WSDOT clears the way in just five weeks
Loggers. Motorcycle enthusiasts. Photo buffs. These were just some of the folks lured to the North Cascades Scenic Highway on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday afternoon (May 5), when the east and west gates swung open for the first time since November.
For many, the annual highway opening was a chance to savor glorious mountain scenery. Bikers congregated at Washington Pass, flanked by 6-foot-high snow banks, chatting and taking photos before starting their descent.
Jane and Rob Jacobson headed up to the Silver Star gate from their cabin in Mazama, curious about who would be the first to make the 37-mile trek from the west side gate – RVers? Day-trippers? Diehard skiers?
Chris Webb, owner of the Methow Valley Inn (and of Fremont Coffee in Seattle) came equipped to brew gourmet coffee for his family and friends in a mini-tailgate party at the pass.
An avid photographer snowshoed to the Washington Pass overlook for a panoramic view of Liberty Bell and the Early Winter Spires – including a true bird’s-eye view from a drone. A few cyclists took advantage of Wednesday morning to squeeze in one last traffic-free ride.
For Remsberg Logging of Twisp, the drive over the pass wasn’t a leisure excursion. The company had stockpiled more than 100 truckloads of logs in Twisp that they’d cut last fall and winter in eastern Okanogan County. With the logs headed for a mill in Darrington, it was worth their while to wait for the highway to open.
After a month of plowing and avalanche control, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) maintenance technicians patched pavement and removed rocks and debris before they were ready to unlock the gates. When plowing began April 5, their biggest challenge was keeping equipment running smoothly, since the crews get snowblowers already taxed by a long winter clearing the roadway over Stevens Pass.
The snow on the North Cascades Highway is so firmly packed – from sitting for half a year and being compacted by snowmobiles – that it takes a toll on the equipment, WSDOT Maintenance team Ryan Smith and Bill Hoffman said.