North Cascades snow clearing described

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eat, sleep, ride, repeat
May 5, 2010
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The Great Pacific Northwet
This is a great description of all that goes in to clearing SR 20 written by the communications manager, Lauren Loebsack.
Opening day is at least a couple weeks or more. I look forward to seeing some of you for the opening day tradition of being the first to cross east to Winthrop for lunch.

Hello fellow North Cascades enthusiasts,

My first trip into the field as a newly hired communications manager was on April 4, 2019. I drove past Twisp to the Early Winters gate and was escorted behind the closure points on SR 20 North Cascades Highway, to see the spring clearing firsthand. This last Wednesday, April 12, I was able to finally revisit. Each visit, both in 2019 and most recently, offered amazing vistas and real insight into the talent and commitment required to clear the pass each spring. It's something many of you have asked to learn more about.

This effort requires both proper equipment and skilled operation. Proper planning is essential. Work zone safety extends to every aspect of the job, and working to clear avalanche paths requires additional safety precautions, like the use of avalanche beacons by everyone who works behind the closure points.

The report is that the crew is currently fully equipped, with two blowers, a sno cat, a grader, an excavator, and a loader and now a D-8 Caterpillar making a full court press on the avalanche paths east of Washington Pass summit.

The pace is steady and methodical. Forecasts and conditions are reviewed. With snow still in the avalanche loading zones, snow conditions are checked in person by the avalanche control team, who also take shifts monitoring the hillside above the crews, watching for any snow slides. While it’s a rare occurrence, that continued risk is why we also advise those recreating behind the closure points to be prepared and check in with the Northwest Avalanche Center for current conditions.

The sno cat and excavator are used to knock down and break up the snowpack on the road ahead of the blowers. The excavator also clears rock and woody debris that is often lurking in the snow piles, having been dragged down with the snow slides over the winter. This debris can damage the blower.

The blower box measures 6 ft. by 10 ft. and can clear about a lane at a time, not counting shoulders and pull outs. Otherwise, handling the blower requires close, persistent concentration. It’s slow moving and requires meticulous attention when adjusting direction. The steering wheel moves the front tires and a joystick makes adjustments to the rear tires. Clearing a path only as wide as the blower box means there’s little room to turn the tires before they hit the side of the snowpack. Changing course and turning around takes planning and patience.

The D-8 arrives when the crew reaches the avalanche paths, and like the sno cat, is used to knock down snow piles. Bigger and burlier than the sno cat, the D-8 is also used to clear large catchment troughs in the avalanche paths adjacent to the road. As snow continues to drop from the loading zones, it will slide into the troughs instead of over the roadway.

It really is an incredible operation to observe. It takes a lot of skill and a lot of grit. Be sure to check out the close up pics and video of the equipment and crew that have been added to this year’s Flickr album.

On the eastside, the crew has reached the Liberty Bell pathways just past Spire Gulch between milepost 163-164. There are still a few weeks of clearing and then whatever road repairs are necessary before the North Cascades Highway is open. There is also some spring snow in the forecast. As always, we will also post updates on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Take care and safe travels-
Lauren Loebsack, Communications 509-860-0000 (mobile)
North Central Region-Wenatchee

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Good read Gordon, not sure what year was my first year to do the loop. But I do remember it was 73 or 74 and I was driving a 68 F250 Camper Special with a 10' camper on it. My best friend and his gale and my first wife and I, the F250 was set up with big rims and heavy duty 10 ply's. I still smile remembering how pissed the girls were as they were riding in the back. Vern and I were having a good time doing the stupid things we use to do driving along and the girls were getting tossed around a bit (maybe a lot)! Vern and I were whishing that we had or 650 Triumphs and I was probably pushing a bit
Once in a while someone asks me how I'm doing and I think to myself "Better than I deserve" as I'm still here! <><.
I've been following Lauren's posts also, Gordon. Thanks for the post! I am hoping to put in a couple days with my son in Bothell and come back over SR 20 for the opener. He just bought a new Wing and I still have my '07 FJR. Maybe see y'all up there for the opener!
Here's the 4-28 update. Mother's day!?!?

FYI, A couple of riding buddies and I are trucking our bikes to Northern Cali May 19th, riding through the 28th. We couldn't make the Cali gathering in June so we decided to do it earlier. We will cover most of the same ground and go south a bit more. The opening of the N Cascades hwy will be a good shake down ride for us prior to leaving. Sorry we will miss y'all there in June.
If you need any routes scouted ahead of time let us know.

Hello fellow North Cascades enthusiasts,

It was just a month ago that the SR 20 eastside crew began the 2023 spring clearing from Early Winters campground. Yesterday, the crew finished the work week at Swamp Creek near milepost 154. From the west side the road remains cleared to milepost 148. The closure points remain at milepost 134 on the west side and milepost 178 on the east side.

When will North Cascades Highway open?
There’s about six miles of roadway yet to clear. There’s also plenty of snow still in the loading zones of the avalanche paths and a round of avalanche control is scheduled for next week. Warm weather is melting the snow and helping the cause, but it also creates high avalanche danger conditions that limit the time crews can work in certain areas. It’s tough to say when exactly the road will be open. There are always some finishing touches to the reopening work that may or may not go smoothly, so pinning the exact date down is a tricky call. If weather and equipment cooperate, the North Cross will be open by Mother’s Day.

When can I bike?
Many follow the North Cascades news, waiting for these spring weekends to bike behind the closure points and it is possible this is one of the last weekends the road will be closed, so this might be the last chance to do so. It's important to mention that even though spring avalanche forecasts have wrapped up, on Wednesday the Northwest Avalanche Center issued a special avalanche bulletin for the Washington Cascades. If you do plan to recreate behind the closure points, you should be prepared and remember that there is limited cell service in the mountain passes- and have fun!

When an opening date is confirmed, I’ll be sure to update you all. You can also look for updates on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and I will keep sharing pictures on Flickr as they come in from the crews.

Take care and safe travels-
Lauren Loebsack, Communications 509-860-0000 (mobile)
North Central Region-Wenatchee

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I've been following Lauren's posts also, Gordon. Thanks for the post! I am hoping to put in a couple days with my son in Bothell and come back over SR 20 for the opener. He just bought a new Wing and I still have my '07 FJR. Maybe see y'all up there for the opener!
That would be great. We haven't seen each other in forever. I did my first opening day ride with you and Tom Edison. What year do you think that was?
Tootsie passed a few years back but her Daughter and kin still put out a spread for everyone.
From Chelan area. Great detailed update. Love riding the NC. Beautiful country and great motorcycle roads. Thanks again.