North Cascades Highway opened Friday morning after days of crews triggering avalanches to help clear some snow chutes along the way.
Washington State Department of Transportation maintenance crews and avalanche technicians finished the clearing process this week by triggering avalanches to bring down lingering snow in chutes above the road, repairing and replacing guardrail removed, pavement repair and clearing ditch debris giving somewhere for the water from melting snow to go.
The clearing process started on March 26 and took seven weeks. Crews even worked an extra day last week to open in time for Winthrop’s ‘49er Days.
While crews have cleared snow from the highway, signs of winter remain along the road – more than 10 feet in areas. Most parking lots and trailheads are National Park not areas WSDOT clears so those planning hiking, camping or snow activity outings should prepare for limited parking until snow melts and do not stop or park in the travel lanes.
Crews removed snow from avalanche chutes this week but people driving and cycling should obey highway signs and avoid stopping below these snow slide areas, such as under Liberty Bell Mountain, east of Washington Pass. There are limited facilities between Diablo and Mazama so travelers should have a stocked emergency kit along for the trip.
The North Cascades Highway officially opened in September 1972. The 37-mile route through the Cascade Range travels through Whatcom, Skagit, Chelan and Okanogan counties connecting communities in western Washington’s Skagit River Valley with the Methow Valley in eastern Washington.
WSDOT crews will keep the North Cascades Highway open as long as it is safe to do so. The gates will close at mileposts 134 and 171 when snow starts filling up avalanche chutes, making it unsafe for travelers and crews to be on the road. That usually happens around Thanksgiving.