Neighborhood Notes: Test Your Mettle on the High Steel Bridge

high steel bridge shelton
Visitors take in the view from the High Steel Bridge, located 420 feet up in the air.

 

By Eric Wilson-Edge

van dorm sponsorSo here I am, on my stomach, peering over into the abyss. Below, the Skokomish river moves quietly through a path carved between massive rocks. The tops of evergreen trees are at eye level. I hate this, always have, always will.

My dad first brought me to the High Steel Bridge when I was a teenager. My knees remember the experience, they wobble and finally give.

high steel bridge shelton
The author is not posing. He is terrified of heights.

My wife steps up to the railing, leans over and snaps a few pictures. She doesn’t get vertigo; to her the railing separating life from certain death is set at a reasonable height. The view is stunning albeit clipped. My little patch of scenery is more than enough. The next time I stand will be to get up and run back to the car.

The Simpson Logging Company built the High Steel Bridge in 1929. Back then rail cars moved raw timber from the forest to the mill. The bridge was paved in the 1960s. Want an inexpensive thrill? Stand near the edge as a logging truck passes.

The steel bridge is part tourist attraction, part rite of passage. High school students come here to spit and throw things. They watch as a rock or pumpkin falls the 420 feet to the river below. The journey ends with a splash and cheers. The railings are a record of who was here and who loves who.

high steel bridge shelton
At 420 feet, the High Steel Bridge is one of the highest bridges in the United States.

Kiah Combs and Rebecca Swingle stopped by the bridge after finishing a hike on the Lower South Fork.  Swingle has been here before.  This is her daughter’s first and possibly last visit. “I wasn’t terrified but I didn’t want to peak over the edge,” says Combs.

There’s something unique about being on this bridge. The Space Needle is almost 200 feet taller and yet somehow easier to manage. Maybe it’s because the observation deck of Seattle’s iconic landmark is fenced in by a very sturdy looking barrier.  Then again, I’m not scared of the Grand Canyon and out there you’re pretty much left to your own devices.

Swingle raises what I believe to be a valid point. “How do you trust yourself not to swoon and fall over the side?” Combs puts it another way. “I would say I’m afraid of falling more than I’m afraid of heights.”

It’s hard to reconcile the beauty of this place with the sheer irrational terror of its location. The drive to the bridge winds through farmland dotted with cows and the occasional silo. There are stands along the road where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables. On a clear day you can see the Olympics.

The last part of the trip takes you up a forest service road. The path is potholed and uneven which adds to the sense of adventure. You feel like you’re miles from anywhere when in reality you’re just a few miles north of Shelton.

high steel bridge shelton
Kiah Combs and Rebecca Swingle take in the view.

My wife tells me she can see the Vincent Creek Falls from where she’s standing. I only hear the last word. I’m sure the falls will look just a beautiful later when I’m thumbing through pictures on my phone.

If you’d like to visit the High Steel Bridge follow Highway 101 North towards Shelton. Turn left onto Skokomish Valley Road and follow that to Forest Service Road #23. If you really like heights and hate guardrails consider check out the Vance Creek Viaduct.

 

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