A plow works to clear avalanche debris from Going-to-the-Sun Road near Triple Arches. Courtesy NPS
Glacier Park

Plows Reach Oberlin Bend in Glacier National Park

Hiker and biker access on the Going-to-the-Sun Road opens to Big Bend for the first time this season; crews to begin plowing Big Drift Monday

By Tristan Scott

After clearing five avalanche slides that last weekend buried the upper reaches of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, snowplow crews in Glacier National Park have reached Oberlin Bend, punching through the Rim Rock section about two miles below Logan Pass, where snow depths are 25 feet.

Due to an unseasonably cold and wet spring, plow crews working to clear the iconic alpine byway are a full month behind where they were at this same time last year, their progress slowed by heavy lingering snowpack, new snow accumulations and frequent avalanches and rock slides. Efforts to clear the Rim Rock section were especially slow going due to rock slides that occurred there last fall.

On Monday, June 27, west-side plow crew expect to begin work on the Big Drift, a colossal snowbank just east of Logan Pass that often towers 80 feet above the roadbed, and which constitutes the last major obstacle in the quest to clear the road for summer visitors. The crews will then begin guardrail installation along the precipitous alpine byway and continue with rock cleanup.

Last year, west-side plow crews reached Logan Pass on May 24 and had already started working to clear the Big Drift.

The avalanches that buried portions of the Sun Road last weekend started at the chute above Triple Arches and ran across the upper slopes.

Plow crews working from the east side have cleared up to No Stump Point and pioneered the East Tunnel.

For the first time this season, Glacier Park officials on Friday moved the hiker/biker avalanche hazard closure up to Big Bend, a large turnout and scenic panorama featuring views of Cannon Mountain, Mount Oberlin, Heavens Peak, and Clements Mountain. The section of the Sun Road is located about 14 miles from the vehicle closure at Avalanche Creek, and about six miles above The Loop.

This summer, hiker/biker road crew closures have been in place Monday through Friday, usually from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. during plowing operations. For several weeks, that closure has been at The Loop. Outside those hours (evenings and weekends), visitors may advance on foot or bicycle to the Avalanche Hazard Closure when road crews are not working. Those progressive closures are in place at all times, and are determined weekly on Thursdays based on a variety of factors, including recent weather and avalanche forecasts. Visitors are prohibited from going past the hiker/biker closures. Violators are putting their safety and the safety of our park rangers at risk and could face up to a $5,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail.

Plowing progress has been delayed this spring and summer due to low temperatures and record rain and snow accumulations. This week, the gauge in West Glacier recorded 7.44 inches of rain, according to park officials. Last week, about two feet of new snow accumulated on the Sun Road above 6,250 feet.

Visitors are now able to drive on 29 miles of the iconic highway: 15.5 miles from the West Entrance to Avalanche and 13.5 miles from the St. Mary Entrance to Jackson Glacier Overlook.

Since May 26, visitors who want to access the park via either entrance to the Sun Road or at the Polebridge Entrance Station must purchase a vehicle reservation through the online reservation system. For additional information on how to make a reservation under the new system, visit https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/gtsrticketedentry.htm.

According to Glacier Park Public Information Officer Gina Kerzman, park officials this week began implementing closures at the Two Medicine Entrance Station, which does not require a vehicle reservation but has begun filling up due to popular demand. Under the closures, park rangers admit one vehicle in for every vehicle out.

Important Travel Warnings:

  • There is a nightly closure (10 pm to 6 am) on Going-to-the-Sun Road 1.5 miles north of the West Entrance to Sprague Creek for construction work.
  • There are no fueling stations within Glacier’s boundaries.
  • Parking is limited. During summer, parking lots often fill by early morning.
  • During extreme congestion, access to whole areas may be temporarily restricted to allow for emergency vehicles.
  • Glacier’s entries and roads all have specific restrictions and season lengths. Please plan accordingly.
  • The Chief Mountain Border Crossing remains closed.

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