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Early snow clearing starts on North Cascades Highway

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — A low snowpack in the Cascades Mountains could mean an early opening for the North Cascades Highway this year.  

The Department of Transportation says it will begin clearing snow from State Route 20 this week and hopes to reopen the highway in four weeks or less.   

The stretch of highway over the North Cascades is closed during the winter between Diablo and west of Mazama because of snow and avalanche danger.   

Crews will start work on the east side on Monday and on the west side on March 23.  

The state closed the highway on Nov. 24. It typically reopens between mid-April and early May.   

Last year, crews began clearing snow on March 31 and officials re-opened the highway in early May.  

In 2013, the highway closed for the season on Dec. 3 and reopened on May 8.

The North Cascades Highway has opened only a few years in March, and once as late as June 14.

North Cascades Highway closed for season

OUTDOOR TRAVEL —The North Cascades Highway is closed for the winter after an avalanche assessment on Tuesday determined transportation workers could not safely reopen it.

The 37-mile stretch of Highway 20 between Mazama and Newhalem closes every winter due to avalanche danger.

The highway temporarily closed at 9:30 a.m. Sunday after a snowslide in the Liberty Bell zone east of Washington Pass.

Between 15 and 20 inches of new snow is forecast at high elevations through the Thanksgiving holiday period, state Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Adamson said.

Last year, the highway closed for the season on Dec. 3. It reopened on May 8.

Chinook and Cayuse passes also have been closed for the season after heavy weekend snow.  Chinook is on Highway 410 and Cayuse on Highway 123, both are in the Cascades on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park.

Cutthroat Classic raises trail runners above smoke

TRAILS — In the clear, blue skies just west of the smoke and fires that have menaced the Methow Valley is the stage for one of the most beautiful trail running events in the region — and there' never been a more important time to show up and support the locals that put it on.

About 400 runners and runner-walkers are signed up for the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association's annual Cutthroat Classic trail run set for Saturday, Aug, 23.

This 11.1 mile run goes from the North Cascades Highway at Rainy Pass to Cutthroat Lake, nestled among the Cascades peaks. 

Registered racers can pick up bib numbersFriday,  4 p.m. – 6 p.m. at the MVSTA tent in downtown Winthrop.

On Saturday, buses depart at 7 a.m. from the Mazama Community Center to shuttle racers to the start line for the 8 a.m. start.

The Methow Valley's economy has taken a hit by wildfires that smoked tourists out of the area in recent weeks. The Cutthroat Classic is a good excuse to show up and show them your support.


Despite fires, Chelan-Okanogan region open for recreation

Large areas of the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest and routes into the North Cascades remain open to recreation despite the wildfires that have burned more than 250,000 acres in northcentral Washington since mid-July.

  • Salmon fishing is luring anglers to the Columbia River in the scorched Pateros-Brewster area.
  • The North Cascades Highway is ushering tourists and hikers into prized destinations in North Cascades National Park.
  • Most trails in the Alpine Lakes, Pasayten and Glacier Peaks wilderness areas are unaffected by fires or even smoke.

 “Fires have burned across thousands of acres of this forest, and firefighters are still working to control some difficult fires in Okanogan, Chelan, and Kittitas Counties,” said Mike Balboni, Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Supervisor.  “But this is a very large National Forest, and several of our districts have been spared large fires so far this season,” he said.

Recreation still is in full swing on the Tonasket, Chelan, Cle Elum, and Naches Ranger Districts, he noted.  Even the Methow Valley and Wenatchee River Ranger Districts, which have been dealing with some very large wildfires, still offer recreation opportunity.  The exception is the Entiat Ranger district, which is mostly blanketed with fire area closures and has all its campgrounds shut down.

Although much of the Methow Valley Ranger District is closed, the Highway 20 corridor west of Winthrop and the Forest Service campgrounds and trails in it are open to recreation. 

Businesses in Winthrop and Twisp are in the middle of the summer tourism season.

Lake Chelan and most of the forest and trails around it still are open to recreation, as are Lake Wenatchee and the White River and Chiwawa River drainages.

In Chelan County, Leavenworth and Chelan have occasionally been impacted by smoke from fires, but merchants in both communities are open for business.

  • The latest information on wildfires and public safety closures is available online at the forest web site.

“There is a forest-wide ban on campfires,” Balboni noted.  “With such dry conditions and so many wildfires, we simply can’t take a chance on any human-caused fires.”

Slides block North Cascades Highway; may reopen Thursday

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — It's been a rough summer for the North Cascades Highway, and travelers visiting the many trailheads and scenic attractions the route accesses through North Cascades National Park.  

A short stretch of the prized stretch of Highway 20 near Rainy Pass is closed by mudslides for the second time in six weeks.

  • Specifically, the route is closed between milepost 147 (10 miles west of Rainy Pass) and milepost 157 at Rainy Pass. 

This closure blocks through traffic from the East Side to the West Side of the state.

The Washington Transportation Department says it hopes to reopen the North Cascades Highway at noon on Thursday.

Late last week, rain-caused mudslides in several locations closed a stretch of the highway, also known as State Highway 20.

Transportation officials say crews are making good progress in clearing a half dozen slides.

The highway is the northernmost route across Washington’s Cascade Mountains.

Thunder storms put hikers in hot spot

WILDERNESS — I'm just back from four electrifying days of backpacking in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, catching up old news for which I had a front row seat.

Mudslides bury North Cascades Highway — Hikers stranded Monday as storms leave the vital summer passage closed over the mountains between Mazama and the Skagit Valley. The Washington State Department of Transportation says eight mudslides have buried SR 20.

Lightning pounds North Cascades — Lightning maps showed more than 7,400 strikes occurred from 9 a.m. Saturday until 9 a.m. Sunday along the eastern slope of the Cascade Range and in Southeastern Washington, including the Glacier Peak Wilderness where I was hunkered three nights in a row wishing I had ear plugs.  Much of the thunder was concentrated in Okanogan, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Franklin counties, Forest Service officials say. 

                “Significant amounts of rain fell Saturday night so some fires may not be detected for some time,” said Central Washington Interagency Communications Center Operations Coordinator Jim Duck. “Many times lightning will strike a tree and fire will smolder beneath it for some time until fuel around it dries out.”

North Cascades Highway opening is harbinger of summer

PARKS — Suddenly it seems as though summer will happen.

Washington's North Cascades Highway, a gateway to North Cascades National Park, opened Tuesday, weeks earlier than last year because of a thinner snow pack. The route gives easier East-West access across the northern region of the state.

The April 16 opening compares with the May 10 opening in 2012, when the photo with this post was snapped near Liberty Bell.

Washington Department of Transportation crews began the process of clearing State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway, on March 25, a day earlier than last year. On average, it takes four to six weeks for crews to clear the highway, but this year they accomplished it in three weeks. Crews cleared snow as deep as 35 feet over the roadway; last year, it was double the amount.

The highway was closed Nov. 20, 2012, from milepost 134, seven miles east of Diablo Dam on the west side of Rainy Pass, to milepost 171, nine miles west of Mazama.

  • The latest reopening for the highway was recorded on June 14, 1974.
  • The earliest opening was March 10, 2005.
  • In 1980, four years after the highway first opened, it remained open all winter due to a drought year.

For more information, including a history of opening and closing dates, maps, photos and progress reports on the 2013 opening, visit the North Cascades web page.

Bicycles rule North Cascades Highway behind plows

BICYCLING — Bicyclists are in that brief once-a-year window of opportunity when the North Cascades Highway west of Winthrop is all theirs — save fore a few snow plows and Washington Department of Transportation vehicles plowing the pass.

"This is that one time of the year when Highway 20 is a trail," the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association reminds us in a post.
WSDOT crews have begun clearing the snow and they are moving fast, says the Bicycle Alliance of Washington.
  • Click here to follow the work to clear the road up and over Washington and Rainy passes.
And if you miss this opportunity, there's always the premier chance to ride behind the plows on the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park starting in late April and sometimes running into June.

North Cascades Highway closed by snow, avalanches

TRAVEL — The Washington Transportation Department closed the North Cascades Highway at noon today because of heavy snow and avalanche danger.

Three slides occurred and more than 4 inches of snow fell within 90 minutes, according to a department media release.

At this point, the closure is temporary, but the section of Highway 20 over the North Cascades typically closes for the winter this time of year.

North Cascades: expansion proposed for little-visited park

PUBLIC LANDS — North Cascades National Park is the second-least visited of the 58 major national parks in the United States, according to Ranger Charles Beall, acting superintendent for the park. Only Isle Royale, an island in Lake Superior, draws fewer visitors per year, he said.

In 2011, North Cascades National Park had 19,208 visitors, according to National Park statistics. The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, one of the most visited parks, had more than 15 million. Olympic National Park had nearly 3 million.

Supporters of the American Alps Legacy project want to would enlarge North Cascades Park by roughly one-third, adding 237,702 acres to the total.

They say it would add more protection and stature to the park on both sides of U.S. Highway 2.

But many people are skeptical, noting that there's little money in the federal budget for developing the park, it could restrict hunting and even hiking with dogs.

See the update from the Everett Herald.


North Cascades Highway is open and ready for recreation

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — The Washington Transportation Department reopened the North Cascades Highway at noon today after seven weeks of blowing and bulldozing snow and avalanche debris off the roadway. 

Bicyclists have been riding open portions of the route for weeks.

The highway closed for the winter in November along a 37-mile stretch between Diablo Dam and Mazama.

The northernmost route through the North Cascades includes the 4,855-foot Rainy Pass and 5,477-foot-Washington Pass in North Cascades National Park, where recreationists are likely to flock for spring snowshoeing and skiing.

Last year the highway reopened on May 25.

Thompson, Cayuse passes cleared; plows breaking through on North Cascades Highway

MOUNTAIN PASSES — Thompson Pass between Prichard, Idaho, and Thompson Falls, Mont., was cleared of snow over the weekend. Although signs said the road was still closed, vehicles were traveling over the popular route between the North Fork Coeur d'Alene and Clark Fork river drainagles.

But if you're planning a hike to Revett Lake, you'll need snowshoes.  A snowblowing machine had to be used to cut through still-deep snow at the pass.

North Cascades Highway ready to open

Meanwhile, Department of Transportation crews working from the east and west sides to clear snow off the North Cascades Highway met near Rainy Pass at 11 a.m. Monday.

Crews are continuing to widen road of snow and stabilized conditions.  Tentatively, the popular scenice route between Mazama and Marblemount is set to open on Thursday or Friday.

People are flocking to the attraction on bicycles, packing skis to hit thie slopes.  Here's the plea on the DOT website:

While it’s legal for bicycles to use the highway because they’re not licensed motor vehicles – it’s getting crowded up there and it’s a big concern for our operators since bikes are hard to spot in the mirrors on a loader or a blower. The widening, ditching, guardrail and jersey barrier work is going on all day Tuesday and with avalanche blasting planned for Wednesday (along with the necessary clean up) – this is just not a good time to bicycle the North Cascades – Please wait for Thursday!


Cayuse Pass opening today

The Washington Transportation Department says a scenic drive through Mount Rainier National Park reopens today at noon as gates will be opened to Cayuse Pass on the east side of Mount Rainier.

The department says crews are still clearing snow from nearby Chinook Pass, but hope to have it open in time for Memorial Day Weekend.

Snow being cleared off North Cascades Highway

MOUNTAIN PASSES —  Crews are working on Highway 20 to clear the North Cascades Highway — the great recreational road between Mazama and Marblemount, through North Cascades National Park.

Snow removal began March 26, with crews working on both the east and west sides of Washington Pass.

  • The east side crew has cleared the roadway to Cutthroat Creek.
  • The west side crew has progressed approximately eight miles above their starting point at the Diablo Gate.

Progress updates are updated here.

It’s official: snow closes North Cascades Highway for season

MOUNTAIN ROADS — The Washington Transportation Department decided today to close the North Cascades Highway for the winter.

The 37-mile section of Highway 20 was temporarily shut down Nov. 15, and the department made it final today with heavy snow in the forecast.

The highway between Diablo and Mazama is the northernmost route across the Cascades. It’s typically closed in the late fall by avalanches and reopened in the spring.

This is a harbinger of great news for Methow Valley nordic skiers.  Enough snow has accumulated in the valley to allow many off the cross country ski trails to be packed by groomers pulling rollers.

North Cascades Highway closes, possibly for season

MOUNTAIN PASSES — The North Cascades Highway closed in the past hour (Tuesday evening) as Washington highway crews prepare for storms and heavy snow storms in the coming days.

State Department of Transportation officials say they will reassess road conditions, avalanche danger and weather forecasts on Monday to determine whether the Highway 20 pass can be reopened.

The highway betwen Winthrop west to Marblemount closed for the winter on Dec. 1 last year

The National Weather Service predicts up to 22 inches of snow by Thursday morning with more snow to come during the weekend.

It's time to start keeping an eye on the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association cross-country ski trail grooming situation.

Three to five inches of snow have been falling daily since Friday at the higher elevations of the highway near Washington Pass.

Farther south in the Cascades, Chinook and Cayuse passes — mountain gateways to Mount Rainier — already have closed for the season.

North Cascades Highway likely to open Wednesday

NATIONAL PARKS — The Washington Transportation Department says road crews expect to reopen the North Cascades Highway at noon Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.

That would be the second-latest opening since travelers began using the highway 39 years ago, said spokesman Jeff Adamson. The latest was June 14, 1974.

Crews started clearing winter snow from the section of Highway 20 on April 11.

The opening is later than usual this year because of the heavy snowpack. When crews began their work, they found the highway segment buried in snow as deep as 75 feet.

Last year the North Cascades Highway opened on April 16. It was closed by snow on Dec. 1.

Late opening predicted for North Cascades Highway

OUTDOOR TRAVEL — Don't get in a hurry to cross the North Cascades on State Route 20.

The Washington State Department of Transportation says avalanche danger on the North Cascades Highway has delayed the annual spring opening of the road.

Work crews plan to start clearing Highway 20 on April 11. The work is expected to take six weeks.

A transportation spokesman says it may be the latest spring opening in 20 years.

State Route 20, known as the North Cascades Highway, is the northernmost route across the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington. The stretch between Diablo and Mazama has been closed since Dec. 1.

North Cascades Highway: Can you drive it during winter?

NATIONAL PARKS — It’s official. This week’s temporary closure of the North Cascades Highway will continue through the winter, according to avalanche experts who assessed the danger there Wednesday after a storm deposited 2 feet of snow high in North Cascades National Park.

The scenic portion of State Highway 20 closes between Mazama and Newhalem ALMOST every winter because of deep snow and avalanche danger.

In 2003, the pass closed on Oct. 17 for the winter — the earliest ever — due to flooding and mudslides that blocked the highway, the Wenatchee World reports.

The latest closure was in 1989, when it closed temporarily on Jan. 3, and for the winter on Jan. 9.

When was the last time motorists could drive the route over Rainy and Washington passes all winter long?

The pass did not close during the winter of 1977-78, when there was not enough snow to cause avalanche concerns, the Wenatchee World says.

Depending on conditions, the pass will reopen sometime between late March and early May.

Snow closes North Cascades Highway, brings out Methow nordic groomers

WINTER SPORTS — The cross-country ski trails in the Methow Valley near Winthrop are finally getting a good coating of snow, and new trails are opening to skiers.

The Washington Transportation Department has closed the North Cascades Highway because of heavy snow expected from this new storm, which could drop as much as 2 feet of new snow in the higher areas.

The highway closed Monday afternoon. DOT said it would assess the situation after the storm to determine if the highway will remain closed for the winter.

The North Cascades Highway is the term given to the 22 miles portion of Highway 20 between Newhalem and Mazama. This stretch — which includes 4,855-foot Rainy Pass and 5,477-foot Washington Pass — is usually closed by winter snow and avalanches.