Chinook Pass Opening 2011

Summer. . . a time for shorts, tank tops, swim suits, and…  ski boots??  For our avalanche technicians and maintenance crews, essential gear includes  mountaineering skis, avalanche rescue gear, and down parkas regardless of the June date.  Crews have been hard at work clearing Chinook Pass of its record snowfall since early April. 

But if they have been working since April, why is the pass still closed? 

To begin with, snow has continued to fall on the pass, even into June, keeping SR 410 at the summit  buried under 20 feet of snow. This new snow, combined with the warm summer temperatures that we all enjoy, made for some very unstable slopes.  Both natural and controlled avalanches have left up to 20 feet of snow and debris on the roadway, and if the temperatures stay warm, more avalanches are likely.

Our crews were busy for two weeks in May responding to emergency flooding damage around the Yakima Valley and had to be pulled off working on Chinook clearing.   They have since cleared to the summit from the east, while crews working out of Greenwater (20 minutes east of Enumclaw), are clearing from the west.  Equipment issues put crews behind schedule, but they are currently within two miles  of the summit from the west.  The two crews will continue until they meet, and then plow the full width of the roadway  and repair or replace damaged signs, before Chinook Pass can be re-opened for the season.

Most of the businesses along SR 410 rely heavily on visits from summer tourists.  We are very much aware of this, and are working diligently to open Chinook Pass by the end of June.

SR 410 is a scenic byway, considered one of the most beautiful in the United States.  Lake Tipsoo, near the summit, is one of the most often photographed landscapes in our state. Many great hiking trails and camping grounds are found along the route.  Highlights include traversing the Pacific Crest Trail, a four-mile loop around Naches Peak, a hike to Boulder Cave, camping near the Bumping Lake Recreation Area, and hiking on Skookum Flats Trail, to reach the 250-foot Skookum Falls.  SR 410 is also the eastern entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park, the nation’s fifth established national park.  As soon as we can safely re-open SR 410 over Chinook, travelers can once more enjoy the scenic drive and the great summer activities along the route.

Bring on the sun!