Mudslide on Highway 20. Photo courtesy of WSDOT

Mudslide on Highway 20. Photo courtesy of WSDOT

By Ann McCreary

After a six-day closure due to mudslides, the North Cascades Scenic Highway was expected to reopen at noon Thursday (Sept. 12).

The second highway closure within a month began early Friday morning (Sept. 6) when an intense storm Thursday brought down rocks and mud along the roadway between Cutthroat Ridge and milepost 147 at Granite Creek, west of Rainy Pass.

Drier weather over the weekend allowed crews from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to begin removing mud, rocks and trees from the roadway on Monday (Sept. 9). About 15 WSDOT road crew employees worked from daylight to dark to clear debris from the highway.

The road was initially closed Friday at milepost 171 at the Silver Star Gate, 14 miles west of Mazama, because of rocks on the roadway along Cutthroat Ridge before the hairpin curve, said Jeff Adamson, WSDOT spokesman.

Crews were able to clear the rocks away and open the road to just west of Rainy Pass by Friday afternoon, allowing people to access the popular trails at the pass over the weekend.

Last week’s storm created six landslides, which were not as large as the eight slides that closed the highway at the end of August, said Adamson.

The slides occurred “in the same places that caused problems last month,” said Wayne Rice, maintenance supervisor for the WSDOT area office in Okanogan. “These chutes start opening up and … when you start stripping away vegetation it’s more susceptible” to future slides. Rice said some slides were up to eight feet deep.

Rice said a WSDOT geologist from the Olympia headquarters has visited the slide location to evaluate ways to prevent future slides.

WSDOT contracted with Lloyd Logging in Twisp, as it did last month, to bring in a large caterpillar to help move debris from the road. Adamson said the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the land that the highway crosses, has played an important role in helping WSDOT in the cleanup effort.

“The Forest Service has been just amazingly cooperative in helping to find locations that were nearby and accessible to put stuff,” Adamson said. “That has cut the expense and sped up the process.”

After the pavement is cleared, crews will continue working along the shoulders to improve drainage and clear more debris.