This past Sunday was the 105-year anniversary of the Wellington avalanche. I've only ever had one other opportunity to get into Wellington on the anniversary, which was the 100-year anniversary back in 2010. On that date, we partially jeeped in and partially hiked in, and there was still a lot of snow.
This year was different. A group of us drove up Sunday morning in a large 4WD truck and drove all the way down the snow-free back road and into Wellington. The main road is still blocked by a large pile of plowed snow. The back road, while accessible, is very, very bumpy this year. If we'd gone in my small SUV, we would have high-sided on one of the huge ruts. In the large truck, however, we made it in.
The hill heading down the back road doesn't have any snow. However, when you get to the Old Cascade Highway, there is snow, although there are melted tire ruts, so you can make it through okay. Once in the parking lot at Wellington, there is about a foot of snow that is very pitted and icy. The trail to the snow shed has about a foot of snow on it, as does the trail to the Cascade Tunnel. Once you get to the bridge into the snow shed, the snow disappears. There is no snow on the west side of the snow shed, so the trail down to Scenic is relatively clear. I'd say if you plan to go, make sure you're in a high-clearance 4WD, and take the back road at your own risk. There is a very real possibility of getting stuck in spite of its snow-free status.
To me, going to Wellington is always sacred, but being able to visit and remember on the anniversary of the accident is always a moving time. We took flowers, as well as the things the spirits there seem to like best - whiskey and cigars. One of the members of our group felt overwhelming sadness through the entire snow shed, to the point that he was in tears the whole time. The minute we walked out onto the trail on the western side, his entire demeanor changed.
We also had the usual interesting equipment malfunctions. We had flashlights and lasers that came on without prompting - several times. A few of us went to take pictures, only to have the pictures snapped for us before we could pull the trigger ourselves. It happened to me three times, and what was weird about it was this: on the three pictures I didn't take myself, the orientation was off and couldn't normalize. So that was weird. Of course, there were also the random noises - footsteps behind us when no one was there, sounds of children laughing…the usual.
I'd say that the spirits still remain at Wellington - or at least come to visit quite a lot. I can feel them when I am there, as can many others. As always, they seem to find ways to ensure that newcomers to the site understand their story. They communicate in whatever way that person can understand. With my friend, it was through his emotions. Someone else may see something, hear something, or feel something, or simply understand something.
For me, when I take new people to Wellington, one of the most significant experiences I have is watching them as they "get" the place. It doesn't happen with everyone, but certain people have something come over them while they are there, and I can see and feel that they truly understand what is so special about Wellington.
It's been 105 years since the avalanche that took so many lives. It's been six years since I first went to Wellington myself. In that time, it has reminded me again and again that it is a sacred place that has a story to tell, if only you choose to listen.