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I Just Wanted To See If I Could

There are trails you go to explore, to climb higher and higher – to see what might be up there. Then there are the trails I cannot explain – the insane desire to know if I can do it. I had a thought this past week that it was time to see how I would fare on a one way hike down the Iron Horse Rail to Trail. Not a trail one would call a world class trail – not like wandering through alpine meadows or across snowfields at Rainier. This was something I just had to do.

Kirk being the bestest husband around got up at dawn to help me do a shuttle. We left a truck at the bottom, at Rattlesnake Lake and he then drove me up I-90 to Annette Lake’s Trailhead where he left me.

Yeah, the look was stylin’ – running shorts and running shoes. With trekking poles. Worked though!


The trail to Annette takes off steeply (and stays that way! I do the trail every couple years when I forget how sucky it is….)


There is one payoff in the billionth-growth forest, is the crossing of Humpback Creek. The forest by the creek is pretty and thick. A few feet away and it goes back to ugly, pencil thin trees with no undergrowth. The kind of forest that screams ‘forest fire’. I never like this section, but alas no choice if I wanted to do this hike.


There was flowers starting to come up and as I hiked all day, more and more the lower I went in elevation.


In odd spots though you would get gorgeous forest as you climbed quickly uphill. One must walk Annette Lake’s trail for the first .7 of a mile to reach the Iron Horse Trail. It is the last access to it on the West side of the state – the State shut the tunnel down this winter (which was how many people would access it, park in Eastern Wa, at Snoqualmie Pass and come through the long tunnel that goes under the Pacific Crest Trail.) So this was my only way to get up there.


Out I popped up on the Iron Horse. The mileage would change with every sign with how far places were – though the mileage in total stayed the same.


I turned right and started heading downhill, going Westish. For the most part my hike would be downhill with only a few feet gain. The drop was around 1700 feet in 16.5 miles from here.

In the distance I saw something through the trees.


I was walking in clouds, at around 2600 feet elevation or so. A wide open area, lush growth with creeks running downhill. It smelled so good up there – that smell of mid-elevation, early summer. Flowers opening everywhere.


Looking back at the clouds.



What I had seen was a massive snow shed from when the train ran on this line.


The timbers were massive.


The air was heavy with creosote though. I did not walk under it, though you can. Looking back east.


Not long after I passed this blow out. The creek had dumped a ton of debris that they had plowed through. The wall of junk was high as me, on both sides.


Looking across the way. I-90 would be below me, not seen. While at times I could hear and see I-90 the trail was lonely. I didn’t see anyone till I was at least 6 miles in, when I had a couple bikers pass me, heading up.


One of the many trestle bridges, this being the longest one (I think!).


The stop of Bandera (they are all signed).


I didn’t realize that the two ‘backcountry camp areas’ run by the state on the trail were so nice. This privy was so clean it was scary! I have never seen one so clean and maintained. The camp was below, down a side trail.


Carter Creek was where the sites were on:


Looking down from the trail the sites had two tent pads and a picnic table. It was very nice!


6.8 miles from the junction of Annette….so many more miles to go….


Alice Springs was the second camp area. I stopped and had a quick lunch here. The campsites were on the trail, but as before were very nice. Here I swapped out of my running shoes into my trail runners. Hmmm. I wanted to see the difference. The super hard pack was not gentle on my feet. Rail to trails might as well be a road for how hard they are.




The big trestle bridge as you approach the Deception Crags rock wall (climbing area):


As I came up to the area there were tons of climbers all busy. In the second area I had a lady look at me and ask I was ‘Sarbar’. 😉 She posts on the local forums, NWHikers.net as well. Cool!

I puttered down a little and took a break, eating a bit more. I wasn’t very hungry all day and it was hard to force myself to eat (oh, like that is normally an issue! Normally it is ‘quit eating!’). I went back to my running shoes. The trail runners are too stiff. Fine for rocky trails, not for hard road. The runners had more padding.

The next miles flowed and ebbed. I was getting tired mostly. I did start to see more people.

I came to Ragnar, a sure sign the miles were adding up. Finally I had to take a break about 2 miles from the end. I was NOT feeling good, light headed and queasy. Forced myself to eat 100 calories of chocolate (such suffering, no?) and 1/2 quart of elctrolytes. Boom-boom-super powers. That was all I needed and it revved me up.


I passed the turn off for Cedar Butte and that is when I knew I was nearly done – just a bit over 1/2 a mile left. The Salmon Berries were ripe in the area and I met a lady biking who had one of those old person grabber arms with her, using it to grab the upper branches of berries. That had to be the BEST idea ever for berry pickers! Not only that, she gave me a ripe berry that was the size of a quarter. Deep red and sooooo good. Thank you really cool lady. You made my day!

Cedar Falls is the last sign:


And then there I was, at the turn off to head down to the parking lot. 16 1/2 miles on the Iron Horse Trail, .7 on Annette Lake and whatever it is to walk down to the trailhead. Maybe 17 1/2 or a bit more miles.


For me downhill is much harder. My knees are fine but wow I am sore. Going uphill might be harder on the lungs but my legs always feel better 😉

It is done. I don’t think I will ever need to do it again. Never know though. Maybe one day I will get a crazy calling to hike from Snoqualmie to the Cedar River Watershed. 😀 I do though feel so alive – it was what I needed to say hello to summer.


4 thoughts on “I Just Wanted To See If I Could

  1. Looks like a great hike! I agree that hiking downhill is harder. After a long downhill hike my quadriceps ache and often spasm.

    My wife Kasia and I biked a portion of the trail last year. We parked at Rattlesnake Lake, rode to the summit and through the tunnel to Hyak, then returned. I have a small write-up here: http://keithmo.blogspot.com/2008/06/iron-horse-trail.html

    It’s interesting to note that the entire trail is clear of snow. This time last year, the area around the snow shed had a good, thick layer of snow.

    Pity the summit tunnel (and other tunnels along the trail) are closed indefinitely. I keep hoping someone will throw some “stimulus money” at the problem and get the tunnels repaired, but I don’t realistically expect that to happen anytime soon.

  2. I was bummed about the tunnel closing 🙁 I waited too long to do that one. I had hoped that this year (before it was closed that is) that Ford would be strong enough to ride his bike. I had hoped to ride all the way to the Columbia. Ah well. Should have done it last year, eh?

  3. Hey Sare-Bear, nice report and a LLLLLOOOOOONNNNNNNGGGGGG semi boring trip! Good work.

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