Wednesday, May 5, 2010

North Cascades Highway Reopened

The American Alpine Institute received the following email from the Washington Department of Transportation this morning:

Good news! The North Cascades Highway reopens at 3 p.m. A combination of fortuitous circumstances made it possible. (I could just as easily be writing that it was going to stay closed for a couple more days.) The snow that came in over the past two nights (and days) was heavier on the west side than on the east, and heavier above 6,000 feet. That meant that the Cutthroat Ridge avalanche zone (that can't be controlled with the howitzer from the highway) only got a couple inches of snow and the chutes remained stable. Liberty Bell got snow at the tops of the chutes. That's what caused the slides Monday morning. Since then, Washington Pass only got about a couple inches, further west, Swamp Creek got 6 inches, further west=more snow. However, the avalanche zones that dump on the highway are the ones to the east (that fortuitous combination...)

The net-net was the crews were able to plow everything off between the two gates by about noon and the avalanche crew started shooting, bringing down snow across both lanes from LB#3, one lane from LB#2 and some slough and broken trees from LB#1. They expect to have that cleared by 3 p.m. so the gates can open.

If you've got to go - expect yucky - uh, less than optimimum- driving conditions. It's been snowing off and on all day. It's overcast and there are big ugly black clouds moving in, which fits with the forecast for some more snow until this evening when it's going to freeze. You might want to reschedule your hike until the weekend...

By the way, the west side crew that was scaling loose rock from the slope between Marblemount and Newhalem was successful in bringing it down - actually more successful than they expected so instead of unrestricted traffic - they got one lane open and are continuing to load and truck away what's still on the other lane and the shoulder - but you can get through with the assistance of the flaggers until they're done.

One of our NCH e-mail recipients, Andy King, was up on SR 20 about an hour before Monday morning's Liberty Bell #3 slide closed the highway, so when he got back to his computer, he sent me some pictures that are now posted on our flickr site:

NEW GATES! - I'll have more details for you, but to put everyone on the same page (We recently talked at a Winthrop Town Council Meeting about it) - WSDOT is going to install a couple more closure gates further up the passes on either side of the area where we've had summer/fall rock/mudslides. That way, when that happens and the road is closed, most of the recreation accesses (trailheads, etc.) will still be open to you. Since there's really no budget for this, (It all came about because Winthrop's Mayor Acheson suggested it to our traffic engineer) our region bridge crew will fabricate the gates as times allows, and it looks like they'll be able to install them around the first of September.

Happy May!

Jeff Adamson (509) 667-2815

PS: For those of you who asked - NO Tootsie is not going to be at the gate with more free cinnamon rolls - you'll have to stop at her restaurant and BUY one!

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