Washington February 14, 2017
The Deadly History Of This Washington Pass Is Terrifying But True
The weather on Washington’s passes has been brutal lately, especially Stevens Pass. And while it can be frustrating when winter conditions force our passes to close, it really is for the best. In fact, in 1910, Stevens Pass was the site of the deadliest avalanche in our state history.
It’s hard to believe that a place so peaceful was once the site of something so horrible.
But the weather on the pass is volatile, especially in the winter.
The avalanche occurred early in the morning of March 1 in the community of Wellington, which was later known as Tye.
A week before, on February 23, two trains became trapped by snow slides near Stevens Pass. The railroad managers put giant rotary blade plows to work to clear away the tracks, but they remained stuck. Still, no one thought the trains were in danger. It didn't seem plausible for an avalanche to reach them where they were parked.
Witnesses described the sight of the snow rushing down the mountain as "white death."
Charles Andrews, a Great Northern Railroad employee, was walking toward one of the bunkhouses when he heard a rumble. He said the avalanche was relentless, roaring, rumbling, and snapping everything in its way. Cars and equipment were picked up like they were toys.
The two trains were swept into a canyon by the avalanche, killing almost 100 people.
The trains were covered by 50 feet of snow and debris. Because the telegraph lines were down, the people of Wellington were unable to call for immediate assistance. Luckily, the residents of Wellington risked their own safety to try and dig out survivors. By the time helped arrived a full day later, 23 people had been found alive.
Due to the remote location of the disaster and the risk of future avalanches, efforts to rescue survivors and find the bodies of the dead weren’t completed for several days.
It took weeks to recover all of the bodies, which had to be moved by toboggan to the rail lines for further transport.
The final fatality count was officially 96: 35 passengers, 58 railroad employees sleeping in the trains, and 3 railroad employees sleeping in cabins that were enveloped by the avalanche.
In reality, the death count was probably higher. There were some foreign workers who had helped build the railroad that were never accounted for.
Today, the Iron Goat Trail, which follows the old railroad grade, provides a way for people to visit the site (winter hiking is still discouraged).
It’s an eerie feeling to be in the place where so many people lost their lives. In fact, some people swear the tunnels are haunted.
The tragedy of the Wellington avalanche will never be forgotten. Fortunately, it has never been repeated. Here are some other fascinating facts about our state history many people don’t know.