By Ann McCreary and Laurelle Walsh
A landslide estimated to be one-quarter of a mile long and up to 25 feet deep is one of eight slides brought down by weekend rainstorms that closed the North Cascades Highway and caused a harrowing experience for a Seattle family.
State transportation crews were working this week to clear mud, boulders and trees from a six-mile stretch of highway, with the help of a D-8 caterpillar contracted through Lloyd Logging of Twisp.
“We’d be very happy to see the work progress so it could be open by next week, said Jeff Adamson, a Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) spokesman in Wenatchee.
Highway 20 was closed between milepost 147 at the winter closure gate, and milepost 155, two miles west of Rainy Pass.
The road was initially closed Saturday night after heavy rain sent two mudslides across the highway. More heavy rain Sunday afternoon brought down six more slides, forcing crews to leave the area until the situation stabilized, Adamson said.
“Think about that much volume of rocks, mud and trees,” Adamson said Monday (Aug. 12). “This is frankly beyond the capacity of the equipment we have available and personnel we have available.”
Fortunately, no one was injured by the slides, but a Seattle family traveling home on the North Cascades Highway had a close call Saturday night.
Teal Hallstrand was driving westbound on Highway 20 around 8:30 p.m. when he rounded a curve about three miles west of Rainy Pass and “suddenly I could see there was no more road. The slide was welling up and flowing across the highway.”
Hallstrand was able to slow his VW Tuareg, but not before it “rode up on the mud and ended perched atop several boulders,” he said. The vehicle was sunk in mud up to its undercarriage.
With some difficulty, Hallstrand and his wife, Janie, were able to get themselves and their two sons out of the car and struggled through the quicksand-like mud to the pavement, he said.
“Lightning was flashing all around and a big tree came down next to us,” he said.
A driver who arrived on the scene gave the family a ride back to Mazama, where they spent the night. Hallstrand returned to the car Sunday morning and watched as a WSDOT crew cleared the slurry of mud and rocks from around his vehicle.
“I don’t know if it’s drivable,” said Hallstrand, as he waited for a tow truck to arrive.
State transportation workers had to stop working Sunday afternoon with the arrival of more thunderstorms and rain, Adamson said. “We had to pull the people up there off … as more and more mudslides continued to come,” he said.
Adamson said transportation crews returned Sunday evening to assess the situation after the weather system moved through. He said crews hiked in Monday morning to make sure no more slides would jeopardize crews clearing the road.
“The hillsides are drying out and stabilizing, so that’s speeding the work,” Adamson said Tuesday. “At this point we’ve got our crews from the Twisp shed working from the east end, the Lloyd logging crew working up there, and from the west side … the crew out of Sedro-Woolley.”
He said some boulders that are too big to move might have to be blasted apart by WSDOT avalanche crews.
Elsewhere, heavy rains caused a washout of the popular Cascade River Road east of Marblemount. The North Cascades National Park created a temporary vehicle crossing allowing 70 stranded hikers to drive out of the Cascade Pass trailhead parking lot.
Hikers had been forced to spend Sunday night and part of Monday at the trailhead.
For updates on the North Cascades Highway, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes/northcascades.
Hwy 2 construction will slow traffic on that route
With the uncertainty about when Highway 20 will re-open after being closed because of several mud slides, motorists driving to and from the Methow Valley will be looking at one of the two “southern” routes to western Washington – Highway 2 over Stevens Pass or Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass by way of Blewett Pass.
But Highway 2 may be a problem, especially if Highway 20 doesn’t re-open soon.
Beginning Aug. 25, Highway 2 between Leavenworth and State Route 207 at Coles Corner (west of Leavenworth) will be closed for six days for replacement of the Drury Canyon Creek bridge in Tumwater Canyon.
The closure is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Aug. 25 and continue until noon on Aug. 30. A signed detour from Highway 2 between Coles Corner and Leavenworth using State Route 207 and the Chumstick Highway will add a half hour to the trip, WSDOT said in a press release.
Large trucks of more than 26,000 pounds are prohibited on Chumstick Highway and must use Interstate 90, Snoqualmie Pass and Highway 97 (Blewett Pass), WSDOT said.