TWISP – The planned April 10 starting date for clearing State Route 20 over the North Cascades is nearly a month later than the typical mid-March date, but weather, snow slides, and many still-full avalanche chutes make it unsafe to begin the work any earlier.
Clearing the North Cascades Highway usually takes four to six weeks, but the estimate this year is that it could take up to eight weeks. The latest reopening ever for the North Cascades Highway was June 14, 1974. This year’s clearing work could extend into June as well. The high volume of snow through the 34 mile closed section is responsible for the estimate of up to eight-weeks to reopen the highway.
“An early opening is in time for the lowland fishing season opening, the third week in April. A typical opening is by the first weekend in May for Winthrop’s “49’er Days,” said Washington State Department of Transportation Twisp Maintenance Supervisor Don Becker. We’ve only been closed through Memorial Day once in 40 years, but it could happen this year.”
On a March 16 assessment trip, WSDOT avalanche and maintenance staff found snow 25 feet deep on the highway under four of the 11 Cutthroat Ridge avalanche chutes. Below Liberty Bell Mountain the three main chutes were still full of snow but had 35 to 45 foot accumulations on the highway below them.
Once the clearing begins, bicyclists and skiers are allowed beyond the closure gates Friday through Sunday, but not Monday through Thursday when WSDOT crews are working.
Follow the reopening progress:
Last year the clearing started on March 17 and the highway opened a month later on April 22. Avalanches closed the highway last November 21.