Photo courtesy of WSDOT

WSDOT crews were challenged by avalanche chutes at the hairpin curve.

Pass cleared in time for ’49er Days in Winthrop

By Ann McCreary

Good news for people traveling from western Washington to Winthrop for the ’49er Days celebration — the North Cascades Highway is expected to open at 10 a.m. on Friday (May 11).

“We worked hard to get it open for ’49ers,” said Don Becker, maintenance supervisor for Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) in Twisp.

Crews began clearing the North Cascades Highway from the west side on March 26 and from the east side on April 9. This year’s work was particularly challenging for the east side WSDOT crews because persistent cold, wet spring weather brought new snow and kept snow in avalanche chutes above the roadway longer than usual, Becker said.

Photo courtesy of WSDOT

The North Cascades Highway is opening a few days earlier than it did last year.

This year was also unusual because three unexpected slides hit an excavator, a caterpillar and a snow blower with crew members inside, but nobody was hurt, Becker said. Crews spent a lot of time this spring clearing slides on portions of the road that they had previously plowed.

With the recent arrival of warm weather, the avalanche chutes have finally emptied, making it safe for motorists to use the highway. The highway is opening a few days earlier than last year’s May 16 opening.

As in past years, there will be homemade cinnamon rolls at the Diablo Gate on the west side for WSDOT crew members and motorists waiting for the gate to open. But they won’t be provided by Tootsie Clark — known to many as the cinnamon roll lady — who had been making the trek from her home in Marblemount to the gate with her fresh baked rolls every year since the early 1970s.

Clark died last fall at the age of 95, and the tradition will be continued, for this year at least, by her granddaughter, Becker said.

State transportation officials close the 37-mile stretch of road each fall, usually around Thanksgiving, when winter snows arrive, and avalanche danger makes it unsafe. “It was never intended to be open year-round,” Becker said.