Ebbetts Pass was reopened under a rainy, cloudy sky May 30.
A couple motorcycles and cars took the drive over the pass, but other than that, the newly opened stretch of road was quiet, according to Caltrans District 10 Public Information Officer Warren Alford.
“About 10 miles down the road it was summertime, but the weather was pretty nasty at the gate,” Alford said.
The Central Sierra snowpack is currently 211% of average for this time of year, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
When the work started in early April, crews had 15 feet of snow to shovel out at the closure gate, and 25- to 30-feet-deep drifts in some areas along the 29-mile-long stretch from the west gate to the Highway 4 and Highway 89 junction.
Although it’s variable every year, “Most years you start with a foot or two of snow, but it’s not typical for there to be that solid of a volume of snow from the beginning to the end,” Alford said.
Getting the snow off the road is the first step of the process. Once that’s finished, crews dive into safety repairs on guard rails, signs, potholes and areas that had erosion or other kinds of damage.
Alford said two shifts of road crews were working seven days a week to get the road reopened by Memorial Day, which was May 27, but storms and accumulation of snow delayed the process.
“We recognize how important this route is for communities on both sides,” Alford said. “We threw everything we had at it to get it open by Memorial Day weekend, and did manage to get it open yesterday. As anxious as everybody is to see the pass get opened, my sense is the public has been understanding of what the challenge has been this year, and we appreciate their patience.”
Unlike during the 2017 winter season, there wasn’t any kind of damage on the roads this year, since there weren’t as many rain-on-snow events, according to Alford.
For travelers taking the route, Alford recommended being prepared for winter conditions.
“Winter conditions continue to exist up in the high country, so be prepared,” Alford said. “Have an emergency kit with food, blankets and water. If you get stranded you will be happy you have that. There are icy spots. Have chains, and be aware that things can roll into the road before our crews can get to them … Ebbetts Pass is steep and narrow, so vehicles over 24-feet long are not advised. If you’re a long vehicle and get in trouble, we don’t have room to get you out.”
There are still many areas in the Sierra with three to five feet of snow on roads and trails, according to Diana Fredlund, a Public Affairs Officer with the Stanislaus National Forest.
She said campgrounds and trails are estimated to be open by June 21, 2019.
“It may be earlier than that if we get the snow melted, but our folks can’t even get up to our various sites to start prepping them for summer recreation,” Fredlund said.
For a regularly updated list of closure statuses for trails and roads on Forest Service land, visit fs.usda.gov/recmain/stanislaus/recreation or contact the Calaveras Ranger District front office at (209) 813-6008.