Mount Baker Freeway clearance date at Artist Point uncertain

Summer hiking in the North Cascades may be delayed this year due to heavier than normal snowfall coupled with cold spring weather that has slowed snowmelt and brought late season snowfall.

Crews from the Washington State Department of Transportation this week began clearing the Mount Baker Freeway from its winter closure at Artist Point, but an opening date is uncertain, WSDOT spokeswoman RB said. McKeon.

“Due to cooler weather and recent snow, the depth at the gate is around 15ft and we know it will be deeper at higher elevations,” McKeon told the Bellingham Herald.

“Therefore, we expect the clearance to take longer than normal – as the teams have just started this week and have not been able to assess the entire roadway, we have yet to clear. ‘estimate for reopening,'” McKeon said in an email. .

Artist Point, at an elevation of approximately 5,000 feet, offers a 360 degree view that includes Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan and the high peaks of the Cascades.

It is also the starting point for several summer hiking trails and a popular tourist destination in Whatcom County.

Mount Baker Highway, also known as State Highway 542, is closed each year near the Mount Baker ski area after the first major snowfall in the fall.

Clearing efforts, which require heavy snowblowers, skip loaders and dump trucks, typically take six to eight weeks.

Some 647 inches of snow fell through April 24 at the ski area during the 2021-2022 winter season, which was marked by a moderate La Niña, a cyclical weather pattern that typically means colder, wetter winters for the Pacific Northwest.

Snow accumulation in the North Cascades measured at 151% of normal, according to measurements released Friday, June 3, by the National Water and Climate Center in Portland, Oregon.

Heavy snow remains in the mountains of Washington State: snow accumulation was 325% in the central Puget Sound region, 187% in the southern Puget Sound region, which includes Mount Rainier, and 215% at the Olympics.

This year, engineers will have to examine repairs made to a crumbling rock face on Mount Baker Road just past the Heather Meadows Visitor Center, McKeon said.

After that, crews can begin plowing the last 1.8 miles of road to the Artist Point parking area, which is part of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Artist Point June 2022 WSDOT.jpg
A Washington State Department of Transportation snowblower drives past a cleared section of the Mount Baker Freeway east of Bellingham, where snow was 15 feet deep in early June. Washington State Department of Transportation Courtesy of the Bellingham Herald

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people cope with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he is also a volunteer firefighter for the South Whatcom Fire Authority.

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