Falling ice and rock has claimed four lives at Big Four since 1998.
The Mountain Loop Scenic Byway and the popular but troubled trail to Big Four Ice Caves reopened for the season Friday, April 29. The byway connects the communities of Granite Falls and Darrington in Snohomish County, offering access to hiking trails, campsites and picnic spots along the way.
The Big Four Ice Caves Trail has been closed since last July 6, when tons of rock and ice fell and killed 34-year-old Annalisa Santana, of California. Five other people were injured, including her brother, a Lynnwood resident who died of his injuries in October — the fourth victim of falling ice at the caves since 1998.
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The snow and ice formation about 70 miles northeast of Seattle is the most popular hiking attraction in the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, attracting thousands of visitors each year. The caves form in snow and ice that collects every winter and then melts throughout the spring and summer at the base of 6,161-foot Big Four Mountain, about 15 miles south of Darrington.
After closing the trail in July, the Forest Service asked for public feedback about how to continue. Most of the scores of responses asked that the trail remain open.
Before reopening the trail this week, the Forest Service installed additional safety signage advising of the dangers of the ice caves and reminding visitors to stay on the designated trail. Forest Service officials warn that Big Four Mountain and the ice caves are part of an ever-changing environment, with winter and spring avalanches, and rock and ice fall a potential hazard year-round.
For more information, visit the national forest’s Verlot Public Service Center, open 8 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Spring conditions are still in effect, the Forest Service warns, with many trails along the Mountain Loop remaining partially snow-covered and avalanche danger still a factor. See the Northwest Avalanche Center webpage for up-to-date information regarding avalanche and weather conditions.