Friday, January 11, 2008

Winter Visit to Scenic Hot Springs (Jan 5, 2008)

Looking out over the Tye River Valley
from above the hot springs

The trail may be blazed up but that doesn't make the going any easier. However, the springs sources are running a toasty 115 deg F. Well worth the effort.

This view looks out to the north over the Tye River valley. To the right, Highway 2 makes the final climb to Stevens Pass. For those of you interested in history, you can easily make out the scar and avalanche chute in the far background. In 1910 a fully-loaded passenger train became snowbound after coming out of the first Cascade Tunnel. During the night the accumulated snowpack gave way and carried 100+ souls to their deaths far down the mountainside. The Wellington Train Disaster remains the deadliest avalanche-train accident in U.S. history.

The disaster was the impetus for the Great Northern Railway to start construction on the new railway tunnel, the current Cascade Tunnel under Cowboy Mountain and Stevens Pass. The town of Wellington was also renamed to Tye in a public relations move. Tye no longer exists but as an Interpretive Center for the very popular Iron Goat Trail along the abandoned railway grade.

A blazed path through Rock Alley and 8-10 feet of snow

Fortunately I didn't have to deal with any avalanches or snow disasters . . . but I certainly had to deal with a lot of snow. It's amazing how the human body acclimates to the conditions so fast. Though it was in the mid thirties for most of my trip up (and didn't dip down into freezing temperatures until close to sunset), as long as I kept moving and exerting myself I was not feeling the cold. The magic rainbow at the end of that hike was a long, leisurely soak in the hot pool . . . and guess what? Superwarmed and reheated, the hike back down was even more comfortable . . . at least until whatever light there was faded and the air began to get really cold. By that time I was back at my car and enjoying the heater at full-bore.

There is a special magic about hiking in the snow (and especially so when you can do it nude and exposed to the elements). The sensations are hard to describe. Certainly the tightening of the skin pores and the stiffening of body hairs. Then there is the serenity and quietness of the pure landscape all around you . . . the steady 'crunch' 'crunch' of the snowshoes. You have it all to yourself.

It's illusive, of course. There is always the allure of wanting to lay down in the crisp snow and take a nap . . . dangerous, for sure. But you think about it and then start kicking yourself to watch for signs of hypothermia. But the hike is a short one and I have plenty of warm clothes and survival gear in the backpack. This day I didn't need them. No disasters across the valley from Wellington.

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