According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, it takes around 3,000 hours for snow crews to clear two billion cubic yards of snow to re-open the passes every year. Photo courtesy WSDOT

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, it takes around 3,000 hours for snow crews to clear two billion cubic yards of snow to re-open the passes every year. Photo courtesy WSDOT

Chinook, Cayuse closed until spring 2022

A cold, wet winter has closed the passes a bit earlier this year.

It’s the surest sign that winter is nearly here.

The gates to Chinook and Cayuse passes through Mount Rainier National Park closed early this year on Nov. 6, their earliest closures in several years and a sign of the already heavy snow accumulation in the Cascades.

WSDOT originally closed the passes only temporarily due to collisions and adverse weather conditions, planning to reassess the highway early this week.

Their verdict came Tuesday morning: Keep ‘em closed.

“Winter came just a little bit earlier than usual this year,” WSDOT spokesperson Summer Derrey said.

The weather is the primary factor in when officials from WSDOT and Mount Rainier National Park agree to close the passes.

“We had 30 inches of snowfall over the weekend with much more on the way today,” Derrey said Tuesday. “(And) the forecaster are calling for a pretty strong winter.”

Chinook Pass, at an elevation of 5,430 feet, is closed between Crystal Mountain Boulevard, about 12 miles northwest of the summit, and Morse Creek, five miles east of the summit.

Cayuse Pass, at 4,675 feet, is closed within Mount Rainier National Park between Crystal Mountain Boulevard and the park arch at SR 410/123 milepost 2.5 at the southern park boundary.

Visitors are allowed on foot or skis for recreation beyond the closed gates, but are advised to use extreme caution due to avalanche danger.

WSDOT closes each pass for the winter due to high avalanche risk and hazardous driving conditions. Both passes have numerous slide areas that pose significant danger to travelers, WSDOT maintenance crews and park staff.

The combination of avalanche danger, mountainous terrain, lack of cell phone service, inclement weather, and the low number of vehicles, make driving these passes in the winter a potentially hazardous endeavor.

These mountain passes typically are shut down around mid-November. The passes typically re-open by late May.

For information on these and other mountain passes, as well as winter travel tips, call 511 or visit:

WSDOT recently updated its website, Derrey said, so travelers may want to spend some time familiarizing themselves with the layout.

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