It’s been springtime sunny-and-cool, cloudy-and-cool, and generally mild and temperate in recent days in the foothills of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, but it’s still winter up higher in the mountains.
Snowplow drivers working to open Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass are finding snow still 12 feet deep on Highway 4 and six feet deep on Highway 108 so far this week, a Caltrans District 10 spokesperson said Monday.
“Much of it is snow, rather than ice,” said Rick Estrada with Caltrans District 10 in Stockton. “It’s not really melting yet. It’s staying intact until our plows and blowers clear it from the highway.”
Caltrans workers based in Long Barn said they have Highway 108 open to Eagle Meadows, about 13 miles east of Strawberry. For people who like to ride motorcycles and drive cars and campers over Sonora Pass, the closure is about 30 miles from the 9,624-foot summit, and about 40 miles east of U.S. 395.
Up on Highway 4 east of Arnold and Calaveras Big Trees, Caltrans workers are trying to plow east of the access gate to the Lake Alpine reservoir, but the road is still closed just west of Lake Alpine, Colleen Musson, manager at Bear Valley Adventure Company, said in a phone interview.
“They’re plowing now but they don’t have the route open,” Musson said. “We hope to be able to get to Lake Alpine by May 1.”
Musson said the snow levels are probably pretty even with the 2016-2017 season.
“The main difference I think will be the road damage. That season the roads were just destroyed. There was a lot of flooding during the winter that took out sections of the road. It all depends if Caltrans finds a lot of damage up there higher towards the pass,” she said.
Caltrans workers described a “wall of snow” 15 feet tall when they started clearing Highway 4 last week near Lake Alpine. Mike Johnson, a Caltrans supervisor at Camp Connell, said once workers start climbing above Lake Alpine the snow will get even deeper, quick.
Workers below Sonora Pass found boulders under the snow last week, boulders that have fallen and come down on the road up on parts of Highway 108 west of Eagle Meadows, Estrada said. Workers avoided damaging machinery by stopping before buried boulders could damage the big blade on the blower being used to clear the route.
Workers over on the Eastside Sierra in Mono County have also found boulders on Highway 120 East, east of Tioga Pass, said Christine Knadler with Caltrans District 9 in Bishop.
The hoped-for target for opening Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass is still no later than the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, but late-season storms like the current one are dumping more snow at higher elevations, including Ebbetts, Sonora and Tioga passes. It was snowing on the Eastside Sierra as of Monday afternoon, delaying snowplow drivers and other road-clearing workers.
The opening of Highway 120 and Tioga Road and Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park is still anticipated to happen after Memorial Day, not before.
“We always want to get 120 open as soon as possible, but we have the complication of freeze-thaw,” Knadler with Caltrans District 9 said. “As the weather warms, then gets cold again, that loosens boulders along the pass road.”
A Caltrans supervisor in Lee Vining said Monday there is a lot of activity on Highway 120 at Blue Slide, with many smaller softball-size and larger rocks strewn across Highway 120 East, Knadler said. There’s also a 30-foot deep avalanche near the Green Bridge, with a heavy drift zone around the next corner. Crews report the storm is bringing in more snow Monday and Tuesday. All equipment is up and running and crews will be returning to work again when the storm subsides.
“We will continue to make progress removing snow and completing road repairs,” Knadler said. “At this time, we have no anticipated opening date for this road.”
Yosemite National Park staff say plowing has not yet begun on Tioga Road. Snowpack water content in the headwaters of the Tuolumne River watershed is about 176 percent of average this year.
Dozens of roads are still under snow in the Stanislaus National Forest, and many will not open until late April or May.
North of Highway 4, Highway 88 and Carson Pass are open again, and a sno-park restroom building is still covered with snow. Free skiing is being offered with free lift tickets Friday at Bear Valley, and Saturday is the annual Pond Skim at Dodge Ridge.
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.