As the snow slides
Two of the slides in the Narrows Section of Highway 75, Salmon River Canyon below Stanley and Yankee Fork.
An aerial view of Avalanche Alley, Highway 21.
A snowplow and bulldozer are dwarfed by the avalanches on Highway 21.
The annual February thaw triggered avalanches that closed highways in several places in the past week, once again stranding Stanley and some Salmon River Canyon residents.
It will be at least two weeks before Highway 21 in the Avalanche Alley section between Banner Summit and Lowman is reopened, said Nathan Jerke of Idaho Transportation Department’s (ITD) Shoshone office. ITD reported on its Facebook page that the Highway 21 slides were several hundred feet long and up to 60 feet deep in places. Crews were using bulldozers and other heavy equipment to tunnel through the snow.
The problem is that there’s no place to haul the snow away to, Jerke said, and tunneling through the snow and debris is slow work.
Another series of snow slides closed Highway 75 in the so-called Narrows Section between Stanley and Clayton and in the canyon section between Stanley and Yankee Fork Road last Thursday, February 9.
It’s unlikely Highway 75 will be reopened in time for this weekend’s Winterfest in Stanley, Jerke had said Wednesday morning.
A single lane has been opened between Stanley and the Yankee Fork Road, Stanley resident Gary Gadwa told The Challis Messenger Tuesday, but Highway 75 has not officially reopened to the public.
Only canyon residents are allowed ingress and egress to re-supply, Jerke said, and that’s in the morning when frozen snow is still stable. ITD crews based in Stanley and Challis have been doing daily shuttles for residents in the morning. Afternoon avalanches have been bringing down more snow and debris daily, he said, making it difficult to predict when snowpack will stabilize and the highway will be safe to reopen.
“Until our guys are comfortable that avalanches are over, the highway will be open to residents only,” Jerke said.
The section between Yankee Fork and Peach Creek has not yet been cleared enough for a single lane of travel, he added.
The Narrows Section slides took out several sections of newly installed guardrail and screening installed to stabilize rocks on cliffs above the roadway.
A crew from Hecla’s Grouse Creek Mine up Jordan Creek is helping ITD Stanley and Challis crews plow through the avalanches in the canyon section of Highway 75, Jerke said. Hecla and Rep. Dorothy Moon got permission from ITD for the private crew to help the state clear snowslides and debris.
“Idaho 75 between Stanley and Clayton remains closed due to continued avalanche activity,” ITD reported on Facebook earlier this week. “Several people are trapped in the area with no way to get out until at least one lane is open. Three crews are working at removing the avalanches over the road but are slowed with more snow and rockslides occurring each day.”
Highway 75 south over Galena Summit had been reopened by the first of this week. ITD crews are keeping their fingers crossed that Titus Ridge does not slide. A massive avalanche could close the road again on the Wood River side of Galena Summit, Jerke said. While the route over Galena was still closed, Stanley residents had no route to drive out of Sawtooth Valley for the second time this winter.
The traveling public should check the ITD’s 511 map online for the latest information, Jerke said. As soon as the highways have reopened, crews will radio their offices and that information will be reported to the public.
Another avalanche stranded residents up Slate Creek. Gary Braun reported on his Facebook page that parents Muzzie and JoAnn woke up last Friday to an avalanche blocking a half-mile section of Slate Creek Road below their house, but they were fine and had enough provisions, solar power and gas for their generator to wait things out.