It’s an every year event but still, when the snowplows break through the last few feet of mountain snow to open the Sierra Nevada passes, it remains a thrill.
Barred from taking the scenic route to Bridgeport or Tahoe, folks line up to see the gates fling open so they can get to the other side.
Thursday was no different.
Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway on Highway 4 in Alpine County opened at noon and Sonora Pass in Tuolumne County opened at 2 p.m.
It’s been weeks of digging through record-breaking snow, repairing roads and getting huge boulders off the roadways for Caltrans workers.
The drives are not for the faint of heart or those who don’t plan well. Limited mobile phone service, gas only at the beginnings and ends of the climb: Bear Valley on the west, in Markleeville on the east for Ebbetts.
“Visitors are also advised to have a full tank of gas and to carry extra food, water and clothing to be prepared for any emergencies,” Caltrans said in an announcement of the pass openings.
Ebbetts Pass, at 8,730 feet, is one of the highest passes in the Sierra with grades of more than 23 percent in places. Normal road grade is 6 percent. Sonora Pass has grades of more than 20 percent, and both roads are narrow, making winter closure necessary.
Caltrans had hoped to have Ebbetts and Sonora passes open by the Friday before Memorial Day but several late snowstorms hampered their progress.
State Route 120/Tioga Pass, a 12-mile section from U.S. Highway 395 to the Yosemite National Park east entrance gate is clear, but National Park crews are still working on the section of the road that goes through Yosemite. Therefore, Tioga Road and the east entrance gate to Yosemite National Park remains closed.
Yosemite officials reported more than 7 feet of snow on the ground at Tuolumne Meadows on Tioga Road on March 1. That is 147 percent higher than average.