Wellington Avalanche Site – Leavenworth, Washington - Atlas Obscura
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Leavenworth, Washington

Wellington Avalanche Site

Train debris from the deadliest avalanche in United States history can still be found in the ravine where so many perished. 

In the wilderness of Washington’s Tye River Valley near Stevens Pass are twisted pieces of rusting metal slowly being overtaken by the surrounding foliage which look like they might simply be discarded bits of industrial detritus. However these bits of scrap are actually the final remnants of the Wellington Avalanche of 1910 that would go down in history as the deadliest disaster of its kind in American history.

On February 28th, 1910 the small rail station in what was then called Wellington, Washington was in lockdown after almost a fortnight of blizzard conditions that had left the area buried in an impassable layer of snow. Despite the best efforts of the depot workers, two trains - one a passenger train called the Spokane Express, the other a mail carrier - were snowed in place for six days there at the base of Windy Mountain. With telegraph lines downed by the storm, all communication to the small town and station had been effectively cut off, and a number of passengers decided to simply trudge off the mountain on foot, but many more remained waiting for the weather to give them a break that would sadly not come in time.

As February turned to March, the heavy snows turned to a rainy, windy storm, undoubtedly giving some degree of hope to the passengers waiting to escape their mountainous purgatory. However in the wee hours of March 1st, 1910, lightning struck the mountainside and triggered a massive avalanche that sent a towering wave of snow thundering down toward the depot. The cascade of “White Death” obliterated the station and much of the small community of Wellington, and rolled the waiting train cars over 150 feet down into the Tye River Valley, burying the wreckage in dozens of feet of snow. In the final accounting, 96 souls were lost in the disaster including passengers and train workers, making it the deadliest avalanche in the country’s history. None of the people who walked off the mountain are reported to have perished. 

After the tragedy, the community of Wellington was renamed Tye to distance itself from the deaths, but even this name change could not save the small town which eventually dissolved.

Today, hikers on the Iron Goat Trail can still find bits of the warped wreckage that were not carried off the mountain, crumbling under the overgrowth as a reminder of nature’s terrible wrath.