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Lolo Pass residents hike in with supplies.
River Roars Over Lolo Pass posted on 02/02/2011
Hundreds Left Stranded, Three Homes Lost in Sudden Storm

The gentleman’s agreement between rivers and land took a turn on the Mountain.

A combination of eerily high temperatures and torrential rains in mid-January unleashed a devastating flood event on the community.

Miraculously, no lives were lost. But hundreds were stranded and three houses succumbed to the raging waters.

“It was all about neighbors helping neighbors,” said Don Mench, who lives on Lolo Pass Road which was hit the hardest by the flooding of the Sandy and Zigzag rivers. “We did some shuttling and had neighbors parking at our place.”

Meteorologists claimed the heavy rainfall and melting snow were the culprits in sending torrents of water through the Sandy, Zigzag and Salmon rivers.

More than 200 people were left without electricity, water or telephone service, and formed a human chain seeking supplies and relief as they trekked up and down Lolo Pass Road.

Over the weekend of Jan. 15-16, the National Weather Service reported that 9.51 inches of rain fell at Timberline – an unheard of amount for January. This resulted in an estimated snow melt of 17 inches during the same period, spurring the rivers to overflow and seek new courses down the mountain.

The Hoodland Fire District responded quickly, setting up emergency operations and an evacuation center, and dispatching volunteers for sandbagging. Stranded victims were taken in at the Mt. Hood Lions Club and the Resort at the Mountain provided emergency lodging.

Sandy Ault showed up at 6:30 p.m., Jan. 16, at the Lions Club, having returned from work and unable to reach her house on Pin-ewood Lane, up Lolo Pass.

“I can’t get home,’ Ault said. “My husband and two dogs are at the house. Hopefully, they know what to do. I can’t reach them, the phone line is dead.”

When Ault left for work that morning there was water pouring over the road.

“I wondered if I’d be able to get home,” she said. “Now, I know.”

Ault kept her best face on the difficult situation.

“I’ve always thought I had a charmed life,” she said. “I either have to cry or laugh, but I don’t like my eyes getting messy, so …”

When the Sandy River jumped its banks a section of Lolo Pass Road above Barlow Trail went down, cutting off residents. Tim Heider, public information officer for Clackamas County, was at the Hoodland Fire Station filling in, and reported that by Monday, Jan. 17, the problems spiked when the bridge over the Zigzag River was closed to traffic due to safety concerns.

Gertrude’s Cabin, a wilderness icon on Lolo Pass Road since 1929, was swept away by the Sandy River.

Dan Johnson and his wife Liz Bounds, of Beaverton, had owned the cabin for 10 years and used it as a vacation home and occasionally rented it out.

“I feared for the worse before I got there, then I saw where Gertrude used to sit,” Johnson said.

“The pump house is still there. There’s nothing of the cabin. It’s like river bottom. No remains.” 

“It feels like death,” Bounds said.

There were guests at the cabin Saturday, Jan. 15, who notified the owners that the river was lapping up to the hot tub. They left immediately.

Johnson reflected on the loss.

“We treated her well,” he said, of the cabin. “Everything was era and we kept Gertrude’s spirit alive. Six houses like her (upriver) had been lost over the years to floods. But she remained, survived them all. But not this one. Mother Nature has her way. It’s a wild river, and it was a perfect storm.”

Maybe too perfect.

by Larry Berteau/MT



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