Snoqualmie Tunnel Hike
8-19-18


Yesterday Gwen and I headed south to Spray Park in Mt. Rainier National Park and avoided most all of the wildfire smoke. It came back to fill most of Western Washington for Sunday. I chose an unusual way to get in a smoke free hike. For years I had said I would get in a hike on a horrible weather day by hiking the 2.3 mile tunnel with portals below both ends of Snoqualmie Pass. In October of 2016 during a big storm I finally did it. I had a dry hike with minimal wind and it was  as warm in the tunnel as outside. I went back and forth twice that day for a 10 mile hike. With the awful wildfire smoke inundating Washington again the summer I planned a repeat. I was slow getting up and did not arrive at the Iron Horse State Park lot near Hyak until 9:15 am. The lot is near the east end of the Snoqualmie Tunnel. By 9:20 I was on my way. The air was already quite smoky. I hoped that the wind would not blow smoke through the tunnel. That was my only concern.

A half dozen years ago I went for a close to town hike on Squak Mountain in early spring. It turned out to be the day of a big running race. I met many dozens of several hundred runners on the trail that day. One year later I did a spring hike on Squak. Yep, it was the day of the race. I saw a whole lot of folks that day. Earlier this year we headed to near Cashmere to do the Devil's Gulch-Mission Ridge Loop. There was a running race there. Fast forward to now. Instead of the expected 4 or 5 cars in the lot it was half full. It has a capacity for 145 cars. It turns out that one of the biggest get-togethers for geocachers is "Going APE 2018'. I was right at ground zero. So much for solitude in the tunnel. We had far more solitude at Spray Park the day before. Hard to imaging. I do have a knack for hiking in someone's big event.

I braved the brown air for a few tenths of a mile to the tunnel. Folks were already there. The east end has a sharp turn. The tunnel runs east-west then turns to the south going along Lake Keechelus. That blocks most light from being seen very far into the tunnel. The tiny dot of light at the west end can bee seen several miles away. It is about 50 degrees in the tunnel. Much cooler than out side would be this day. Long sleeves and long pants were worn for a hike on the first time in months. My headlamp showed the particles of smoke as I headed in. For about 10 minutes they remained. I did not escape all the smoke. Thankfully, they went away as I headed farther into the tunnel. In fact, only the far east end had any smoke. My main mission was accomplished. I had a cool and almost smoke free hike on a day when almost the whole stake had brown air. I also had some new friends.

It was not as bad as Mt. Si. There were long breaks between the groups of slow walking hikers. There were also bikers in the tunnel. I expected to reach the west end in about 45 minutes. It is almost completely flat, losing about 50' heading west over those 2.3 miles. I did much better than expected. I averaged about 33 minutes for each of the four legs of the trip. The air was a little less thick at the west entrance. Still not something I would want to be hiking in. I only stopped for a few minutes and started back. I met a lot more folks coming towards me. The geocache event started at 10:00 am so I was seeing many of them now. There were enough that I could go long distances without a headlamp. I just used theirs. I did turn it one when someone neared me. No need to have them run into me.

Back at the east end I decided to go for 10 miles instead of a quick 5 miles. On this leg I was passing folks going in both directions. Even at the worst, there were some long periods of solitude. Voices do carry in a concrete tube though. I heard folks I did not even see. 
About half way through A guy in a monster suit jumped out of an inset in the tunnel wall and let out a scream. He was only a bout 5 feet away when I turned my light on him. I'm glad I don't have any heart problems. For just a moment he scared the crap out of me. Then I laughed. I hoped I would see him again. I forgot to take a photo of him. I brought only by phone for a camera and super low light is not its strength. I have some interesting though often not focused photos in this report.

When I reached the west end again I took a short break. Time for some water and to upload a few photos of the hike. Then I went back in for the fourth and final leg of the journey. The crowd was a little thinner now but I still kept meeting more folks. I was pleased to have the monster jump out again. This time I asked him to pose and he was pleased to do so. At least that's what I believe his grunts meant. He never broke character and said a word. Just some grunts. And a scary pose. I came out of the tunnel for the last time at 11:50 am. I took 2:20 to hike 9.2 miles of tunnel with several breaks and lots of photos. That's 15.2 minutes per mile in the dark including breaks. That's about as fast as I hike.

The air at the parking lot was even worse now. I could see the ski hill at Hyak right above me but the ridges across I-90 were hard to see. The lot was now completely full. Folks were driving around looking for someone to leave. Which is what I did soon after. I have hiked and biked through the tunnel a number of times. I never thought I'd see close to the number of folks hiking and biking through this day. I'm sure I never will again. Unless, of course, we have more bad smoke next August and I manage to pick the weekend of "Gong Ape 2019". If anyone can do it it's me. I'm sure I will have forgotten about the event by next August.

While I did not have a lot of solitude I did escape almost all the smoke. It was nice also to do a hike at 50 degrees. Especially 50 degrees with no rain. All I had was a few spots where water drips from the tunnel ceiling. I'm home now looking at trip reports of smoky hikes around Snoqualmie Pass and I am even more pleased that my lungs did not have to endure that. It was a cool day for an underground hike.

01
Smoky Parking Lot
02
Tunnel Information
03
Folks At Entrance
04
Darkness Ahead
05
Almost Black
06
Dot Of Light
08
Portal In Sight
09
West End Nears
10
Smoky At West End
13
Pitch Black
15
Shadow
17
Light On Roof
27
People Approaching
28
Almost There
29
Granite Mountain?
30
Geocachers
32
West End Supports
34
Getting Dark
38
More Traffic
41
My Light Is Off
43
Met A Fen Dweller
44
Light On Walls
46
Science Fiction Movie?
49
Iron Gate
50
End Of 4th Leg
51
West Portal
54
Full Lot, Smoky Day
55
Ridge Is Very Hazy

Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2018

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