Crews tackle massive snowdrifts near Mt. Rainier

Chinook Pass could reopen next week

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Crews continue to blast and plow their way through the snow-covered Cascade slopes to reopen State Route 410 over Chinook Pass next Thursday, in time for the first weekend of summer travel.

At 10 a.m. June 23, 2011, WSDOT maintenance crews will reopen the east side gate to Chinook Pass at Morse Creek, five miles east of the summit. At the same time, west side crews will reopen the gate at the SR 123 junction, about four miles west of the summit.

“This is one of the toughest clearing efforts I can recall,” said John Stimberis, avalanche forecast and control specialist for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). The snow in late April was 25 to 30 feet deep in some of the avalanche chutes, which is the deepest snowpack for this time of year since 1999.”

While June 23 is not the latest reopening date, it is among the top five; July 12, 1974, was the latest. Crews hope to reopen Chinook Pass by Memorial Day weekend every year, but more than 700 inches of snow and extreme avalanche danger slowed the effort this year. Flooding due to heavy rains in the lowlands of SR 410 (Rock Creek) also took crews away from the reopening effort. Nearby Cayuse Pass, (elev. 4,675 ft.) on State Route 123, reopened May 26.

Chinook Pass has been closed since Nov. 16, 2010. WSDOT typically closes Chinook Pass for the winter in late November due to heavy snowfall, high avalanche risk and hazardous driving conditions. A five-mile stretch just east of the summit is runs along the steep slope of an avalanche area, which makes it too dangerous to keep open during the snowy winter months. Although it may be sunny in the lower elevations, be prepared for winter conditions over Chinook Pass and watch out for rocks on the highway.

Chinook Pass, one of the state’s highest mountain passes at 5,430 feet, serves as a scenic byway, as an entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, and as an access point to mountain cabins, seasonal campgrounds and hiking trails like the Pacific Crest Trail. Commercial vehicles are prohibited at all times.