Deadman Pass in Oregon: The Treacherous Ascent and Descent of Interstate 84

Deadman Pass is a mountain pass standing at an elevation of 1,104m (3,622ft) above sea level, situated in Umatilla County, in the U.S. state of Oregon. Drivers attempting to navigate the pass face a formidable challenge: heading northwest, you're compelled to ascend over 2,000 feet in elevation with double-hairpin turns and 6 percent grades. Heading southeast, the scenario reverses, and your brakes must be operating at their maximum capacity.

Deadman Pass

How long is the road to Deadman Pass in Oregon?

The road through the summit, also known as Cabbage Hill or Emigrant Hill, is entirely paved. It’s called Interstate 84, known as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway. The pass road is 84km (52.2 miles) long, running northwest-southwest from Pendleton (the county seat of Umatilla County) to La Grande (in Union County).

What's the weather like in Deadman Pass in Oregon?

Set high in the Blue Mountains, Interstate 84 experiences some of the most changeable and severe weather conditions in the Northwest. Always check the weather forecast before you embark on your journey: adverse conditions are common. These conditions may impair visibility and cause icy road surfaces. The area’s steep incline, combined with snow and fog, makes this area a place where caution must be exercised by drivers. Moreover, high winds, snow, packed ice, and freezing fog are frequent. It’s often stormy up there in the wintertime, and the road is very treacherous. Fog, snow, and black ice are common between October and April. Be prepared.

Is the road to Deadman Pass in Oregon dangerous?

The drive is notorious for treacherous conditions, especially in winter, with steep double hairpin downgrades. The pass is one of the most hazardous stretches of road along westbound Interstate 84. Remember to descend the hill in the proper gear. You’ll lose about 2,000 feet of elevation in six miles and navigate through a double hairpin turn at a 6-percent downgrade. On average, 78 percent of Cabbage Hill crashes involve out-of-state motor carriers. Warning signs provide recommended speeds for trucks descending the Hill. Most accidents involve out-of-state freight trucks, with 59% attributable to brake failures. Drivers in trucks with Green Light transponders will receive a personalized message from a “variable message sign” with the recommended speed. Escape ramps are located at Milepost 221 and Milepost 220. Road signs along this route caution tractor-trailer operators to go as slow as 18 mph and chain up during the winter to ensure a safe trip to the top. Drivers traveling west on I-84 are urged to be prepared before descending the hill, using extreme caution and defensive driving techniques as they maneuver through the downgrade, which begins at Milepost 227 and continues through Milepost 217. On average, 59 percent of brake problems contribute to accidents on the Hill; drivers should check their brakes before the downgrade. A brake check area is located at the weigh station at Milepost 227.

Why is it called Deadman Pass Oregon?

The name originated from an incident during the Bannock War when a teamster driving a wagon through the pass lost his life to renegade Indians from the adjacent Indian agency. The Interstate now traverses the same region as the historic Oregon Trail.