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August 15, 2013 at 11:22 AM

North Cascades Highway may reopen on weekend

Look -  no cars on the North Cascades HIghway, which is blocked by mudslides.  But a portion of the road from the Methow Valley  up to Washington Pass (which is by the Liberty Bell peaks in the background) remains open to bicyclists and drivers who want to get to trailheads. A portion of the road on the west side also is open.

Look – no cars on the North Cascades Highway, which is blocked by mudslides. But an eastside  portion of the road, from the Methow Valley up to Washington Pass (which is by the Liberty Bell peaks in the background),  remains open to bicyclists and to  drivers who want to get to trailheads. A portion of the road on the west side also remains open. (Chris Fox photo)

Crews are working long hours to clear mudslides on the North Cascades Highway, and it’s possible that the popular mountain road could reopen this weekend, says Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Adamson. In the meantime,  some bicyclists are having a field day pedaling up and whizzing down part of the blissfully empty road that remains open.

 The road, also known as Highway 20, is a scenic and popular route that leads from Western Washington to  the Methow Valley. It was shut down  Saturday night because of mudslides touched off by an intense rain/hail storm. By Sunday, eight mud slides just west of Rainy Pass had buried the highway in debris up to 25 feet deep in places, forcing the closure of the road between mileposts 147 and 157.

A firm opening date may be announced Friday; see the DOT’s highway website for updates. DOT spokesman Adamson said crews are working as long as there’s daylight to clear the slides.

Some bicyclists from the Methow Valley,  meanwhile, are making the most of the road closure. The eastern portion of the highway  remains open from the Methow Valley up to the 5,477-foot-elevation Washington Pass, the highest point on the road, where there’s a dramatically scenic overlook facing the craggy peaks.  With the road mostly empty of cars (since it dead-ends because of the closure), bicyclists are enjoying riding up and then whizzing  down – without having to worry about cars speeding past them on the narrow-shouldered road.

Bicyclists are heading up to the Washington Pass Overlook on Highway 20 from the Methow, enjoying a car-free bike excursion on the road. (Chris Fox photo)

Bicyclists are heading up to the Washington Pass Overlook on the North Cascades Highway from the Methow, enjoying a car-free bike excursion on the road. (Chris Fox photo)

Chris Fox, a part-time Methow resident, rode  from the Mazama Store in the Methow up to Washington Pass earlier this week, sharing the empty  road with about 10-15 other hardy bicyclists. (Part of the road on the west side also remains open, giving access to the community of Diablo, Ross Lake and other areas.) 

One of the landslides that have closed the North Cascades Highway near Rainy Pass. (WSDOT photo)

One of the landslides that have closed the North Cascades Highway near Rainy Pass. (WSDOT photo)

It was  just too good an opportunity to pass up,” said Fox. “There were a few vehicles parked at trailheads, but it was mostly human-free except for cyclists  pedaling quietly up the roadway (and not restricted to the shoulder or, for that matter, even one lane),” said Fox.

 It was 17.7 miles and  a 3,000- foot climb up to Washington Pass, said Fox, who logged his ride on a GPS. And, said Fox, he bets there are more bicyclists  out there now since the word has spread about the closure which lets them ride one of the most  scenic highways anywhere car-free.  

Comments | More in highways, North Cascades | Topics: North Cascades, North Cascades Highway, North Cascades National Park

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