Iron Horse - S. Cle Elum East

We had our first 70 degree day of the year yesterday. It took almost to the end of May. Now that the weekend is here so is the rain. I chose to head east and at least try to find some wildflowers. Two years ago I made an early May visit to the old railroad grade along the Yakima River and found skunk cabbage and trillium blooming across the grade from balsamroot. Mountains meet desert in the same place. I hoped to repeat that trip three weeks later in a colder and wetter year. I left Seattle in light rain and it kept up all the way to North Bend. The traffic cams at 6:30 am showed blue sky at Snoqualmie Pass and Easton. I crossed the pass in dark clouds and it was no better at Easton or Cle Elum. At least it was not raining. I headed through South Cle Elum and followed the road back under I-90 and to the small lot next to the old railroad grade. By 8:35 am I was on my way. It was 94 miles and 1:45 drive from North Seattle.

Flowers began immediately. Bluebells and balsamroot were blooming right next to the parking lot. A cold wind was blowing but it soon lessened. It was never short sleeves weather but not too cold either. There were a few flowers in the first mile I did not recognize. Nice colors all around. Lots of yellows and blues. Much more skunk cabbage than I recall seeing on this trail but it was a few weeks past prime. Just a little yellow left. I also found the last of the blooming trillium. They were pink and very near the end.

The Yakima River was running high and fast. As fast as I ever recall seeing it here. Soon I reached the junction with the Teanaway River. Green Yakima River water met brown Teanaway water. The big open slope did not rain rocks and mud down on the trail this year. A little farther there was a blow out where mud and trees fell onto the route. It has been cleaned up but still smells of freshly cut trees. The only outhouse on the route was falling off it's foundation two years ago. Now it has been boarded up and has a big rock in front of the door.  Looks like it is permanently out of commission.

Several miles along the balsamroot show began. I ventured a little off the trail to find hundreds of blooming balsamroot. The overcast brought out some great colors. There were a few other flowers mixed in. I spent more time here than anywhere else along the route. Back on the trail it did not take long to reach the powerline swath. The gates before and after are still there. Open to hikers but keeping something in or out. At the second gate is the flume dropping from high on the canyon wall to the river. No surprise that there is water in it now. Halfway to the tunnel, at 3 3/4 miles, I noticed the old water wheel on the opposite side of the river. Not in good shape anymore but still standing.

Ballhead waterleaf and Oregon grape flowers linked the route. There was a burn here a few years back and black snags dotted the hillside. The canyon narrows again for a while then I came to the horse meadow. Not a horse to be seen this morning. There were a few flowers most all the way on to the tunnel. There are mile markers to help figure out how much farther to go. The only missing one is just a short way from the start. The numbers seem to be from Chicago as this used to be the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul railroad. The first would be 2081 and the last a little before he tunnel is 2074.

The route nears the river and old Highway 10 is now on the other side. One change is that near the tunnel a wind farm comes into view. They are just across the river. I took many photo breaks in the first 3 1/2 miles then buckled down and made good time there after. It took me 2:48 to cover the 7 1/2 miles. It was 11:23 am and time for an early lunch. The sky actually began to turn blue. That was short lived. I had a nice half hour break then it was time to head back. A few minutes down the track I met a state park ranger driving by. He stopped for a brief conversation then headed on through the tunnel. The tunnel is still closed to hikers and bikers. I hope to see all the tunnels along the grade repaired and opened once again.

After less than two miles the rain began. There was a 40% chance of rain showers but I had a 100% chance of seeing rain for the next 3 hours. Nothing an umbrella couldn't take care of. The wind also picked up. At times it was 10-15 mph. Another good reason for an umbrella. It kept the cold wind off my face. A lot less photos coming back. I did stop at the meadow as the horses were now out standing in their field. When I reached the masses of balsamroot I did stop as he rain made for a different look. I made better time coming back as it took just over two hours. The ranger's truck passed me again. I saw a father and young son on bikes plus a solo hiker heading out in the last mile. That was it. The usual spring crown on this trail.

The light rain was not so light as I neared my car. It was steady rain at the end. The rain kept coming down all the way back to North Bend. Considering how much rain there was in the mountains I did just fine. This route is about as flat as you will find. 100 or so feet of elevation change in 7 1/2 miles. An easy 15 miles but still 15 miles. My feet were tired. Really good wildflowers especially the balsamroot. This is becoming a favorite spring flower hike. In a few weeks the flowers will be down but they are excellent right now. I was back at my car at 2:10 and home by 4:00 pm. Time well spent on a dark and dreary day.

Balsamroot At Start
Full Bloom
Ballhead Waterleaf
Yellow Flower
Yakima River
Another Flower
New Washout
Skunk Cabbage
Teanaway River
Green Peak Soup
Unusual Reflection
Balsamroot Bush
Plenty Of Balsamroot
Bug On Bloom
Blooming Duo
Almost Perfect
Spider On Flower
Woodland Star
One More Flower
Apple Tree?
Bunch Of Bushes
Nice Contrast
Colorful Flower
Pond Becoming Meadow
More Cattails
River & Ranch
Horlick Depot
Wind Farm
View Along Grade
Wide Spot In River
Misty Rain
Close Gate
Raindrops On Flowers
Wall Of Yellow
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2011