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Glacier Park Plow Crews Making Progress Toward Logan Pass

Glacier National Park crews are getting the Going-to-the-Sun road ready for what officials say could be another record year for the park. But, before visitors climb the pass, a lot of work still needs to be done.

Fog hides the peaks above Glacier Park plow crews as they push their way up the continental divide.

On the west side of the mountains, snow is falling. The crew is a half mile from the summit.

Christian Tranel, a plow team member, says the crew is making good time up the Going-to-the-Sun Road, due to the light snowfall this winter.

"This is the lowest snowpack I’ve ever seen," said Tranel. "My first year, 2011, it was insane. All these poles would have been covered."

Tranel points to a tall pole, about 20 feet up, next to the road. These poles follow path of the road so plowers know where to go.

The team is pushing through Oberlin bend, on the way to meet up with another crew plowing from the east side.

The crew’s progress each day depends on the depth of snow. Lower on the mountain, the plowers could push mile of snow a day. But up here, they might only clear a few hundred yards.

Denise Germann of Glacier Park is wearing a caution yellow vest and watching the plows move up the road.

"We’re almost to Logan Pass. And they're pioneering though this snow," said Germann. "And what will happen is these guys on the west-side will continue on get up to Logan Pass and meet the east-side crew at the Big Drift, which is just on the other side of Logan Pass."

No one on the mountain, including Germann, likes to guess when the plow crews will meet at the Big Drift.

“I’ve learned over the years not to make those guess-timents. If it’s a about a wild land fire season or the opening to Going-to-the-Sun Road, I have learned not to do that. Because it is so unpredictable, I mean down in the valley it could be beautiful weather and up here it’s a blizzard.”

The earliest the road has ever opened is May 16, that was back in 1987. July 13 2011 marks the latest opening of Logan Pass since World War II, when reduced staffing prevented opening of the pass until July 10.

Over two million people visited Glacier last year. Park visitation is highest in July and August, so many don’t see the peaks as they are now. The snow piles higher than the heads of the plow crew as they walk up and down the road.

This is Christian Tranel's fifth year working in the park.

“I see all four season," said Tranel. "Most folks just see, if they’re lucky, a week or a few days. So, you appreciate it more. It’s a special place.”

Below the plow crew, workers are installing some 400 guard rails along the road.

Even after the plowing is done, it takes about another 2 weeks to get the road ready to open. Last year, the Going-to-the-Sun opened on July 3.

A gate currently closes the road to vehicles at Avalanche Lake. But hikers and bikers and access the road past vehicle closures when plow crews are finished for the day, and on weekends.

Christain Tranel enjoys this time before the road is filled with visitors

"It’s always been my dream to work up here and now I do. It’s a blessing.”

And when the park becomes full of people during the summer, Tranel says he sometimes wishes for the quite fall to come sooner.

Glacier set an all-time visitation record last year. Park Officials are currently working on the Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor Management Plan to organize the flow of summer visitors.

Tranel’s work is almost done for the winter.

Even as the plow crews push up the mountain, the snow is melting.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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