3. easton

The 30 miles from Cle Elum to Snoqualmie Tunnel


West of Cle Elum the grade gets into some fine mountain country with little in the way of industry and few people. I found a beautiful riverside campsite, and got on with it early next morning.

The Easton trailhead is 11.4 miles of pretty riding west of the Cle Elum depot. It has vault toilets, and informative historical signs. Otherwise it appears to be in the middle of nowhere.

There's a wye left there - Y - where a train could back up one leg, and drive out the other, the entire train effectively turned around.

Bear north across the active railroad yards and you'll find Easton. Whoopie. I didn't see a soul alive and everything was closed - most closures looked pretty permanent.

Go west through town, down a long swooping curve, and you'll come to I-90. Across the slab is a gas station/minimart/espresso shack - a real lifesaver if you imagined there was actually a town here. You'll have to ride a mile west, past the state park entrance, to reach the overpass to the north side and supplies.

Don't dally - the espresso shack closed at noon, just after I got mine.

The minimart hadn't much, but a good bike engine can burn anything with calories, so I was able to stock up, not knowing what might be ahead until North Bend.

Now here's another little tricky part. West of the Easton trailhead you'd have to hunt around for a bit to find the continuation of the grade. It's there, at first looking like a bit of private frontage along a paved road. Just ahead there's a characteristic single-track railroad cut through a small hill.

If you find it and take it you'll pass the works of the Highline Irrigation Canal, then pass into cool deep woods above a beautiful view of Lake Easton. Ahead there's a short, "closed" tunnel that's actually wide open. The problem is just ahead - a fine-looking railroad bridge over the Yakima where it enters the lake. The bridge is barred by a locked gate.

Your choice - you can clamber over the fence and be on your way, or take the "mandatory" detour through the state park, around the lake, up a hill, to the west end of the bridge. Out of curiosity, I took the detour. It's not bad.

Ride into the state park and buttonhole somebody official. Don't tell 'em you're busting the tunnels - they take that so seriously it's comical. The detour's easy enough to follow on verbal instructions, and hits a section of the old Sunset Highway, with the railroad bridge visible across the lake. The trail brings you up on the grade maybe 100 yards west of the bridge.

The west end also had a gate, but it was open.

From here the country rapidly gets more rugged, and to me, more beautiful. This is where they had to cut the grade over the Cascades, a major feat of engineering.

There's one more "closed" tunnel about 7 miles west of Easton. It has a relatively short detour around the toe of the ridge.

Maybe it has termites, but the concrete and re-bar looked pretty sound to my telephotomic lens.

From the tunnel it's another 11 miles of beautiful easy riding to Hyak, including several lovely miles riding above Keechelus Lake.

Note the snow shed. Avalanches were a major problem for railroaders in the Cascades. In March 1910 two trains were stopped by heavy snow near Wellington, west of Stevens Pass. An avalanche loaded with big trees and boulders hit the trains and destroyed them, driving the wreckage downslope into the Tye River valley. 96 people were killed.

Steam along Keechelus Lake, 1912