Storm ravaged the mountains
Times Snohomish County bureau
DARRINGTON, Snohomish County — She knew it was gone, ravaged 11 days ago by the swirling White Chuck River.
But Donna Westom, the "mushroom lady" of the University District Farmers Market, had to see it herself.
"This is just a nightmare," said Westom, staring into the 25-foot-deep pit that has replaced a stretch of White Chuck Road, a major access for the Pacific Crest Trail and other regional hiking attractions. "Now I'm going to have to get a real job."
Torrential river and stream flows, fed by record-breaking rains, ripped through the state's national forests and parks Oct. 20 and 21, inflicting millions of dollars in damage upon bridges, roads and trails. Snohomish and Skagit counties suffered the worst damage, federal officials said.
The North Cascades Highway is closed near Newhalem, Whatcom County. The upper Stehekin River Valley was devastated. The Kennedy Hot Springs — accessed from White Chuck Road off the Mountain Loop Highway in Snohomish County — are buried beneath tons of rock.
The Mountain Loop is closed in two places, just north of Barlow Pass, but only two major trails lie within the inaccessible two-mile stretch. To the north, the Suiattle River washed out its namesake road and trail, cutting off access to numerous trails and campgrounds.
Everett has a popular day-hike program already hit by the closures. Tomorrow, the city was to take a van of hikers to the Suiattle River Trail for an eight-mile hike. The hikers will instead visit the North Fork of Sauk River.
In Olympic National Park, shore roads are closed on both sides of Lake Quinault. So is Hoh River Road, the main approach used for climbing Mount Olympus. The Nisqually River washed away a footbridge on the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park, in the area between Cougar Rock and Carter Falls.
Overall damage estimates haven't been tallied, and federal officials don't know how long it will take to repair the damage or reopen dozens of trails in the Mount Baker and Mountain Loop Highway areas.
"I would guess that in three, four, five years, we'll still be fixing things," said Terry Skorheim, head of the Darrington Ranger District.
The North Cascades National Park yesterday announced it suffered about $1.7 million in road damages, and repairs to trails and other structures will cost an additional $1 million.
The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest, which includes the Mountain Loop and Suiattle River areas, guesses its road and bridge damages total several million dollars. Trails and trail bridges could add several additional millions to the bill.
Two pots of federal money might be available for repairs, said Tim Manns, North Cascades Park spokesman. The National Park Service has a storm-damage fund, and the Federal Highway Association has an emergency-repair budget for federally owned roads.
Repairs could drag out for years unless Congress steps in and allocates extra money to rebuild the roads, bridges and trails, said Elizabeth Lunney, executive director of the Washington Trails Association.
The losses are traumatic because so much work has been invested in the national trail system to repair damage from floods in 1990 and 1995, she said. "People I've talked to (from federal agencies) looked pretty shell-shocked."
Lunney said the biggest losses, from a hikers' perspective, include the Thunder Creek Trail in the North Cascades National Park. "That is a great trail because it's through old growth, it's through lower elevation and it's relatively easy."
White Chuck Road is quite valuable, too, she said.
That 10-mile road, accessed off the Mountain Loop south of Darrington, suffered several major breaks. The White Chuck Trail is "in pieces," said Adrienne Hall, a federal wilderness specialist.
In some spots, the White Chuck River traces new routes through its gravel beds.
At the first break on White Chuck Road, the river overshot a large bend and carved out a huge section of hillside about 200 feet from its normal route. The road ends abruptly, with a clifflike drop.
The only way around is to climb up the steep hillside. Richard Laemmle, a Lynnwood nurse, tried that Thursday. He carried his mountain bike up and around and logged about 10 miles trying unsuccessfully to find another way to the Mountain Loop Highway.
Along the way, he found the second break in White Chuck Road. "It's about four times more washed-out than this," he said, after carrying his bike back around the first divide.
It couldn't be worse, said Westom, who collects mushrooms she sells at the University District market. She estimates she collects mushrooms from 25 forest locations. Now she can't reach any of them, she said.
"I've lived here all my life — 52 years — and this is the worst I've ever seen," she said.
Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company