This page is updated weekly marking the east and west side crew's progress
reopening the North Cascades Highway.
Scouting Report - March 11
Today we went up from the east side (at the Early Winters Information Center (MP 178) where the barricades had been set) to assess how much snow was in the avalanche chutes and when we could safely get our crews in to begin clearing the passes. It looks like we will start on March 31. Read the news release
Week One - April 1
Reopening work began this week.
On Monday maintenance tech's from Twisp started clearing from Early Winters Information Center (MP 178) up to the Silver Star Gate (MP 171). By the end of Tuesday they had both lanes of those seven miles cleared. Now, they'll work on the shoulders, pull outs and clearing the parking and turnaround space at the gate.
If you plan to snowmobile, ski or snowshoe Friday through Sunday, be a considerate parker and also plan for some new snow Thursday through Saturday.
Work on the Westside started on Tuesday at Diablo Gate (MP 134).
The snow depth at the gate was 11.5 inches, but 10 miles away at MP 144 it's 20 inches deep. The Ruby Ridge avalanche zone has been active and chute #10, covering both lanes and a dozen feet deep, was the biggest challenge they had to deal with on day one.
Crews are clearing only the eastbound lane for the 14 miles up to Granite Creek (MP 148) to start with so snowmobilers will have snow on the westbound lane from the gate to Granite for as much as an extra two weeks until they clear that lane ending the snowmobile season from the west.
Week One - April 3
Thursday was a productive day, despite a little afternoon snowfall. On the East side, the crew (with avalanche tech. Harlan Sheppard watching over them) got started clearing above the closure gate working toward that Delancey Ridge slide from last month.
On the West side, Bob Hopfield opened a single cut up to Granite creek (MP 148) which is technically the boundary between the Northwest and North Central Regions. He was blowing snow there that was about 4 - 1/2 feet deep, which takes a little longer than the foot-deep stuff 14 miles behind him at the gate.
Again, if you're heading up from either side this weekend, plan for some fresh snow and check the NW Avalanche center web page.
Week Two- April 7
Clearing on the Eastside began with an avalanche training refresher* for the entire Twisp crew, courtesy of Avalanche Supervisor Mike Stanford. Evan "Deed" Fink, Duane Wolley, Jesse Gurney, Scott Reagles, Tyler Miller, Ryan Smith, Don Becker and Jason Newman gathered at Silver Star Gate. Mike and his team provided the training on avalanche beacons, strategic shoveling and probing.
Snow is soft and the clearing is going fast. The snowpack at Washington Pass has melted from 10 feet down to 7*.
On Monday, Pink Floyd (the avalanche safety flamingo)* joined the effort. There is still more snow yet to come down (slide).
Monday's progress was to above Lone fir campground (MP 168).
On the West side, Bob Hopfield in the blower and Judd Wilson handling the support vehicles, spent Monday widening from MP 142 to MP 148 (Granite Creek).
Week 2 - April 8
Tuesday saw progress on both sides of the passes and a little in between.
On the East side, Duane Wolley's Kodiak snow blower completed a single lane cut to Cutthroat Ridge's first avalanche chute (CR 1) and Bob Hopfield on the West side completed a single lane cut to MP 149, a mile beyond Granite Creek.
The Avalanche team climbed to the 6,200 foot level up Liberty Bell Mountain and dug a snow pit to analyze the potential for slides as temperatures continue to rise and which layers of snow might separate.
Since the East side crew is now into the Cutthroat Ridge zone, the avalanche crew will not only perform "spotter" duties, but they'll add their snow cat to the clearing effort along with a D-6 caterpillar and a road grader coming up from Okanogan.
Week 2 - April 10
As work for the second week came to an end, on the West side, Bob Hopfield made it to mile post 150 Wednesday. After about an hour of widening Thursday morning he headed east once again. Snow depth there is 4 feet even.
On the East side, by Thursday afternoon, the crew had cleared and widened to MP 164.5 along Cutthroat Ridge. That places the work at CR 8, meaning they've cleared through 7 of the 12 CR avalanche chutes in that zone.
The D-6 caterpillar worked ahead of the clearing crew, cutting the snow slide debris from CR 8 to CR 10 down to the same level as the other snow on the roadway. The snow blower happily chews through 6 feet of snow, but not 12!
The work progressed a little slower than the day before because the caterpillar encountered some mechanical issues and was being repaired most of the day.
Scott Reagles wore both his hats. He operates the caterpillar and assisted the mechanics fixing it, too. Jason was on the excavator, Ryan on the blower and Tyler on the grader. Supervisor Don Becker took some time off the hill for public relations and was the guest speaker for the Winthrop of Chamber of Commerce who got an up-close and personal update on the work.
Week 3 April 14
On the East side, the leased D-8 Caterpillar joined the clearing work today to help "top" the snow slides from CR 8 to CR 10 (MP 164), working with the D-6 Caterpillar. Down on the pavement, work progressed with the Snow Blower, the Excavator and the Grader all working to clear and widen to CR-10. The avalanche crew's snow cat with it's blade was sent ahead to start working to "top" CR-11 and 12 where the slides were more than 15 feet deep.
On the West side, they cleared then widened to Easy Pass at MP 151.5. Then Bob Hopfield was able to clear a single pass to MP 152. The nice (53 degrees at noon) weather has melted the snow there to 3-1/2 feet deep.
Week 3 April 15
Tuesday was productive for the crews even though it only warmed to about 34 degrees, the wind was blowing about 40 mph and there were snow flurries off and on all day. Actually, under those conditions, the snow "tightens up" and the avalanche danger drops.
On the East side, they cleared through the Cutthroat Ridge zone and into what we call the "annex" which is probably better known as Spire or Spiral Gulch at MP 164. The two bulldozers were sent on ahead to start work Wednesday cutting down the first of the Liberty Bell avalanche chutes where the snow is about 30 feet deep. There were six operators and equipment at the controls on Tuesday.
On the West side, Gary Claybo reports that Tuesday the snow blower made it to mile post 153 near Swamp Creek (our pit/sand storage area). The snow there is about 4-1/2 feet deep. the plan for Wednesday is widening from milepost 152 to 153 in the morning then he'll head east once again.
Week 4 April 22
Day 13 looked and felt more like fall - overcast, wet, slushy, snowing off and on all day and it only got up to 36 degrees. But the crews on both ends took it in stride and the surprisingly good progress continued (and nothing "broke"!)
East side progress: Don Becker says the highway was cleared by the end of the day-fog stripe to fog stripe-through LB-1 and 2 to LB-3 (where it's 35 feet deep over the pavement). Both cats are now taking down LB-3. (The snow cat is still in Wenatchee waiting for axel parts).
West side progress: Gary Claybo says the snow blower cleared pavement to mile post 155. Snow depth there is 5’8”. About an hour of widening from mile post 154 to 155 this morning then Bob Hopfield was heading east once again.
Week 4 Day 16
Despite the very good progress the crews are making, we cannot guarantee the highway will be opening on a specific date, yet. There are still too many variables including new snow, too warm or too cold temperatures, equipment breakdowns and, of course, avalanche danger that could easily (as it has in the past) cause us to stop work for several days. The estimate is still the one we started with - mid-May.
It snowed again most of Thursday - 3 to 4 inches which was enough to bring down some fresh "surface" slides from avalanche chutes from Cutthroat to Washington Pass. Don Becker characterized it as "nothing scary, but it does keep you aware of the conditions..." So, maybe every day up there isn't like the one Ms. McCreery wrote about in the Methow Valley News this week.
East side progress: By close of business for the week (Thursday afternoon), the highway was cleared, full width through Liberty Bell #3 (MP 163). The cats and snow blower cut three blower boxes wide from there to the Washington Pass summit (MP 162.5) and then managed a two box cut to the Blue Lake Trailhead (MP 161.5).
West side progress: Gary Claybo says Bob Hopfield made it to mile post 156, about a mile and a half shy of Rainy Pass (MP 157.5). Snow depth there was mostly about 5 feet. Next week will start with about a half day of just widening for that mile up to 156.
Week 5 Day 17
Despite the forecast, there were no new snow accumulations on the
pavement over the weekend. The good news ended there when the starter went out on the second Kodiak snow blower, however it should be
back in service Tuesday. Later, after lunch, the crew stopped their clearing
work to the west when they had to go back down to the Cutthroat Ridge avalanche zone and clear the snow slide that came down CR8. It dumped snow about 12 feet deep and 200 feet wide over both lanes.
East side progress: Before the "clean up" back at Cutthroat, Lloyd
Logging's Mark Bakken put the big D8 cat to work and finished building catchment basins below avalanche chutes and slide zones around Spire Gulch. (To catch sliding snow before it hits the road or
the crews working there!) At the same time, Scott Reagles used the D6 cat to "feed" Duane Wolley's Kodiak snow blower and the pair were successful making a single cut from Blue Lake trailhead where progress stopped last week to the beginning of the Whistler Mt. zone at about MP 161.
West side progress: Bob Hopfield spent the day widening out from mile
post 155 to 156, then making a one lane cut from there to Porcupine creek at MP 156.5. Snow depth there is about 5-1/2 feet. Tuesday he will head East again.
The forecast for the next several days is for warmer weather which should
trigger more slides, but we can't open the highway until those chutes are empty in any case.
Week 5 Day 18-19
The warm weather continued to trigger natural avalanches and prompted a decision to help that process along with some helicopter avalanche control blasting set for mid-day Thursday. It doesn't gain any new ground, but it should mean it will be safe to drive under those empty avalanche chutes in another week or so.
East side progress: Don Becker said after Monday's avalanche, it was no surprise they got more. By Wednesday afternoon, slides had come down from 4 Cutthroat Ridge chutes - CR6, 7, 8, 11 and Liberty Bell #3. While most of the crew was involved in cleaning those up, a little more progress was reported with a single cut to Bridge Creek. Scott Reagles drove the D6 over to help Bob Hopfield on the west side as the snow he was into was too deep for his snow blower without some bulldozer "trimming". Wednesday also marked the return of the second Kodiak (from Stevens Pass) for its first full day of service, courtesy of a new starter.
West side progress: Gary Claybo reports that on Tuesday Bob Hopfield made it to mile post 156.9. Snow depth at current 6’2”. Wednesday began with widening out from mile post 156, east. By the end of Wednesday, he had cleared both lanes to mile post 157 where the snow depth is 7 feet. It is getting deep fast and is slow-going as we must feed the blower with the dozer.
Week 5 Day 20
55 degrees and sunny. Avalanche control utilizing a helicopter brought snow down from 10 chutes, and the crew is working Friday.
They were hoping more snow would come down, but the warmth hasn't penetrated very deeply into the highest elevation chutes so while snow slid from all 5 Liberty Bell Mountain chutes - they're not empty. Explosive charges dropped in the Cutthroat zone brought down snow from CR 4,6,7,8 and 11.
Clean up requires avalanche crew spotters and they're going to be out of the area for part of next week, so the decision was made to work tomorrow. If you had planned a Friday bike ride - please postpone it until Saturday (and check NWAC for the potential avalanche danger!)
Westside progress is to MP 157, Eastside to MP 161.
Week 6 Day 22
THE GATES WILL OPEN AT NOON ON THURSDAY! This (Monday) morning the Eastside crew found there had been no significant snow slides over the weekend. By Friday afternoon they had cleaned up 10 slides triggered by Thursday's helicopter avalanche control work. Cool temperatures kept the chutes that still have snow in them, stable. The forecast is for more of the same with gradual warming. That suggests those chutes will remain stable as they enter their spring "melt".
Even if precipitation and temperature combine to create an avalanche hazard in the days ahead, we'll close for the time it takes to do control work, clean up what comes down, and then reopen.
There's still 3-1/2 miles of snow separating the east and west crews today, but they're confident the highway will be ready for traffic on Thursday.
Week 6 Day 25 May 8 Noon
The gates swung open at noon, a week earlier than predicted and in time to accommodate Winthrop's 49'er Days visitors.
Read the news release