Plow crews on Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road are slowly clawing their way to Logan Pass in their annual effort to open Northwest Montana’s most notable summer attraction. As of May 5, the west side plow crew had advanced to Russ’ Slide, just past The Loop, about six miles short of Logan Pass. Meanwhile, on the east side, plow crews were wrapping up their work in the Two Medicine Valley and expected to start plowing the Sun Road east from St. Mary this week.
Park spokesperson Denise Germann said while snow depths have been below the record setting amounts in 2011, plow crews are contending with another danger: avalanches. There are more than 70 avalanche chutes along the Sun Road.
“They’re seeing a lot of snow and a lot of slides this year,” Germann said. “But we’ve seen a lot of avalanche activity all across western Montana this year.”
BNSF Railway’s main line was closed twice in early March because of massive slides near Essex. The National Park Service later issued the railroad a rare avalanche mitigation permit to use a “daisy bell” suspended from a helicopter. The “daisy bell” is a hydrogen combustion cylinder that fires pressure waves at the snowpack to trigger slides.
Germann said in some instances plow crews have had to deal with avalanches or small slides coming down on the road after they have plowed it. On a few occasions they have actually had to plow their way home at the end of the day. Germann said that safety is always the most important part of clearing the road and that an avalanche expert is on hand working with the plow crew.
Currently, the Sun Road is open to vehicle traffic to the Lake McDonald Lodge. From there, hikers and bikers can access another 10 miles of road, depending on where the plow crews are working. On weekends there are no restrictions for hikers and bikers. Plow crews are currently working 10-hour shifts Tuesday through Friday. There is currently no vehicle or hiker and biker access on the east side.
Germann encouraged visitors to check out the park before the Sun Road is completely open, but urged people to be prepared.
“The weather can change so much from the valley to the park, so folks need to be prepared and dress in layers,” she said. “Safety is always a concern for us for both our employees and the public.”
Officials say the earliest the entire route will be open is June 20, but the west side of the road could open earlier, depending on the weather. Elsewhere in the park, the Camas, Many Glacier and Two Medicine roads are all open. The Inside North Fork, Chief Mountain and Cut Bank roads are currently closed.
For the latest on plowing inside Glacier National Park, visit www.nps.gov/glac.