By Steve Coram
More than 100 years ago, Washingtonians, on both the west and east sides of the Cascade Range, yearned for a viable northern crossing of the majestic mountain range bisecting the state. There was great hope of increased trade when the Cascade Wagon Road was opened in the late 19th century in the Upper Skagit River region. But it wasn't until the early 1970s that a paved highway was completed to link the northern reaches of the Cascades. The North Cascades Highway was not only a critical connecting link for tourism in the North Central Washington region, but also became a destination all its own and is now commonly referred to as the most spectacular mountain pass crossing in the entire state.
I always considered it my own personal tragedy that I had never been across the North Cascades Highway. And after becoming an owner of a Nissan LEAF two years ago, I succumbed to the idea of traveling into the "North American Alps." Driving a sub-100 mile EV from sea-level to almost 5,500ft. seemed like a great recipe for being stranded.
However, in just the past two years, electric vehicle infrastructure has improved immensely. The West Coast Green Highway established DC quick charging stations across another Cascade Range pass, Stevens Pass, allowing for Seattle-area EV travelers to head into Wenatchee, located on the east side of the state. And a grassroots effort by Plug-In North Central Washington to install high-amperage Level 2 charging stations north of Wenatchee made it possible for EV travelers to drive to the tourist playgrounds in Pateros, Winthrop, and Mazama along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range.
The Stevens Pass route made EV travel to these wonderful locales possible. However, that direct-shot crossing of the North Cascades seemed like a pipe dream for Nissan LEAF drivers. Late last year, I actually wrote a blog entry about the possibility of driving a Nissan LEAF across the North Cascades Highway, traveling from west to east. In a nutshell, to successfully cross the North Cascades Highway in a Nissan LEAF, there would have to be a charging solution somewhere between Burlington (sea level) and Washington Pass (5,477ft).
With Seattle City Light still working through the bureaucracy of installing a Level 2 charging station at its Newhalem site, I started looking at the possibility of crossing the North Cascades Highway in reverse direction, from east to west. Using the West Coast Green Highway and Plug-In North Central Washington's charging infrastructure, I could easily get all the way to Mazama, WA located less than 20-miles east of Washington Pass. The trade-off was that it would take a full day of driving just to get to Mazama.
The trip was set: I was going to be the first Nissan LEAF driver to cross the North Cascades Highway! In my usual fashion, I decided to add a bit extra to the trip to make it fun for my kids (convincing my wife that it was a great idea for me to take our two children, ages six and three, for 24 hours didn't take much persuasive power). Before crossing the North Cascades Highway from Mazama, I would drive our LEAF to, according to DangerousRoads.org, the highest point reachable by car in the state, Hart's Pass. Actually, we would continue past Hart's Pass and drive up to Slate Peak before descending a vertical mile back into the town of Mazama.