09 June, 2008

Walk to Whittier

We recently had the chance to participate in the 7th annual Walk to Whittier. It's a 2.5 mile one lane tunnel through a mountain. Officials shut down all the traffic for a specified period of time so walkers can go through. We started the day by heading out to the Portage Glacier visitor center - a nice little drive on it's own.
At the visitor's center

There was a short presentation on the history of the tunnel, then we were bused to the entrance. We learned that the tunnel was built in the 1940's, and this is the longest multi-use (rail & car) tunnel in North America. In the recent past, they worked on the tunnel to add the car lane - and when they did, they added some safety measures. Like the huge fans that push air if they need it, and the safe houses that are stocked with water, blankets, and a restroom. Very fascinating information, and it made the walk even more interesting. At the tunnel entrance, we had to don helmets - no one was allowed to walk without one.
Getting ready to walk


The tunnel is approximately 2.5 miles long. It's sloped slightly upward for about 1/3 of the distance, then slightly downward - to facilitate drainage. The slope is gradual enough that I didn't notice it much at all. Of course, initially my shin splints acted up - but that could have been just from the walking, and not at all from the slope.
Entering the tunnel

They opened one of the safe houses so people could take a look - and use the restroom. They are rather sparse, but I suppose in an emergency situation it'd be great. It was funny to hear the loud speaker message: Please return to your vehicle... There are signs to evacuate to safe houses only when strobes are flashing. No flashing strobes and an open door apparently leads to canned warnings. The pullouts at the safe houses are electronically monitored - when the line is crossed an alert goes to the camera station so they can send out whatever assistance is needed. This includes towing for broken down vehicles, and even help for fixing flats. Since the tunnel is only one lane, they need to get vehicles out so they can switch direction, or clear everything to let the trains through.
Safe House #6

We finally made it through the tunnel - and got a great present: sun in Whittier. It's a rare occurrence. The only other time I've been here, it was grey and rainy. Some friends went last summer, and it was grey and rainy. We were very happy to get some great sun while we were there.
Arrival in Whittier

We spent a bit of time in town - long enough to eat at one of the local shops and do a little souvenir shopping. Then we were bused back to the Portage visitor center. Whew! Only walked one way - and cars were already lined up waiting to go through the tunnel. This was a fun day, and I think we'll be walking again next year...
Gorgeous day

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