When the springtime hits Lassen Volcanic National Park, park officials begin the massive undertaking of trying to clear the snow off the park’s roads in order to open access to the summer destinations in the park.
Already moving at a quick pace, officials have opened a 10-mile stretch of Highway 89 to Devastated Area from the north side. They have also completed an initial pass from the Kohm yah-mah-nee Visitors Center to Sulphur Works.
“There is 4-6 feet of snow at the Devastated Area. Road clearing began today at the Southwest entrance!” Park officials wrote on the Lassen website. “The snow is much deeper (~12 feet) than it is at Manzanita Lake to Devastated Area, so more machines are needed and the process of clearing will take much longer. Please stay clear of equipment. Operators may not be able to see you.”
Here is an updated map of the road openings in the park:
The road-clearing task, which began on March 28, typically lasts into late-May/early-June. Due to the heavy snowfall and up to 15 feet of snow still sitting in the park this year, the job might last well into July. In 2018, with very little winter snowfall, the road fully opened on May 27.
Clearing the park highway is no quick or easy undertaking. Snow accumulates on the 30-mile park highway throughout the winter season (typically November through April). Snow depth can reach up to 30 feet at the highest elevations, with drifts occasionally reach as high as 40 feet. The highway may open in sections as conditions allow and as clearing operations continue. It will open to through traffic once it is safe for vehicles, not just only when it is cleared of snow. The road clearing process can take up to three months due to numerous factors including:
- Heavy snowpack with deeper snowdrifts in some areas
- Trees and boulders that have fallen across the road and been buried in the snow
- Rockslides over the highway when the snow begins to melt
- Snow avalanches over cleared sections of the highway
- Snow storms (and additional accumulation) during the operations
- Snow removal in parking areas
- Road and road shoulder repairs
- Lingering ice once snow is cleared
The park highway encompasses 30 miles of stunning views through twisty hair pin corners, high elevations, and steep grades. The park highway traverses avalanche prone slopes with up to 2,000 foot drops and can hold a snowpack up to 40 feet deep.
Snow removal from the park highway usually begins in April and continues for about two months before the road opens to through traffic. Predicting when the road will open is not possible, even in late spring, because weather in April and May can affect plowing progress significantly.
Good luck to the dedicated snow removal crews who have a massive job ahead of them!