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Friday — April 30, 2004


Trail Creek Pass opening early

County gets head start on clearing road

Express Staff Writers

The avalanche debris covering Trail Creek Road is eight feet deep in places, but Dale Shappee is working hard to change that.

Shappee, the Blaine County Road and Bridge superintendent, began plowing snow from the western sector of Trail Creek Road on Wednesday, April 28.

Blaine County Road and Bridge Superintendent Dale Shappee carefully works his way up Trail Creek Pass in a Caterpillar front-loader. Express photo by Willy Cook

Working alone from behind the wheel of a Caterpillar 950F front-loader, Shappee by mid-afternoon Wednesday had cleared a narrow path through the encroaching slides to within a quarter-mile of the 7,896-foot summit of Trail Creek Pass.

Despite the gains made Wednesday, several days of hard work remained for Shappee. The last quarter-mile to Trail Creek Summit crosses some of the most avalanche-prone slopes on the historic pass.

Trail Creek Road links the Sun Valley area with the Big Lost Valley to the east. The road connects to U.S 93, which provides access to the cities of Mackay and Challis.

Clearing the road typically takes four days, Shappee said.

Every spring, crews from Blaine County work their way toward the summit to meet with crews clearing the pass from the Custer County side. Usually, two Blaine County loaders work in concert.

Undoubtedly, the job clearing the heavy heaps of snow from the unfinished roadway poses a greater threat to crews on the Blaine County side of the pass. The road is steep, narrow, and the drop into the canyon below is precipitous.

Using the Caterpillar’s four-yard bucket, Shappee this week cleared eight-foot snowdrifts, one bucket at a time. As he progressed, he built a wall of snow on the outside of the road.

"Once we get through, we can work back downhill and use the weight of the machine, and that makes it easier," he said.

During the winter months, snow consistently pours across Trail Creek Road, rendering it useless for five or six months of the year. The slides cover the dirt and rock path in a mat of avalanche debris. The snow is dense and consolidated—and it is deep.

Shappee said the work on Trail Creek Road is typically quite lonely.

"I thought this was the best-kept secret in Blaine County," he quipped.

The opening of Trail Creek Road each year is certainly a sign that spring has sprung. Sometimes the road is not opened until June, but unusually warm, dry weather in March and April facilitated an early opening of the road this year.

Shappee said the road should be completely cleared by sometime this weekend.

The county Road and Bridge Department is estimating that the road could be opened to motorists next week.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.