The Methow Valley, as well as it’s magnificent backyard, the North Cascades mountain range aka the Alps of America, has four very distinct seasons. Yet, there is also another type of season that greatly effects this area: The opening and closing of the North Cascades Highway.
Since the official opening of the highway to general traffic in the fall of 1972, the North Cross State Highway, as the roadway was originally referred to, has opened and closed each year except one: An unusual lack of snowfall all winter allowed the highway to remain open from May 21, 1976 until November 23, 1977.
Over the years, interest has grown considerably when the highway (or “the pass” as locally referenced) opens and closes, especially the opening. Some folks refer to these times as the quiet and busy seasons. Aside from allowing for a faster journey to and from the Methow Valley over to the west side of the state, the highway is an economic lifeline for the valley and local businesses greatly look forward to the opening of the highway in the springtime. Admittedly, the opening of the road is a bit bittersweet for some as it signifies the coming of the summer bustle.
For the mountain adventurer though, the opening means: Game on! When the gates swing open, there is often 7 to 10 feet of snow in the high country. Spring skiing, snow climbs and some rock ascents await after a short approach from the road. Access to the North Cascades National Park as well as the Mt. Baker Wilderness Area becomes much more reasonable from this side. As the days slide into summer, the skis are put away and we head up the melted out trails and cross country zones in lighter footwear and with less clothing in our packs. Before we know it, fall is in the air, the alpine colors come alive and thoughts of enjoying winter’s powder soon arise. And it always seems the valley is ready for life to slow down a bit.
The highway is set to open this Friday, May 11th (after closing last year on November 10th – that is 182 days of the quiet season. Now, it’s adventure time!