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North Cascades Highway 2018 Progress

The east and west crews met Monday of Wk 7 near Rainy Pass 
For more frequent updates follow:
The WSDOT Facebook page, Twitter and the 2018 Flickr reopening collection.

Work began from the west side March 26 and from the east side, April 9.

Week 7  May 7 to 11:  The North Cascades reopened Friday, May 11 at 10 a.m.

Week 6, April 30 to May 4

The clearing on the west side progressed almost to Porcupine Creek at milepost 156, about a mile and half short of Rainy Pass. Sunshine and warm temperatures compensated for the deepening snow. There’s still about 9 feet of snow on the road at the top of Rainy.

On the east side Monday, the crew encountered snow on the road under some chutes that hadn’t come in yet which was good news. By the end of the day they had cleared those slides and reached Washington Pass. By Thursday clearing and widening had progressed to Blue Lake, west of Washington Pass. 

the crew agreed to continue working Friday, taking advantage of cooperative weather and being out from under 2,000 foot avalanche chutes!

At the beginning of the week, the crews were 13 miles apart and by the end of Thursday that distance shrank to something closer to 6 or 7 miles.

As always, Please check the avalanche conditions

Week 5, April 23-26

Week 5 finally delivered the warm temperatures we needed to get those tall avalanche chutes to empty.  On the west side, Jim and his Kodiak have made it to milepost 154, the Swamp creek chain up area. Snow depth on centerline is 39 inches. 55 degrees and sunshine made the snow on roadway very soft and wet with no ice layer to speak of.

On the east side it measures about a quarter mile of progress, but that quarter mile was under Liberty Bell #1 & 2 where some of the drifts were 50 feet deep over the roadway.  The plan is to start on LB #3 Monday.  It had dumped 50 feet on the pavement when we did the assessment in March.  That was before the slides started coming down Wednesday.  Cutthroat #10, the west side of Spiral Gulch called "the annex" and 4 of the Liberty Bell chutes all let significant snow release naturally, forcing our crews to pull back about 1 p.m. 

The avalanche crew spent much of Thursday control blasting chutes to stabilize the pack so the crew can work on the roadway below.  With a 65 degree temperature when the avalanche spotters pulled the clearing crew off the mountain, it's most likely when they do return Monday, they'll be greeted with a mess - the opportunity to clear pavement that they cleared once already over the past three weeks.

While messy, it's good news in that it means the chutes will be empty and unless they're stable, we couldn't open the highway even if the roadway was clear.

Week 4, April 16-19

Bob Hopfield reports a 4 mile gain for week 4 "At the end of day on Thursday, Jim and his Kodiak blower made it to milepost 152 (about a mile shy of Swamp Creek). Snow depth there is 42 inches on the centerline. Temps this week were in the upper 30’s low 40’s. Not much in the way of downed trees, or other issues, but we did find a minor washout that needed repair just east of Granite Creek caused by a plugged culvert pipe.

On the east side, the parade of caterpillars, snow cats, snow blowers, graders and loaders continued. The pavement is visible to milepost 163, a gain of 4 miles to the first of the Liberty Bell chutes. The week began near the end of the Cutthroat Ridge avalanche zone with 34 degree temps, it was snowing with 7 feet on the centerline. Lloyds Logging's rented D-8 was Mark Bokken's this week. The County’s rented D-5 was Duane Wolley's, the giant loader was Bill Hoffman's, the grader was Jim Melton's and Jason Newman and Tyler Miller were assigned to the Kodiak snow blowers. (The avalanche crew handles their snow cat with a blade to knock down high spots for the blowers and their snowmobiles to monitor slope stability above the road.)

The avalanche crew tried some control blasting but the new snow and cold temperatures in the chutes yielded little. Mike Stanford says they are 40% done with LB1. They only cut one lane up to there, leaving one lane with snow on it in case they need to walk a caterpillar back down to Cutthroad Ridge to clear new debris if those chutes start spilling.

In Mike's words, "The good news is, they are almost to the summit" and "The bad news is, they are almost to the summit".
"There's real concern with so much snow still up high and we are seeing big releases with this kind of snowpack all the way from Chinook to Alpental to Stevens".

Don Becker said “We need warm temperatures to move the snow out of those chutes.”

The forecast is for about 3” of new snow tonight to tomorrow morning, then freezing temps until Monday when the forecast calls for dry and some warming through Wednesday.

Please check the avalanche conditions before you head up there this weekend.

Week 3, April 11-12

It's been a rainy and snowy three weeks since the crew on the west side started clearing from the Diablo gate - The roadway is cleared, the jersey barriers removed, the ditches are groomed all the way to Granite Creek - that's 14 miles. On Monday the blower heads east into the 4' of snow on the pavement bound for Rainy Pass about 9 miles and another thousand feet of elevation ahead.

Snow and rain were companions for the eastside crew that started work Monday from Silver Star gate but the 40 degree temperature and no wind made it all bearable. Initial going was slow as some of the equipment didn't like the 3 to 4" ice floor under the 3' of snow at the gate, but by Tuesday Duane on the D-5 (rental) caterpillar, Jay on the grader and Jason and Tyler on the Kodiak snow blowers won that battle and by Wednesday had cleared 4 miles past Lone Fir campground to Cutthroat Ridge avalanche chute #1. By Thursday, churning through 5+ feet of snow, they had cleared another mile to CR#7. That included cutting through the slide and debris that came down over the weekend from CR#4.

On Monday, the second rental caterpillar joins the parade - Lloyd Logging's huge D-8. It will work ahead of the rest of the crew to start cutting down the 50' pile of snow over the road at Liberty Bell Mountain.

Good progress, but the downside is that not many of the 30+ avalanche chutes have let go of their snow and the forecast calls for another week of mixed rain and snow and there's some freezes in the mix which might delay the natural slides we're hoping for. As usual - we're at the mercy of the weather.

If you're heading up past the gates this weekend - please check the avalanche conditions first.

Week 2-1/2, April 2-11

This past Monday, April 9, crews started clearing SR 20 North Cascades Highway from the Silver Star winter closure gate at milepost 171. So far this week they’ve made it four miles to CR1 which is the first avalanche chute on Cutthroat Ridge. The first mile was a challenge above the gate - only 3" of snow, but it was sitting on 3-4" of ice. Once that was broken up, the next few miles past Lone Fir Campground to Cutthroat Ridge was smooth sailing through soft snow for two giant Kodiak snow blowers. That's great news for everyone excited to cycle this stretch!

Back on Monday, March 19 a crew started work from the west gate at milepost 134 and have already cleared from Whatcom into Skagit County, to milepost 148. This week they’re working to widen to the shoulders and clean out mud, rock and debris that accumulated in the drainage ditches over the winter.

Snow is still in the forecast, so check for avalanche conditions before you go as you are welcome to use the area beyond the gates Friday, Saturday or Sunday, but remains closed Monday through Thursday when it becomes a work zone.

Week 1, March 26-29

The West side crew made it to the Crater peak pullout at milepost 146.7 by the end of the day Thursday. That cleared 12 miles of pavement for recreationists looking to bicycle beyond the Diablo Gate while the work zone is open to the public Friday through Sunday. Snow depth is 26 inches on the pavement at Crater Peak pullout. Conditions at the time of the most recent photos posted on Flickr were cloudy,calm and around 39 degrees. Art Torheim was in the snow blower Thursday working east from county line creek, widening the cleared roadway to the shoulders. Tree and rock debris that came down over night at East Creek Trail at milepost 145 greeted the crew to start the day (not unexpected as warmer temperatures and rain loosen soil).

On the east side, snowmobilers, cross country skiers and snowshoers showed up to enjoy new snow. Last weekend saw 11 new inches fall, followed by new snow every day this week. That snow can trigger avalanches as warmer temperatures usually produce wet, heavy snow which can work in favor toward starting the clearing on the 9th.

On site assessment was completed on March 19th:

"On Monday morning the North Central Region Avalanche Crew and Area 3 Twisp Maintenance Management assessed the condition of the road and the avalanche potential from Silver Star gate to Rainy Pass. Depth measurements were taken, snow caves were dug to evaluate the stability of the layers of snow in the chutes, temperatures taken and a great deal of observation. The actual starting date target is the result of the assessment coupled with forecasts for the days and weeks ahead, equipment and staff availability and contractors.

Last year the clearing work started April 10th and the reopening wasn't until May 16th , one of the latest in 46 years. Most years the clearing starts before the end of March and the opening comes in 4 to 6 weeks by late April or early May.

The assessment revealed there's less snow on the road than last year, but more still in the avalanche chutes.

Weather and temperatures will determine when the snow still in the avalanche chutes comes down, but the assessment also revealed a potentially hazardous weak layer in the snow higher up in the chutes.

Once the clearing work begins, the highway is closed to recreationists from gate to gate Monday through Thursday. Friday, Saturday and Sunday you can snowshoe, ski, snowmobile and even bicycle beyond the gates. We do ask that you report any vandalism you see when you get back in cell signal range."