miles with a huge 200' of elevation gained. It was a nice day to revisit an old favorite.

Barn At Start
Teanaway River

Leaves On The Trail
Yakima River
Snow On Trail
Golden And Green
Along The Trail
Drainage Ditch
Barn And Horses
Water Wheel
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2