Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Glacier National Park plows at Big Drift, construction paving done on lower end of Sun Road, though shoulder work continues

Editor | May 31, 2024 9:45 AM

Day and night.

That might best describe conditions at Glacier National Park’s Logan Pass.

In just a few hundred feet of elevation, the Going-to-the-Sun Road and the surrounding landscape were nearly free of snow Thursday, May 30, save for the odd snowfield tucked into a gully.

But at Logan Pass, it was a different story, with the visitor center almost completely buried in snow and drifts towering 10-20 feet above the parking lot in some places.

This year’s snowpack overall was well below a normal year, but higher terrain not only held onto snow, it’s added it in the past couple of weeks.

The West Flattop SNOTEL site, which is in the park at 6,300 feet, is at 91% of the median and the Noisy Basin SNOTEL which is in the Jewel Basin, is 125% of median.

On Thursday a raw breeze blew at the pass as dark clouds scudded across the peaks.

Glacier Park plow crews cleared the snow at the pass and then headed down to the Big Drift east of the Continental Divide.

The day before, they were still contending with slides crossing the highway behind them. On several occasions this year, they’ve had to plow out slides just to get back down the road.

The Big Drift is the last major obstacle in clearing the highway — it’s about 80 to 100 feet deep. In addition to that, there’s still a lot of work to do to get the road open. Crews were clearing out ditches, removing rocks from the road and repairing a damaged wall at Alder Creek. They also need to put up hundreds of feet of removable guard rail.

This work typically takes a few weeks to accomplish.

On the construction front, things have been progressing well. The last section of highway from near Sprague Creek to the North McDonald Creek Road is paved and crews from contractor Schellinger Construction were doing shoulder work.

The construction marks the end of a major overhaul and reconstruction of the Sun Road that began in earnest in 2007.

The  highway typically needs some sort of repair each season however, whether it’s damage to a rock wall or other issue. The mountains are unkind to the historic highway.

Crews will continue to replace the North McDonald Creek Road bridge this summer. The John’s Lake Loop and surrounding area are closed to public entry. That work should wrap up this fall.

The road is currently open to motorists to Avalanche Creek on the west side and Jackson Glacier Overlook on the east side, though west side travelers need a reservation from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. to travel up the road on the west side. They can also take a free shuttle on the weekends and no reservation is required. The shuttle runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. out of the Apgar Visitor Center. It has racks for bicycles.

There is no reservation requirement this year at St. Mary.

Reservations seem to be fairly easy to get. The Hungry Horse News checked the Park Service's website and there were still 50 left as of mid-morning Friday.

Earlier this year, advanced reservations sold quickly for the month of July, but the Park Service also releases more reservations 24 hours in advance.

Hikers and bikers when crews are working can go as far as the Loop on the west side. When crews aren’t working people can go farther up the road.

Closures are clearly marked.

All secondary roads in Glacier are now open for the summer season. But people traveling the Inside North Fork Road at the Polebridge Entrance station are also required to have a reservation from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.