Tuesday, February 24, 2009

North Cascade Highway

AAI just received the following email from the Washington State Department of Transportation:

The preliminary best guess is that we'll be able to start reopening the North Cascades Highway the last week in March or the first week in April.

Our Avalanche Control and Maintenance technicians traveled from the east closure point at Early Winters, west of Mazama 20 miles to Rainy Pass on snowmobiles and a snow cat this morning, assessing the conditions. They encountered overcast skies, 27 degree temperatures and no new snow. Only 4/100ths of an inch of precipitation was recorded in the last 24 hours, and most of that was rain. We expect to be able to free up the personnel and equipment we need for the reopening from Stevens Pass and some of our other facilities by late March or early April, depending on weather, equipment and manpower.

They found only moderate snow depths this year. For example the snow at Washington summit is only 5-1/2 feet deep when it's usually 7 to 9 feet deep. At the same time they found more slides and they’re a different consistency - they look like lava. The slides at Liberty Bell Mtn., just east of Washington Pass are an example: The highway passes under them, and loops back to the east around Spiral Gulch.

The snow is 40-feet deep and 1200-feet wide below LB 2 and 3, but it came down with such force that the same slide covered the highway on the opposite side of the gulch with snow that’s 25-feet deep and 1200 feet wide. Further east in the avalanche chutes in the Cutthroat Ridge zone,some slides were as much as 20 feet deep and 12 to 1500 feet wide. Another anomaly for this season is a 40-foot deep slide near Bridge Creek, between Rainy and Washington Passes. The avalanche crew had never seen a slide there before.

The highway was closed for the season on December 11th. Last spring, the highway reopened on May 1st. Visit the WSDOT FlickR photo page to view pictures from the assessment:


For more information, visit the North Cascades Highway web page:


The official news release with the official scheduled dates and some of the photos should be approved and posted sometime tomorrow. Lets hope that the lava-look avalanches are only a crust and won't take any longer to cut through than normal - a nice, uneventful 4 week clearing effort would be nice - we've had enough "disasters" this winter...!

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