One Drift at a Time

By Beacon Staff

SIYEH BEND – While much of western Montana has been enjoying warm, spring-like weather, the lower reaches of Logan Pass, in the heart of Glacier National Park, is still within winter’s icy grip. Because of deep snow and unpredictable weather, clearing the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road is all the more challenging for the handful of hardy souls tasked with the job.

Currently, two crews are working their way toward Logan Pass, one from the west and another from the east. On Thursday the west side crews were just past Big Bend, about 2.5 miles below the pass. On the east side, crews were working in the Siyeh Bend area, the site of one of the largest avalanche chutes on the entire road. Currently the road is open to the public as far as Avalanche Creek on the west side and Rising Sun on the east. The earliest the entire road could be open is June 15, mostly due to construction, which is part of a multi-year rehabilitation of the highway. However, officials were leery to give a firm date of when the road could open.

“They’re not plowing just another road, they’re plowing the Going-to-the-Sun Road,” park spokesperson Denise Germann said.

Slicing 52 miles through the core of Glacier, the Going-to-the-Sun Road reaches an elevation of 6,646 feet at Logan Pass. Constructed in 1932, the road is choked with ice and snow during the winter, and then every spring man and machine attack the mountain. Road supervisor Stan Stahr first joined the crew in 1993 and has held almost every job imaginable in the road department. “I’ve done about everything there is to do, all the fun stuff and all the un-fun stuff,” he said, referring to the office work he does now.

Stahr still gets out on to the road as much as he can to measure the plow’s progress, which is what he was doing Thursday at Siyeh Bend, about five miles east of Logan. At the bend, Stahr said the snow was as deep as 35 feet when they first began last week. With bulldozers, crews slowly moved the drift before a rotary plow came through and finished the job. How much of the road can be cleared and how fast depends entirely on how much snow there is on the ground and how much more falls. Stahr said even if it’s spring-like in the valley a big storm could easily derail plowing efforts.

“If we get a quarter a mile a day done then we’re doing pretty good,” he said.

Deputy superintendent Kym Hall has been with the park service for 25 years, but only arrived in Glacier last summer. Thursday was her first chance to witness the work it takes to clear the road. Needless to say, she was impressed.

“Until you lay your eyes on (this operation) you really can’t see how deep the snow is and how treacherous it is,” Hall said. “It takes a lot to get this road open.”

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.