Chinook, Cayuse passes close unseasonably early

The passes mostly close mid-November — they’ve only closed this early two other times.

You know winter is right around the corner when the Chinook and Cayuse passes close for the year.

State routes 410 and 123 inside Mount Rainier National Park were blocked off on Oct. 25. They always close around this time of year, though normally more around mid-November, due to avalanche dangers and a lack of emergency services.

According to the Washington state Department of Transportation, this is the earliest closure of the passes since 1930 (though tied with 2005).

“There are a number of reasons SR 410/Chinook and SR 123/Cayuse closed earlier than previous years,” WSDOT’s Summer Derrey said in an email, including un-seasonal low temperatures and heavy snowfall. “The west side of the closure point is primarily in the National Park. Crews are not allowed to apply chemicals on the roadway through Mt. Rainier – just sand. While sand helps some for traction, it does not de-ice.”

Derrey added that that work crews are seeing more collisions already, “and for the first year, we are having a major issue with freight. Commercial vehicles are not allowed in the park and are causing many safety issues. Law enforcement is citing those in violation.”

The passes are expected to open up late-May.