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The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche

3.87  ·  Rating Details  ·  857 Ratings  ·  111 Reviews
The never-before-told story of one of the worst rail disasters in U.S. history in which two trains full of people, trapped high in the Cascade Mountains, are hit by a devastating avalanche

In February 1910, a monstrous blizzard centered on Washington State hit the Northwest, breaking records. The world stopped—but nowhere was the danger more terrifying than near a tiny town
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ebook, 336 pages
Published January 22nd 2008 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published March 6th 2007)
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Community Reviews

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Tracy
May 16, 2011 Tracy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every time we drive over Steven's Pass, I can't help but think about this, the deadliest avalanche in the history of the United States. My goal for summer 2011 is to hike the trail, look in the tunnel, and think about the factors that lead to this disaster. I first heard of this when we visited the North Central Washington Museum in Wenatchee, and can't believe we didn't learn about this as kids when we had to take Washington State History. This story would have sucked me into learning more abou ...more
Chris
So this is what good non-fiction should be. A gripping story told with vim and vigor. Krist keeps the editorializing til the end and simply presents the story of two trains caught in a snow storm in the Cascade mountains. Really good book about a forgotten event.
Rebecca Huston
A well-written account of an avalanche in the Cascade Mountains in 1910 that destroyed two railway trains. Those interested in natural disasters or railroads will find this the most interesting, and while the narrative does get dry in spots, it is worth reading. Krist draws on the narratives left by the survivors and the rescuers, along with a great deal of information about the expansion of railroads and how railroads were run and organized. Three and half stars rounded up to four stars overal. ...more
Carrie
Jun 05, 2016 Carrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My reading patterns have become somewhat eclectic -- I don't even remember where I heard about this book, and nonfiction is not my typical genre, but what a read! Bringing to life the Wellington train tragedy of 1910 (which I didn't even know had occurred) Krist paints with broad strokes to show the political climate of the time (progressive) as well as the financial boom of the Railroad Era, in particular the rise of the Great Northern Line under James J. Hill from MN. Lesser known than the era ...more
Becky
How puny is man in the face of angered nature! And yet how indomitably and hopefully persistent. He is swept from the earth like the wheat before the sickle or the chaff before the wind. His toilsome labors are made nothing of; the greatest achievements are crumbled to dust. Yet, driven by that impulse within him, he buries his dead, clears up the debris, and returns to his task, even while he can yet feel the wings of Death hovering overe him.- Seattle Tribune


"All wiped out! he cried before c
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Jubilation Lee
This is a fantastically interesting book about an event that no one remembers having happened--at least, I had never heard of the "Avalanche that Changed America" (a description which the author dismisses out of hand, stating instead that it was more like the "Avalanche that Heralded the Eventual End of the Railroads").

Basically what went down was this: There is a massive storm in the Cascade mountains, and two trains (a passenger train apparently 3/4ths full of lawyers, and a mail train) end u
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Bob
Jul 01, 2009 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A gripping, non-fiction account of a disaster I had never heard about. Fascinating and highly detailed, with great reliance on the historical accounts. A true tale of man vs nature, and as usual nature wins. A series of events leads to the ultimate disaster, but the circumstances almost made the outcome a foregone conclusion. The amounts of snowfall are just incredible and with steam power the primary source available, in combination with the geography of the Cascade Range it is not unsurprising ...more
Melissa
Feb 12, 2016 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had never heard about this natural disaster before, even though I have been through the Stevens Pass area many times. I learned of this book from a co worker while working near the area. We hiked the iron goat trail seeing the old remains of the snow sheds and closed tunnels that had been closed off as they rotted. So I read this book after having done this.

The book was very interesting read in general. I realize that some railroad history had to be given, but I thought that some of this was
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Carrie
Jul 23, 2014 Carrie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
This is a fascinating book about a subject I knew nothing about. I went into this book knowing nothing about mountain railroading, the Great Northern railroad, avalanches, or the Cascade Mountain range. I learned a great deal about all of those topics.

The book is well organized and easy to follow - we learn about the Cascades, the history of railroading in the Cascades, the backgrounds of some of the key passengers and railroad employees, the conditions that led to the trains' being stranded, a
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Mary Christine Delea
I enjoy reading books about disasters, which sounds fiendish. I feel like a learn a lot from them; namely, what to do and what not to do. Plus, the good ones provide historical insight, which is always fascinating. I come away from reading these books with a sense of that time period.

I read this book as part of a Public Library Book Club about 5 years ago. I love trains, and the events of this book took place in this region, so I was very much looking forward to reading it.

It did not disappoint.
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Richard Hessney
Jan 12, 2016 Richard Hessney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
I read "Apocalyptic Earth" before this and decided to follow that with a good local catastrophe story. In late Feb. 1910, two Great Northern R.R. trains got stuck in a series of vicious snow storms in Stevens Pass in the high Cascades. They had shelter of sorts at a small refueling station called Wellington. The rotary plows kept breaking down and were unable to free the trains, which were stalled beneath a steep mountainside piling up with a massive amount of snow. On the night of March 1, the ...more
Michael Flanagan
As title says White Cascade tells the story of Americas most deadliest Avalanche in which 96 people died. It is also the story of Americas quest to conquer the wild by railway and those who owned it and worked on it.

As far as history books go this one does not distinguish itself from the crowd. It delivers a well researched book that tell the entire story of the Avalanche including the lead up to it and the subsequent inquiry into it. I did find it hard at times to keep up with the cast of chara
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Donald Shank
Mar 04, 2016 Donald Shank rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gary Krist's book "The White Cascade" is a thorough and well written account of the 1910 avalanche at Stevens Pass, Washington, where 96 people lost their lives aboard a Great Northern passenger train that had become stranded in the Cascade mountains.
The railroad coaling town of Wellington, where the disaster occured, is now the eastern trailhead of the Iron Goat Trail (named after the GN's mountain goat logo), a hike that commemerates the tragedy and the history of Great Northern's Cascade rout
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Fishface
Jan 14, 2016 Fishface rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good read about a very ugly disaster. Reads like a novel. The author traces the progress of the situation through the letters and court testimony of the people who were there. The only drawback to his approach is that you don't realize the true scope of the avalanche's outcome until he lists all the dead and injured at the end of the book. The way the author put this story together makes you understand that everyone else on the two trains,, the ones you never heard about, were going through ex ...more
Denise
Mar 01, 2015 Denise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing book about a long forgotten American train disaster. The author has covered the tragedy with a depth of feeling and respect for the victims by bringing them back to life and allowing the modern reader to grieve their loss. I was impressed by how the author was able to give the reader an unbiased account of the disaster. He outlined the events that led up to it and gave us an account of the aftermath, not only with the trials of key characters in regards to the accident, but a ...more
Troy Heerwagen
Jun 18, 2015 Troy Heerwagen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-digital-spl
Much like Into Thin Air by John Krakauer, The White Cascade tells the story of dozens of people trapped on a mountainside who encounter either the defining or the concluding episode of their lives. However, rather than climbing a mountain as in Into Thin Air, the people in The White Cascade are stranded on a train on the mountainside.

In a matter of days, the weather turns from a cause for slight delay to a bludgeoning force that wipes out nearly 100 lives.

The site of the avalanche now marks a tr
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Cindy
Apr 27, 2015 Cindy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1910, in the midst of innovation, industrialization, and conversely, strikes, there occurred a "great northern railway disaster and America's deadliest avalanche." Though not the greatest tragedy, by number, of the era, it is certainly a heartbreaking story of poor decision making and terrible weather conditions. During a late, terrible storm, two trains became trapped in Wellington, a small nearly non existent town, more a stopping point than anything else. Over the course of a few days, peo ...more
Marc
Feb 11, 2010 Marc rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
skein
Nov 29, 2009 skein rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 3-star
Uniformly enjoyable, but never great.(But enjoyable!) Krist obviously has a crush on O'Neill, the train superintendent, who apparently worked tirelessly, even obsessively, to guard his trains from harm and keep 'em running on time. But even the great O'Neill was unable to stop AN AVALANCHE.

The storm had raged for days, trapping the passenger train on the edge of a mountain. Meanwhile, the passengers sat in the cars (and occasionally wandered out to have lunch at the local greasy spoon), writing
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Jim
Nov 24, 2012 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Living in the Northwest, and having learned to appreciate the dangers of the Cascade Mountains, finding this book was great. It takes you deep into the history of the Great Northern railway and the social and economics of the time — early in the 20th Century, when Seattle was longing to be a big city and the railroad was still king in western expansion.

The book is about the tragic March 1, 1910, mountain avalanche in which snow carried two storm-stranded trains, one filled with passengers and ra
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Jan
Mar 28, 2009 Jan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
On March 1, 1910, during one of the worst winter storms to ever hit the Pacific Northwest, a massive avalanche tumbled down the mountains of Stevens Pass, Washington, sweeping away a passenger train and a mail train that were stranded in its path, ultimately killing approximately 96 people.

In his book The White Cascade, Gary Krist very ably tells the story of that terrible avalanche which remains, to this day, the deadliest in the United States.

I found Krist's writing very readable, neither dry
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Ruthie Jones
Apr 17, 2012 Ruthie Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
Gary Krist delivers a well-written non-fictional account of a tragic event in American history that includes the inevitable blame game that nobody can ever truly win. Foresight is tricky and often elusive, and hindsight is a ghastly burden to the soul. This story is about a terrible weather/railroad event that killed many and physically and psychologically scarred many more. This story, however, is also about rapidly advancing technology, big business, greed, passengers' rights, incredible human ...more
Jenny Karraker
Feb 19, 2013 Jenny Karraker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having just visited the Northwest over Christmas and traveling through many of the areas mentioned in the book, this was an interesting read. The book reminded me of the importance of the railroad back in the early 20th century, when it was the only reliable and practical way to travel. The author brought the story to life w descriptions of the hot tunnels filled w poisonous fumes that made it impossible to seek shelter in them, the steep grades over the higher passes in the Cascades that the Gr ...more
Bonnie
Nov 05, 2007 Bonnie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of disaster non-fiction
This book is super popular at my library. I had to read it in a rush because there were 7 requests for it after me, and the library has had it since February! This is partially explained by the fact that it takes place in Washington, so a natural audience is my library. I wasn't in awe of it, and in fact it made me do my review of The Children's Blizzard, even though I read that almost a year ago, because I kept thinking, 'man, that book did it so much better!'

The setting of the book is 1910, S
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Jacob
Dec 31, 2008 Jacob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are from the Pacific Northwest and interested at all in some of the early history of the area then I would recommend this book. My knowledge of the region at this time is very minimal and likewise my exposure to the history of railroads in this country is minimal. Which is all to say that in addition to reading a well-put together, journalistic-feeling story, I learned quite a bit throughout the whole thing.

The title pretty much tells you the what of the book so the tragedy itself is no s
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Maria
Aug 07, 2015 Maria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A gripping account of two trains stranded for over a week in a terrible blizzard in the Cascades before an avalanche threw them down the mountainside. With great reliance on the historical accounts, Krist tells the history of how that stretch of railway came to be and the history of the railroad workers. Very interesting. Can you believe that in 1870 3-5 brakemen died every WEEK?! Krist makes the characters come alive again through their letters and testimonies and he builds tension as each day ...more
Kim
Feb 07, 2009 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If you like trains and history, this is a great read! Gary Krist tells the story of the worst avalanche disaster in America that killed over 60 people and injured many others when a train stuck in a Cascade snow storm was toppled off the side of a cliff after an avalanche hit it. The first part of the book details what led up to the mishap-- the design of the track, the equipment involved in plowing snow and moving trains over this trecherous section of track, and the many lives involved in the ...more
Mitzy
Sep 27, 2015 Mitzy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't generally read too many NF titles, but this was a very interesting piece of PNW history I hadn't heard about. An avalanche hit a stranded trainload of passengers during a blizzard in 1910 in the Cascade Mountains, killing some and injuring others. This is a story of survival under terrible circumstances. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of Washington State.~
Cindy
Jun 13, 2015 Cindy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't sure what to expect but it sounded interesting. It was definitely an interesting read. I recently traveled through the Cascade Mountains (in summer), so it was nice to be able to identify a little with the area, although not the season. The history was fascinating, not just about the disaster itself, but some of the history of railroading. I thought I might be bored through a lot of it since it is completely non-fiction with no fluff added in to make it more readable, but that was not t ...more
Kirsten *Dogs Welcome - People Tolerated"
Somehow, I managed to read this month's book selection with a week to spare!

I had already had this on my to-read list, so I was happy to read it. I especially like reading books that are regional. I vaguely remember this disaster from a show I'd seen a few years back on the History Channel.

The book really fleshes out the details; it really amazed me that the author could find such testimonials. He really gave life to the different characters and you could even feel the chill of the snow and wi
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