Snoqualmie Tunnel was shut down for several years while it was
refurbished. After it reopened in 2011 I thought about using it when
weather conditions were really awful. We have done a loop bike ride
that goes through the tunnel a number of times. I hiked through it
after a trip to Annette Lake. Taking a day to hike through a dark
tunnel with no views and almost no elevation gain is way down my list
of summer hikes. In the winter the tunnel is closed. One weekend when
we had torrential rainfall I did hike the tunnel. It was better than
spending a weekend stuck in my house. Then in 2018
we had really bad wildfire smoke in Western Washington. I took a chance
that the tunnel might be smoke free. For the most part it was. I did
pick the day when northwestern geocachers have their annual
get-together. Even with the crowd it was better than being stuck in my
house when the smoke made it hazardous to be outside.
Fast forward to September 2020. California and Oregon were burning up.
Then it was Washington's turn. Only a few small fires up until a week
earlier. Then in one week Washington had more acreage burned than in
all but one previously recorded year. 650,000 burned acres burned and
then the wind blew offshore sending the smoke west of the mountains.
Wind changes also brought California and Oregon smoke north. The Air
Quality Index (AQI) is good below 50. At 200 the air is unhealthy. At
300 it is dangerous. Western Washington had readings over 450. Seattle
was at about 200-250. Not conditions where anyone should be exercising
outdoors. I figured I would give the tunnel a try.
In the morning the smoke forecast showed Sunday would be much better. I
decided to put off my trip until then. Another forecast showed Sunday
would be much worse. Crap! I changed my mind. I was packed and ready
and quickly headed for Snoqualmie Pass. The sun was completely blotted
out by the thick smoke much of the way. Later I could see a dim red
ball in the sky. You can't look at the sun. You could look at it now.
The smoke was thinner at the pass. I could even make out Guye Peak. I
exited at Hyak and drove into the paved lot for the Iron Horse- Palouse
to Cascades Trail. There were 4 or 5 cars in the big lot when
I arrived at 9:55 am. The tunnel is only a fast 5 minutes walk away but
I brought a N95 face mask. There was a smoky smell but the mask took
that away. I started with a windshirt as it is chilly in the tunnel.
I hoped to get in two trips back and forth through the tunnel. That is
9.2 miles in the tunnel. Add in the walk from the parking lot and a
very short extra third leg and it is 10 miles. If the smoke was
throughout the tunnel I planned to turn around and head for home. There
was a little smoke in the east end. As I kept hiking I took off the
mask a few times until I could no longer smell smoke. It was really
nice to walk without a mask and not be choking on smoke. A couple
bikers went by me then another. Near the west end two runners went by.
They were going light as they had just shorts, short sleeves, and no
packs at all. Those five folks were all that saw on the first
leg of my trip. About half a mile from the west end I could just notice
a little smoke smell so I put my mask back on. It was smoky at the west
portal but less so than back in Seattle.
Within about 5 minutes I was back on the move. When I started my tunnel
hike it was cold enough for the windshirt and liner gloves. I ditched
the gloves after the first leg. My pace was very consistent all day.
About 34 - 36 minutes per leg. Not bad for 2.3 miles. I had a few more
bikers pass by on each of the last three legs. On the third one I
noticed less smoke free hiking. Still mostly smoke free but less then
the first two legs. The hard packed tunnel floor is easy walking but it
is a bit hard on the feet. I was starting to feel it on the last leg.
The last mile or so I started to pass hikers coming from the east end.
There were even a few families with single digit aged children. Not a
lot of folks thought of the tunnel on a day with dangerous smoky air
over most of the state but some did.
My feet were getting sore as I neared the east end of the tunnel again.
I planned on turning around and walking in for 3 minutes and turning
around. That would get me up to 10 miles. Since I would not be hiking
on Sunday and maybe not again for a week or more I decided to go a bit
farther and round it up to 11 miles. And so I did. When I reached the
parking lot there were now a dozen or so cars. It was still smoky. I
saw some folks walking around with no masks at all. Not something I
would have done. The drive home was easy as most folks seemed to have
chosen to stay at home this day.
My plan worked pretty well. There was definitely more smoke in the
tunnel than during the bad wildfire smoke episode in 2018. There was
way less than anywhere outdoors in most all of the state. With the N95
mask where needed I really did not smell smoke at all. It was really
nice to get out of the house most of the week inside. Even if getting
outside was inside and under a mountain. As much as 500' underground. I
will repeat that a cement tunnel is not the most scenic place to hike
but on rare occasions when the weather is really bad it makes a unique
place where I can still get in a hike.
Click on thumbnails to get
On My Way
Sun Is Not Very Bright
Heading For The Tunnel
A Rare Selfie
Tunnel In Sight
Heading Back In
Mid Tunnel View
Smoky East End
Still Smoky At End