Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cross Country Skiing the Iron Horse Trail: The Cruising Corridor

Got some new cross-country skis you want to try out on a forgiving but scenic trail?  Just want a workout sprinting on a smooth, groomed, and tracked ski trail?  Or maybe you're in the Seattle area and want a few hours of good exercise and need to be home for the afternoon?

Yes, it's uber popular on the weekends, but you can't go wrong with skiing the Iron Horse Trail at Snoqualmie Pass, which offers 7+ miles of mostly flat trail following a former Milwaukee Road railroad bed. The full trail extends from North Bend to Yakima, but the portion east from the Hyak Sno-Park Permit is groomed for cross-country skiing for 13 kilometers, about 7.5 miles, toward Stampede Pass.  Beyond that the trail is open to snowmobiles.

I head up to the Hyak Sno-Park a few times a season to ski the portion of the Iron Horse Trail that skirts Keechelus Lake, like I did recently with my new skate skis. From Seattle it's not much more than an hour drive, except when there's lots of new snow at the pass and avalanche control is underway.

On this day the lake was frozen over, and while we started skiing in fog and low clouds, within an hour it cleared to powder blue sky and sunshine.  We got to the Hyak Sno-Park just below the Summit East ski area (formerly Hyak) around 9 a.m. on a Sunday, before the crowds arrived. 

When not traversing Keechelus Lake, the tree-lined trail passes through forest.

You'll find a more wide open trail if you go early on the weekends.

Looking across Keechelus Lake as the cloud layer dissipates

We like blue skies and good ski conditions.

Looking up lake

So basically we just cruised along the trail for a few hours, with breaks to take pictures, sip water and hot tea, and nibble snacks.  A few miles from Hyak the trail passes through a signed avalanche-risk zone along the trail, so be aware of the avalanche potential.

By the end of our ski, around noon, lots more skiers littered the trail. But Nordic skiers are generally a friendly and courteous bunch. Exercise and fresh air in the mountains makes everyone nicer anyway.

This is not really a wilderness trail, but it's an excellent place to go burn lots of calories while enjoying the lake views and the pleasure of being in snow-covered mountains.

Where are you favorite places to cross-country ski?

When You Go 
Here's a link to a map showing the Hyak Sno-Park Permit location in relation to Keechelus Lake and I-90. The trail skirts along the left (west) side of the lake.  Go with a friend if you can to split the $20 Sno-Park Permit day fee, or buy an annual pass. While there are a few entry points to the trail, I've always started at the Hyak Sno-Park, which is the beginning of the groomed trail.  There are several heated restrooms in a replica of an old train depot at Hyak, but this is also the location of a popular sledding hill full of families with small children on winter weekends so you might have to wait in line at the peak of the day.


Ed said...

Awesome post! I have only cross country skied in Alaska and I really want to get back into it. I am thinking I am going to have to make a point to go next winter cause I miss the snow!

jill said...

Ed, why wait until next winter? We'll have plenty of snow likely through April...:)

Lindsey said...

I have never cross country skied before...regular skiing and show shoeing.... I may have to bug a certain Aunt of mine to take me :)

Carol O said...

Hi Jill...interesting blog, and that's my fave photo of you so far. Makes me wish I were 64 again!
I skied cross country with a surgeon and his wife in Maine, in 1999. I was in Lincoln, relieving the CRNA in their small hospital.
The DOC called me early on a Saturday, said " we're both on call, how about we go cross country to the lake?"

Led by their Husky breaking trail for us, we skied ( my first time cross country skiing--I was used to Vail's groomed and fantastic slopes--)
through forest to the lake, on soft new powder. The sight lives on in my mind: coming out from grey forest , opening out to clear bright sky shining on unbroken snow atop the frozen lake..I did say it was early.

We stood silently, absorbing the quiet.

Then, across the lake--perhaps 75 yards away--we saw a family of otters, sledding, tobogganing down the little hill onto the lake. They'd scramble back up, like children vying to get there first, then belly flop down again.
We just looked at each other, not breaking the silence, but grinning with the fun of it.
The Husky sat on his haunches, quiet as well.

We never let the otters know we were there, and chose not to ski onto the lake.

Went back to their converted barn house, ate chili and homemade biscuits, fed their 3 Pit bulls and the Husky, and languished.
Our beepers didn't go off all weekend.

Suezy Proctor said...

Miss cross country skiing in the Method Valley. Nice post, beautiful photography, and...Are sporting a new red coat???

Suezy Proctor said...

Miss cross country skiing in the Method Valley. Nice post, beautiful photography, and...Are sporting a new red coat???

jill said...

Carol, what an enchanting story! Sounds like a magical night. Thanks for sharing.

Suezy,that photo is from 2013. I still have that jacket but it's much more worn and a bit worse for the wear. I was also 20 pounds lighter. :) Working on that now.