Crews have started road work from east, west sides
While the rest of us are watching the snowbanks recede and thinking about spring cleaning, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has embarked on what it is calling spring clearing — of the North Cascades Scenic Highway.
WSDOT said it would begin the annual task of clearing snow off the popular highway on Monday (March 27), as motorists start anticipating when the highway might open for traffic.
WSDOT is always conservative with its estimates of when the highway might be ready for vehicles, but it typically takes several weeks to not only clear the road but also make necessary repairs and ensure that the avalanche chutes at Washington Pass are safe.
The highway was closed to traffic for the season on Nov. 8, 2022, between milepost 134 and 178 (Ross Dam Trailhead to Early Winters gate). In 2022, highway clearing began March 28 and the road opened on May 10.
In a press release, WSDOT crews would begin at Early Winters (milepost 178) and head west through 30-plus miles of road “crossed by dozens of avalanche pathways.”
“A west side crew has already been hard at work, clearing and cleaning up from the west side closure point at Ross Dam trailhead (milepost 134),” WSDOT said.
When the WSDOT evaluation team met on site March 1 to assess reopening, WSDOT said, there was 100 inches of snow at the summit of Washington Pass. By last week that level had dropped to 82 inches. “With a good portion of the route facing south and southeast, crews expect Mother Nature to help the clearing effort with continued melt-off in the several weeks that it will take to reach the summit of Washington Pass,” WSDOT said.
The clearing crews will be working Monday through Thursday, and WSDOT asks that recreationists wait until the weekend to use the highway. If you do plan to head into back country, check on avalanche conditions with the Northwest Avalanche Center, WSDOT advised.
WSDOT also urged people with snowmobiles parked behind the berm at Early Winters to move them so they don’t impede the highway clearing crews.
According to WSDOT, the earliest opening date was March 10 in 2005; the latest was June 14 in 1974. The pass did not close during the 1976-77 winter.
Most U.S. Forest Service and National Parks Service facilities will likely remain closed while the highway clearing get underway.