Monday, February 11, 2008

Boom, LOUD... Road closed...

The bombing operation referred to last week went by without a hitch (i.e. no one was blown up). However, it didn't solve all of the threats to the road. Unlike a typical ski patrol operation where they mitigate the hazard regularly, the snowpack above the road to Paradise grew so large that it required larger amounts of bomb making material to blast the heck out of the slopes. Good thing too, because those bombs released a substantial amount of snow that was more than ready to slide... And as for the entire day, avalanche control with the use of bombs made for a really unique NPS experience!

The explosive activity took place in an area called "Washington Cascades." That's about 1.5 miles below Paradise and just above the "Canyon Wye" (where you turn right to visit Stevens Canyon, Box Canyon, and Ohanapecosh.) As you can see to the right, Chris Olson is strapping some blasting caps to a 50 lb. bag of ammonium nitrate. This is something of a new operation for most of us (not so new to Chris). Anyway, this explosive was lowered on a plastic sled (the type your kids slide upon) into avalanche terrain where they were ignited with a "shock tube." All in all, it was impressive and really effective. Last Friday, those bombs released a number of large slides in "Washington Cascades." The slides buried the road with debris and took care of the looming avalanche hazard that threatened the road crew operators.

At this time, the road to Paradise remains closed. But that's largely due to the frequent and thunderous slides that have occurred lower on the road (i.e. well below Paradise). The rain and warmer temps activated a number of avalanche slopes. In one area, the "Christine Hairpin", located just below the Comet Falls trailhead, a slide covered both lanes of the road with over 20 feet of deposition! As far as we recall, nobody has seen this sort of debris at Christine Hairpin in the almost 20 years. Above the Glacier Bridge, there are four other significant slide paths in what we call "Glacier Hill". Slides in that area also produced similar piles of wet, heavy snow. The NPS road crew is now scratching, digging, and plowing away at the massive mounds, but it's considered that the road to Paradise may not open for another 4-7 days. As you can see in this image to the left, the road is gone/buried. Nobody has ventured above Ricksecker Point, roughly 5 miles below Paradise since Monday. Hopefully, we will be able to ski up to Paradise tomorrow, dig out the telemetry site, and see what's going on.

When thinking about the avalanche threat, we are somewhat fortunate. Warm weather has started to consolidate the snowpack and things appear a little safer this week. There is some rain in the forecast for the next 24 hours, but probably not enough to produce the large slides that observed so far. The NWAC has dropped the hazard level from Extreme to Considerable/Moderate (below 7000 feet). Stay tuned, we'll keep you up to date on what's shaking. For now, don't rely on being able to visit Paradise over the President's Day weekend. Top image by Stefan Lofgren, second by Chris Olson "The snowcovered road above Glacier Bridge."