At hearing the grim news Tuesday morning, the 50 or so motorists stranded just outside the town of Gold Bar were not very understanding.
They had just been told by the Washington State Patrol that they couldn’t drive the seven snow-covered miles east to their own little town of Index along Highway 2. Because of their response, Trooper Heather Axtman decided it wasn’t prudent to relay a reporter’s request for telephone interviews.
“I have a lot of angry people here,” she said.
Since Sunday, the route to Stevens Pass has been pummeled by heavy snow. The weight of the snow caused trees and tree limbs to snap and fall across the highway, bringing down power lines in the process.
“It’s gone from bad to worse,” said Axtman. “The snow is falling so quick and heavy, we’re almost in whiteout conditions.”
The stretch along Highway 2, from west of Index to east of Skykomish, has been closed since Sunday, essentially leaving both towns cut off. The National Weather Service didn’t offer much hope for the route to reopen soon, with additional snowfall expected on Tuesday night and Wednesday, some of it heavy.
For a time on Monday, the State Patrol escorted convoys of motorists on Highway 2. But that was halted as additional trees toppled over the roadway. Only emergency personnel were allowed to drive the route.
The power was out in Index and in Skykomish, about 14 miles southeast. Puget Sound Energy, which serves Skykomish, posted Tuesday that restoration time was “to be determined.” Meanwhile, the Snohomish County Public Utility District says restoration time for the Index area was “not available, as we’re experiencing a high volume of outages.”
The problem that crews are facing is that as soon as one downed line is repaired, “another tree comes down and takes it out again because of the heavy snow,” said Puget Sound Energy spokesman Andrew Padula.
Some locals might be annoyed at not reaching their homes on the highway, but Ernie Walters, assistant chief of operations for Sky Valley Fire in Index, says: “They’re not in dire straits.”
The locals, he said, know what’s involved in living in this beautiful locale that’s perfect for fishing, hiking and being out of the rat race.
“This area is proven to have snow, and landslides and windstorms that knock out power,” said Walters. “People are prepared for it.”
For Yong Kim, owner of the Index General Store and a resident for 15 years, that meant dealing with fixing a generator.
“I went to Monroe, the big city, to get equipment that I needed,” she said. Now she was going to repair the thing herself. “Oh, yeah, it’s a minor matter,” she said.
Kim said she used Reiter Road, which parallels Highway 2 before winding north.
“They use it at their own risk,” Axtman said of those driving that road. “There was a mudslide there earlier this week.”
At the Cascadia Inn in Skykomish, Henry Sladek, who also happens to be mayor of the town of 216, said that Wednesday would be the third day, or possibly the fourth day — the days run together — that his business would be out of power.
He’s lived in Skykomish for 15 years.
“This one,” said Sladek, referring to the current storm, “is about similar to the one we had 10, 12 years ago.” That one he ranked as the No. 1 of bad snowstorms.
“I’d put this one at No. 2,” he said.
His inn of 14 rooms has an adjoining cafe. Right now, two of the rooms are occupied by personnel dealing with the storm.
The cafe was open on Sunday night after dozens of travelers were trapped when the stretch of highway was closed. Now the cafe is closed because he needs a generator to power lights, hot water and heat.
So it was a matter of waiting it out, said Sladek.
You have to be philosophical about a snowstorm like this.
“You have to hunker down for two, three, four days, or it could easily stretch to five or six days,” he said. “The reason people live here is for the other 99.9% of days. The [Mount Baker-Snoqualmie] National Forest and mountains, the fresh air, a lot of recreation close by. It’s a lifestyle choice.”
But now for now, the locals are encountering the other 0.01% of days. As Trooper Axtman tweeted, “The pass is CLOSED.”