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August 12, 2013 at 2:11 PM

North Cascades Highway could be closed for many days

There's a road under there somewhere: The North Cascades Highway is closed near Rainy Pass after mudslides buried the road in dirt and rocks. (WSDOT photo)

There’s a road under there somewhere: The North Cascades Highway is closed near Rainy Pass after mudslides buried the road deep in dirt and rocks. (WSDOT photo)

Washington’s  North Cascades Highway could be closed for many days after eight mudslides on the weekend buried parts of the road 25 feet deep in dirt and rocks. 

Also called Highway 20, the mountain road is a  scenic and quicker route from Western Washington to the Methow Valley on the east side of the Cascades.  In summer, it’s a very popular route among vacationers, hikers, climbers and long-distance bicyclists, giving  dramatic views of peaks and back-country access.

 The slides hit a six-mile stretch of road just west of Rainy Pass, said Jeff Adamson, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation.  The biggest slide is about a quarter-mile long and 25 feet deep, said Adamson.  Along with the other seven slides there’s so much debris that outside contractors are being hired to help clear the mess.

Slopes remain unstable in some areas so  full-scale clearing of the North Cascades Highway can't start yet. (WSDOT photo)

Slopes remain unstable in some areas so full-scale clearing of the North Cascades Highway can’t start yet. (WSDOT photo)

Mud and water is still coming off the steep slopes, Adamson said Monday afternoon. That has hampered geotechnical engineers and maintenance experts from checking slope stability and estimating when the highway can be reopened. “It could be days or longer; can’t be specific yet,” said Adamson. The highway status will be updated online or call 511, DOT’s travel-information line.

No one was reported  injured in the slides that began Saturday night and continued Sunday; the highway was closed late Saturday.  The rain and hail storms that swept through the highway’s almost mile-high Rainy Pass area on the weekend touched off the slides between milesposts 147 and 153.

Travelers still can get to the Methow Valley by crossing the Cascades on  I-90 or Highway 2, then looping around via highways 97 and 20 – the standard winter-time routes (heavy snow closes the North Cascades Highway each winter). And from the Methow Valley, drivers can  go on the highway up to Rainy Pass, said Adamson, giving access to trails and viewpoints on the east side of the closure.

Thanks to the same storms, more than 60 hikers and their vehicles were stranded when the Cascade River Road near Marblemount washed out on Sunday.  See the story here about the washout, which blocks access to the popular Cascade Pass hiking in North Cascades National Park.

Comments | More in highways, Northwest | Topics: Highway 20 closure, mudslides, North Cascades Highway

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