Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Avalanches, Murders, and the Dressmaker's Doll

The weather looked threatening when I woke up in the morning.
September 12: I woke the next morning to ugly clouds, but no rain. Not yet, at least. I hit the trail early, hoping to warm up (boy howdy, nights are getting cold!) and get as many miles in before it does start raining. So by 6:30, I was on the trail hiking.

Noga and Daredevil caught up with me about an hour later, which surprised me. Noga I knew was somewhere in the area since we got into Snoqualmie Pass the same day, and assumed she was behind me somewhere since none of the southbound hikers I passed had mentioned seeing her. I figured with my early morning start, though, it seemed unlikely that anyone would catch up to me.

But I returned the surprise when I snuck up behind them. I was off to the side of the trail doing some "important business" and they passed by not even seeing me. (Definitely a good thing!) So when I caught up with them again, they couldn't figure out how I got behind them. They knew I was just up ahead--they stopped to talk to Ed from Issaquah at the ridge top where I camped and he told him I was up ahead. They expected to catch up to me--they didn't expect me to sneak up behind them! =)

I had met Daredevil briefly just north of Burney Falls, and after I had seen her, it occurred to me that there could be an interesting story behind her trailname but I hadn't thought to ask at the time. Now was my chance! Except I did the same thing again, and completely forgot to ask. Oh, well.... To this day, I still don't know the story behind her trailname. Perhaps she bungee jumped or liked to go skydiving. Maybe she was a stuntwoman in movies. Who knows? Not I, though. I don't know, because I forgot to ask.

I passed Noga and Daredevil a couple of times throughout the morning. The trail was steep, rocky, and muddy, and views were few. I told the girls that I was going to contact the PCTA to complain about the conditions. "I explicitly asked for no mud and no rain, and there has been huge quantities of that!" Noga got into the spirit and added, "Yes, and not enough trail magic!"


Take that, PCTA! =)

We passed the AmeriCorps workers, one of which had offered me up a lighter the evening before, and they appeared to be building a turnpike. It was hard to tell, though. It was either a turnpike, or they were mud wrestling. The two activities seemed largely interchangeable. We didn't stop very long to talk and distract them, though. We pushed on.

The trail finally spilled us out at Stevens Pass, where an ice chest with trail magic was waiting. Noga and Daredevil arrived before I did--I stopped for a half hour taking a snack break and never caught up with them again. I knew they were planning to get a ride down to Skykomish, so when I didn't see them at the trailhead, I figured they must already be on their way down there.

I plopped down and drank a Coke, and started making phone calls and checking e-mail--I could get a signal! I had hoped Amanda was in Seattle and could drive out to visit me. Stevens Pass isn't that far out from Seattle, and I would have loved if she could pick me up and drive us down to Leavenworth to the east. I'd never been to Leavenworth before--a Bavarian village about 30 miles to the east. Most hikers hitch down to Skykomish to the west to resupply. Leavenworth was a little further away in the opposite direction, but it also seemed more interesting. In any case, Amanda was in North Carolina trying to clean out their mom's house before the sale was official, and she wouldn't be around for another visit.

I didn't want to bother with getting a ride off of Stevens Pass and back, so I planned to hike through. Absolutely everyone I had talked to recently planned to resupply at Stevens Pass, but not I. Nope, I'd push on. If Amanda was around, though, I'd have gotten off for a side trip to Leavenworth. Another day, another time.... (Amanda and I did drive out to Leavenworth a month or so later, after I had finished the trail, but that's another story....)

While drinking my Coke, making phone calls, and checking e-mail, Rising Sun and Em arrived. Another couple of people I had no idea were so close behind me. And finally Epic arrived, but I knew he wasn't far behind me.

They worked on getting rides down to Skykomish, and I dared the weather gods by pushing on.

I crossed Highway 2 and followed the trail along what appeared to be an old railroad grade. A few years ago, Amanda and I read a book, The White Cascade, describing the worst avalanche in American history killing 96 people, right here near the summit of Stevens Pass, a hundred years earlier. The original Cascade Tunnel, four miles long, lurked somewhere under my feet, and a newer Cascade Tunnel still in use today, seven miles long, lurked somewhere below that. But before either of those tunnels, there was another track that crossed the very summit of Stevens Pass, and I wondered if the PCT was following that original track. It could have been an old logging road, but it had such a gentle grade, it made me think that it was built for trains.

Daredevil (in front) and Noga (in back).
And look at how muddy this trail is!
Reading the book is a little morbid. You know how it ends. You know there will be heroes, and there will be victims. Two trains got stuck in the small town of Wellington (which no longer exists), a mail train and a passenger train. It was winter, and an unseasonably strong snow storm trapped the two trains at Wellington. The passengers had suggested parking the trains just inside the tunnel (the first Cascade Tunnel) as protection from possible avalanches, but no avalanche had ever been seen on this particular stretch of tracks, so the railroad folks weren't terribly concerned about that. The science of avalanches and predicting them was non-existent, so they left the trains exposed. And anyhow, the trains back then burned coal, a dirty little business and parking the idle trains in a tunnel would probably suffocate everyone anyhow. No, they were confident the trains were better off where they sat. And then, in the early morning hours of March 1, 1910, disaster struck, killing 96 people on the two trains. Help was far away. The snow had blocked the tracks in both directions, and help had to come on foot through the snow. Bodies were carried out on sleds. It was the Katrina of the day, making headlines around the world.

After the disaster, they build a concrete snow shed to protect against future avalanches, along with several dozen miles of wooden snow sheds along the train route. The exorbitant cost of maintaining the sheds finally led to the second Cascade Tunnel a thousand feet lower through the pass and bypassing the town of Wellington completely. The old railroad line has since been turned into a hiking trail with interpretive displays--an absolutely fascinating hike. The concrete snow shed is still standing, but the wooden ones have long since fallen into a jumble. The first Cascade Tunnel is still there, but is no longer safe to enter. And all that is left of the town of Wellington are foundations of where building used to be.

So this was what I was thinking about as I crossed over Highway 2 and continued my hike north. The first sprinkles of rain started to fall. Perhaps my thoughts about the Wellington disaster made me think of some other morbid, true-life stories, because then I started thinking about the Pinnacle Lake Trail murders. A mom and her daughter, off hiking for the afternoon, and shot to death for no apparent reason. Those didn't happen on the PCT, but I wasn't hiking that far away from where those killings happened either, and those killings were still unsolved. The killer could still be out there, hiking the same trails.

And I started wondering, what would I do if I discovered the bodies of two women, dead on the trail, still warm, with bullet holes in them? My cell phone worked at Stevens Pass and I could call for help there, but it could take hours to hike out to cell phone reception. And would it even be safe to do so? If I knew there was a killer on the trail, following trails didn't seem like a good idea. And it was starting to rain. Would that wash away important evidence before the police arrived? Would it be better to cover the bodies with my tarp, or would that screw up any evidence that the killer might have left behind? I should probably be careful not to disturb any footprints that were in the area. Given how muddy the trails were, some of them undoubtedly would have belonged to the killer. Oh! Of course! I should take lots of pictures! If I left to contact the authorities, animals could move the bodies around and destroy evidence. The rain could destroy footprints. I should use my camera, take photos of everything, then go for the police.

Wow, my mind was really running morbid today, and I started freaking myself out a little. This is just the kind of weather a killer would like. Dark, cold, and wet. Around every turn, I started thinking I'd run into a killer. As it turned out, I ran into absolutely nobody. Probably just as well. If I did bump into an innocent hiker out for the day, I might have screamed. =) Nope, once I left Stevens Pass, I saw absolutely nobody.

The rain increased steadily, and I finally took a snack break under a large, overhanging rock alongside the trail. I waited for nearly an hour, hoping the rain would let up, and it finally did... a little. I hiked a bit further, finally stopping to set up camp at Lake Janus. Originally, I intended to hike further than that, but I was cold, wet, and feeling miserable. The weather forecast still showed a chance of rain for the next several days, but the chance was growing smaller. I'd rather save my big-mile days for better weather than the crappy weather I was in now.

So I stopped at Janus Lake for the day, at 4:30 in the afternoon--in extraordinarily early end to the day. Because of my early start, though, I still pulled in a solid 21 miles of hiking for the day, and didn't find a single dead body that entire distance. =)

That gave me several hours light to read, and I hunkered down under my tarp to whittle away the rest of the afternoon. I read Agatha Christie all afternoon, which did not help my morbid state of mind at all. In particular, there was a story called The Dressmaker's Doll, and it would give me nightmares all night long. I still get goosebumps thinking about that story. Creepy, evil little doll.

To say I was a little on edge would be an understatement. Then, a little after sunset, I felt something jump onto me. I was in my sleeping bag, writing in my journal, and something alive jumped onto my legs. I about wet myself, kicking hard. I tried to aim my headlamp to see what mysterious creature of the night would attack me while I was still awake, but I didn't see anything. It was out there, though. It was watching me. It probably wanted my food.

I didn't sleep well at all.....

The trail passes the ski resort at Stevens Pass.

Skid Road, or Crest Trail? Decisions, decisions...
I'll take Crest Trail for $400, Alex! =)

Stevens Pass, here I come!

I'm absolutely baffled why there was a metal plate in the trail here.

This was my view for an hour or so as I tried to wait out the rain
under the protection of a large, overhanging rock.

Janus Lake, and the view from my campsite.


Anonymous said...

Metal plate appears to be a handhole of some type. My guess would be an underground utility.

Anonymous said...

ha That happened to me once - first time I camped alone. A critter scampered across my legs while I was still sleeping, a sort of half-tent where your legs basically stuck out from it. I was probably all of 20 years old. Scared me silly. Double Tree

Mortadella said...

I just happened to have read about daredevil before!

how daredevil got her name:


Blue said...

The metal plate is there to provide access to compartment for storing the dead bodies of course

Sue KuKu said...

Your adventures are so great and lighthearted, even when you're slogging through horrendous amounts of snow.

It should be no surprise you had a weird, morbid, down energy day, but it was. You ARE getting to the end and it's been a long slog, even when Amanda has been able to magic you away throughout.

I once was really depressed and said so at the end of a long day. My then husband saw me reading Edward Gorey and yanked it out of my hands! Agatha is my fav but you're right, probably not your best choice that day. . .


Okie Dog said...

The metal plate is for the killer to hide in and jump out and get you, the boogey man!!!
Creeped me out just reading it! yikes! Which is worse, a killer or Bigfoot? Could be one and the same, eh? He's every where, he's every where!

Anonymous said...

I have been wondering about the safety of the women you have been talking about and the fact that they are hiking alone, do they carry any kind of protection?

Ryan said...

As far as I know, most of those women hiking alone don't carry any form of protection. (At least not against anyone that might attack them!) Despite the occasional media frenzy when these sorts of attacks happen, the reason they're newsworthy is because they are SO unusual. There are a hundred other far more likely ways to die in the wilderness than being attacked, and walking alone through a city is far more dangerous than walking through the woods. There's just not many people that go into the backcountry to rape, pillage, and loot.

-- Ryan

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Could the metal plate have been an opening into the Steven's Pass Tunnel? Or perhaps a place to hide some Trail Magic?

I wasn't even hiking, but this post gave me the willies and made my hair on my neck all prickly.

Thinking about murders on a hiking trail is akin to watching an in-flight movie about a plane crash. :-O

Don't do it!

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Went over and read Amanda's blog about this area and was fascinated! I would love to visit someday.

I did discover this very interesting article page about that entire area from someone who loves to explore and hike. There was a lot about Wellington, the Iron Goat Trail, the tunnels and Steven's Pass...oh and hauntings, too!


Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Just returned from reading about the Pinnacle Lake Murders. Wow! There sure have been a bunch of murders along these thru trails, especially along the PCT and AT. I had no idea!
This quote really hit home and was a good reminder:

"when it does happen, you are essentially on your own. In the back country, there is no 9-1-1 and police aren’t coming to the rescue."

They also went on to say that many people are now carrying guns on the trails, especially women. And on the PCT, you'd never know it because the guns can be legally concealed.

The Cooper-Stodden slaying is not the only grisly crime to have ever happened in the wilds. We recounted a couple of other high-profile slayings:

Slightly more than ten years earlier, in late May 1996, Julianne Williams, 24, of St. Cloud, Minnesota and 26-year-old Laura “Lollie” Winans hiked the Appalachian Trail, Their bodies were found on June 1 by Shenandoah National Park rangers. Both women’s hands had been tied and their throats had been cut. The killer left a “witness,” a golden retriever named “Taj” belonging to Winans…
On September 13, 1990 Appalachian Trail hikers Geoffrey Logan Hood, 26, were murdered at their campsite in Pennsylvania.
Perhaps the most gruesome outdoors killings in recent memory were the murders in California’s Yosemite National Park in 1999. Three of the victims died together. Carole Sund and Silvina Pelosso were found in a burned out rental car near Long Barn a month after they had last been seen alive at Yosemite’s Cedar Lodge. The body of Sund’s daughter, Juli, was found 30 miles away a week later.
Then, in July, a 26-year-old park worker named Joie Ruth Armstrong was decapitated near her park cabin.

Murders along the trail may not happen as often as they happen in the city, but they are definitely much worse and very ironic, because the victims chose to be out in nature to escape the dangers of the city.

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mortadella, for solving ONE of the mysteries in today's BLOG.