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 to those in line for the 43rd spring reopening in a row (that's all of them!)
The crews were happy to have made it happen in time for tomorrow's lowland fishing season opener. Not only is that good for Methow Valley businesses, but some of them are looking forward to sitting in a boat instead of a snow blower on Saturday.
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. The only casualty was the avalanche crew's snow cat, but its assistance was only missed for the last couple miles.
Usually, it takes a week after they meet to widen, cut the safety pull outs, fix pavement damage, replace signs and guardrail and concrete barricade damaged by the winter slides. This year, the snow was deep and the chutes were full when the clearing began, but what came down was mostly snow, with little rock and debris. It only took a day and a half instead of a week to get the road "vehicle ready".
This morning's sweep checked for any slides and provided the opportunity to spread some sand or salt on any icy spots before the 11 a.m. target. All went well and the gates opened on time.
Lots of bicyclists showed up early to have the road to themselves (with the exception of our sweeper trucks) before the 11 a.m. opening for licensed motor vehicles. It was chilly and a little wet and the forecast for later today and tonight is some more thunderstorms.
It can still feel like winter a mile high in the mountains, but at the same time, the colder temperatures also stabilize the snowpack after a week of warm temperatures and a lot of melting.