Horse - S. Cle Elum East
My knee is still
sore so I wanted a trail with minimal elevation gain. Some solitude and
flowers would be nice too. It had been a dozen years since I last hiked
the Iron Horse Trail east from South Cle Elum. The trail is in a canyon
far below the noise of I-90. It follows along the Yakima River. It
seemed like a long way to go just to hike in the rain but what the
heck. I didn't get out of Seattle until after 8:00 am. It was 9:30 when
I pulled into Cle Elum. A right at the first light took me to South Cle
Elum and the same road turned east along the river climbing then
descending back to the river, passing under I-90 and taking me to the
small parking lot.
It was 9:50 when I started out under a very cloudy sky. There are a
number of changes to the trail since I last hiked it. Dirty wide spots
along the first part of the trail are now grassy. There are picnic
tables in the first two miles. Two gates span the route. There is a
single outhouse in disrepair. A burn has turned a forest to open
slopes. There was always some rocks that cascade down from the steep
canyon walls. Now there are numerous washouts. One washout has put dirt
and logs across the trail. It's easy to get around. A number more have
put some dirt on the trail.
I hoped for a few flowers. I found more than a few. I also found that
this canyon is full of birds. I saw geese, ducks, red winged black
birds, crows, a woodpecker and more. I also heard hummingbirds all
along the route though I did not see them. At about 1 1/2 miles I came
to the confluence of the Yakima and Teanaway Rivers. The Teanaway looks
nearly as big as the Yakima. Soon I saw a fisherman in a boat. I saw
lots of folks fishing from boats and also hip deep wearing waders.
The skunk cabbage started after entering the canyon and kept going for
the first few miles. Lots of skunk cabbage. Very odiferous skunk
cabbage. At or just past it's peak skunk cabbage. It is all
on the right side of the trail. I also saw a lone trillium off the
trail and a few false solomons seal. On the left side I found more
flowers. A short walk took me to sage, balsamroot, violets, spring
beauty, and more. All right at their peak or just before. Quite a show.
I had never seen trillium and skunk cabbage and sage and balsamroot
near each other.
Just before the big powerline swath I saw a gate across the road. I
thought my day was over in less than three miles. Barbed wire fence is
on both sides of the grade. In fact the sign on the fence says that it
is open to hikers and to please lock the gate after passing. Across the
river are farms with lots of green grass fields. Old Highway 10 is also
across the river. After the powerlines comes the concrete irrigation
water slide. When it's full it's pretty impressive. Not full now but
there is water. The second gate is here.
I remembered an old waterwheel on the other side of the river. It was
partly buried in small trees. I just couldn't remember exactly where it
is. After passing several places that looked right I came to it. The
trees have been cut out and it is very easy to see now. A little worse
for wear but it's still standing. Along the way were more patches of
balsamroot. Across from balsamroot was last years cattails. Amazing.
There is a meadow on the right which often has horses. This time there
were a dozen or so. A beaver dam has created a big pond here I had
never seen. Some interesting reflections in the pond. Beyond here the
canyon narrows. Steep on both sides. Around 5 1/2 miles I came to the
site of Horlick. The small building on the left next to the railroad
grade is all that's left. A little farther is a gated road heading
uphill. I believe I saw on old building here on my first visit in 1990.
Now the growth is so thick that I couldn't tell if it's still there. A
flowering fruit trees tells of an earlier time. The corridor of the
railroad grade is narrow and signs warn not to venture from the trail.
On the other side of the river the hillside was now covered with
balsamroot. Although Highway 10 is on the other side I seldom saw a
car. I did pass a few bikers. One group coming and going. The tunnel
comes into view when about half mile away. My knee was really feeling
it as I approached the tunnel. A little mist began to fall but it
didn't last long. In fact the weather improved on my hike out. I head a
consistent loud noise coming from the tunnel. A rustling noise. I heard
voices and soon a couple hikers came out. They looked to be about 20
years old. They started in Ellensburg and were heading to Cle Elum.
About 26 miles one way, more or less. I thought my 15 mile day was a
On my first visit to the tunnel I inscribed my name and the date on the
concrete. The concrete is soft enough that scraping it with a rock is
like using a pen. I have now left 5 dates. The first one was on
4-14-90. I started thinking about whether those two Ellensburg hikers
were even born when I first visited. Maybe I am getting old.
The hike back out was a real slog. My knee was hurting and my right
foot was hurting. I managed to take a big chunk of skin off. The last
mile was a real grind. Still the hike was terrific. Other than the two
long distance hikers I saw only one other hiker and that was in the
last mile. The clouds really brought out the colors of the flowers
without having them blown out by the sun. One of the strangest things
is what my altimeter watch showed. I checked it often and the range
from highest to lowest point equaled 6 feet. Every time I looked down I
seemed to see the same number. I know the river dropped over 7 1/2
miles. At times I could hear it and see some white water. I know I had
more than 6 feet of elevation change.
This is a good bike ride. Starting at the South Cle Elum trailhead
would make it about 24 miles to the tunnel and back. It is a fine hike
too. The first few miles would be great for children as there are
picnic tables, flowers, and muddy areas where I saw the skunk cabbage.
Farther along there is a lot of solitude. I'm sure I'll visit again and
spring turned out to be a great time.
Weekends are fine but on weekdays the parking area is a school bus turn
around. No parking from 7:00 - 8:00 AM and 3:30 - 4:30 PM.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Farm Opposite Start
First Skunk Cabbage
Blooming Skunk Cabbage
Old RR Signal Base
Day's Lone Trillium
Bring On The Balsamroot
The First Gate
Farm Across River
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2009