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North Cascades - 2016 Spring Opening

Reopened April 22weekly progress map

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Work began from the west side on Thursday, March 17 and from the east side on Monday, March 21.

Week 1 –March 25, 2016

The first week of clearing on the west side cleared the first 11 miles above the Diablo Gate to about milepost 145 (County Line Creek). The deepest snow was only 2 feet.
Weather alternated from sunny to overcast, but not much snowfall despite forecasts predicting more (for both sides of the passes). Highlights included finding and clearing a mudslide about four miles above the gate at milepost 138 and the crew’s lunchtime  once again attracts hungry ravens! (check the flickR pictures).
On the east side the plan for the week was to clear the 7 miles from the Early Winters information center (milepost 178) to the winter closure gate at Silver Star Creek (milepost 171).
Despite finding snow 2 feet deep at the barricade, a substantial layer of ice on the pavement and an equipment failure on the first day – by Thursday the highway was cleared to Silver Star but parking is a challenge as it’s barely a turnaround right now. Snow up to the gate is also 3-1/2 to 4 feet deep.

Week one ended with 18 miles down and 26 to go.

Week 2 -April 1, 2016

Week two ended on the east side at MP 166. Almost the entire 12 avalanche chutes on Cutthroat Ridge are between MP 167 and 166. As the day warmed on Thursday, snow started sliding. When Liberty Bell's LB1 came in and CR6 where the crews were working got unstable, the avalanche team pulled out the crew about 1 o'clock.

The west side crew added three miles to their clearing progress because the lion's share of the week was spent clearing catchment basins and shoulder ditches of the rocks that had come down hillsides all winter. The road is clear from fog line to fog line to a little past MP 148, 14 miles above Diablo Gate.

Eastside crews were dealing with compacted snow at least 5 feet deep all week.
On Tuesday one of the Kodiak’s suffered a major breakdown. It took until Friday to get a Kodiak from Stevens Pass to the Wenatchee shop for service and prep and then transport it up to the North Cascades and retrieve the broken one.

However, help from Eastern Region's Colville crew who manage Sherman Pass made up for the loss with their own loader mounted snow blower. They had arrived Monday to spend the week training new techs and some practice. Our avalanche crew put on an avalanche safety training class to begin their training and then the crews paired up and started clearing. They stayed all week.

The week ended with clearing to MP148 on the westside and to MP166 on the east - 20 mi. total.

Week 3 -April 8, 2016

Progress on the East side moved the needle to the beginning of Spire Gulch at milepost 164. Much of the week was spent re-clearing snow on the road from the dozen avalanche chutes on Cutthroat Ridge. Last weekend’s warm weather brought down 18 snow slides between Cutthroat Creek and Washington Pass. A lot of prep work was accomplished for what’s ahead as the two big caterpillars went to work on the Liberty Bell Mountain chutes where some of the snow over the road is 40 feet deep.

The Westside crew continued clearing the winter’s accumulation of rocks and debris from catch basins and ditches and other work to get the first 14 miles to milepost 148 ready for traffic. That allowed the warm weather to cause the avalanche chutes from there to Washington Pass to empty themselves and also to continue reducing the depth of all the snow on the pavement. (It melted down about 2 inches a day, this week.)

Week 4 -April 15, 2016

The week began on the East side with more clean up from slides that came in due to the weekend's warm weather. Progress advanced through LB1 (Monday), LB 2 then LB 3 by Wednesday and it was on to Washington Pass. By Thursday evening, despite cold and 5 inches of new snow, the highway to the pass was clear fog line to fog line and a two snow blower box cut another mile and a half west to Whistler (MP 161).
With Liberty Bell cleared, the D-6 and D-8 went home which required plowing the new snow to get the low boy trailers in to get the caterpillars.

On the West side, the crew began re-setting concrete barrier in three places under Ruby Mtn. Those are removed every winter due to the avalanches at those locations. Attention then turned to blowing snow. Wednesday ended with the highway cleared fog stripe to fog stripe to MP 151 and a single cut to Swamp Creek at MP 153. By the end of the day Thursday, despite the cold and 2 inches of new, heavy, wet snow, the highway is clear past Swamp Creek to (MP 154).
Expect the two crews to meet sometime next week as they're about 7 miles apart, but remember, it takes a lot more work after that happens before the highway is "vehicle ready".

Week 5 - Update - Wednesday

As of Tuesday evening the west and eastside crews were only 2 miles apart and expect to meet Wednesday.  Due to the minimal damage to guardrail, signs, barrier and pavement over the winter, a reopening date and time has been set for This Friday, April 22, at 11 a.m.
Crews are pleased the highway will not only be open for Winthrop's 49'er Days, the first week in May, but for this Saturday's opening weekend of fishing season.

Week 5 - Friday

The gates on the east and west of the North Cascades Highway swung open at 11 a.m. this morning. Tootsie Clark was on the west side passing out cinnamon rolls and coffee.

The crews were happy it's open for tomorrow's lowland fishing season opener.

The reopening ended up taking five weeks; one short of the predictions when the clearing started back on St. Patrick's Day.
When work began this last Monday morning, the crews were seven miles apart. Clearing and avalanche control (aided by warm temperatures) allowed them to meet a little east of Rainy Pass in 6 and a half feet deep snow by midday on Wednesday.

It only took a day and a half instead of a week to get the road "vehicle ready" due to the small amount of damage that needed to be repaired.

It can still feel like winter a mile high in the mountains, but at the same time, the colder temperatures and storms forecast for the next few days also stabilizes the snowpack after a week of warm temperatures and a lot of melting. 

Until next year!