Benjamin Spillman | Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal
Updated 5 hours ago
VERDI, Nev. — While a couple of landslides that popped up on Interstate 80 over the Sierra Nevada have been cleared away, the most plowed route over the mountains was still closed Wednesday at the California-Nevada border, shutting northern Nevadans off from the coast — and most Californians from traveling east.
But some intrepid travelers always think they can get there from here and head west up a remote and rugged dirt stretch named Henness Pass Road. They are wrong, especially in this Pineapple Express mess — relatively warm, moist air coming from Hawaii — that has brought periods of both snow and rain to some elevations, blizzard conditions higher up and is forecast to continue through Wednesday night.
On Jan. 9, 2017 Washoe County Search and Rescue in Nevada shared this photo of vehicles stuck on …more
Washoe County (Nev.) Search and Rescue
Another storm with more of the same is supposed to arrive Thursday morning.
No relief: Storms continue to slam West with snow, rain, wind
Search and rescue volunteers Sunday and Monday found themselves heading into the mountains again to help people who thought they could bypass the I-80 closure via the dirt road north of the highway between Reno and Truckee. Rescuers estimated at least six cars and SUVs were stuck on the road after driving through warning signs stating the route was impassable for most vehicles, said Bob Harmon, spokesman for the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department.
It was the second time in about a week that the sheriff’s department sought to warn people to think twice about driving up isolated, unpaved roads in winter storm conditions.
“I’m kind of at a loss as to why people would drive around a sign that says unsafe road conditions.”
– Bob Harmon, Washoe County (Nev.) Sheriff’s Department
Although Henness Pass Road will show up on most GPS systems, the road is not maintained, lacks shoulders and is steep. In winter, it often buried in snow, covered in ice or is a muddy mess — sometimes a combination of those conditions.
“To go up there in a regular passenger vehicle or even an SUV, that is not a good idea,” Harmon said.
Stranded vehicles seem to be a problem along the route more frequently when I-80 is closed because of bad weather, he said. The only way to really avoid an I-80 closure and the blizzard conditions that created the problem is to take a detour south through Death Valley and Bakersfield via U.S. 95, which adds about 500 miles to a trip to San Francisco.
He suspects some drivers are putting unwarranted faith in the ability of their GPS to guide them and their vehicles despite clear signs warning them to turn back.
“I’m kind of at a loss as to why people would drive around a sign that says unsafe road conditions,” Harmon said. When the interstate is closed, the best thing for drivers to do is get a room or stay home until the road reopens, then stick to I-80.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. In the days before good cellphone service and Google maps, young couple James and Jennifer Stolpa and their 5-month-old son, Clayton, got stuck in January 1993 in the Sierra as they tried to find an alternative route over the Sierra from near Pasa Robles, Calif., to Pocatello, Idaho.
Sheriff’s official: Family’s rescue near Grand Canyon’s North Rim ‘a Christmas miracle’
They were using paper maps and got lost in the snow in a remote area of Washoe County for a week, surviving only after James Stolpa put his wife and child in a cave and hiked more than 40 miles into the small community of Vya, about 150 miles north of Reno as the crow flies. Their story became a 1994 CBS-TV movie titled Snowbound.
These days, drivers often call when they get stuck. And rescuers will extract them from the forest, but they won’t rescue vehicles, which means owners must arrange to get their vehicles removed.