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WEST GLACIER - Visitors can climb to the clouds, at least, this weekend, even if they can't quite get to the sun.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park's popular alpine highway, opened Friday afternoon over Logan Pass, one week ahead of the historic average.

This year, park plow crews had more money, more men and more machines. But in the end, officials said, it was Mother Nature who did much of the heavy lifting.

"In recent days, park snow removal crews made tremendous progress clearing remaining snow from the Logan Pass section of the Sun Road," said park superintendent Mick Holm, "but most importantly, warm temperatures and rain this week prompted substantial snowmelt and stability within the remaining snowpack."

Which is to say that Mother Nature's warm wet of recent days melted much of winter's weight and dampened avalanche danger considerably. Although plows are critical in clearing the road each spring, the route cannot be opened until avalanche danger from above subsides. Generally, that means a string of warm days that unleashes the avalanches or melts the snowpack into a settled base.

"We have consulted with our avalanche specialists and have personally inspected the upper roadway," Holm said. "It is truly amazing how much snow has melted just in the last two days."

Avalanche dangers, he said, have diminished considerably.

"However, given the very nature of the Sun Road, we always urge travelers to watch for falling rock, ice, debris and other potential hazards along this historic road," he said. "We also urge park visitors not to park or stand under large snowbanks as 'tip outs' can occur where snow breaks away from existing roadside snowbanks and may fall onto the roadway."

Snow and rock doubtless will continue to pile up on the road, he said, and crews will work to sweep away the debris early each morning.

Friday afternoon, when the road opened, the pass was wrapped in low clouds, with weather forecasts calling for more clouds and rain Saturday. Sunday's skies were expected to clear.

The earliest Mother Nature ever released the road to tourists was 1987, when it opened on May 16. The latest was last year, when late-season snows clogged the highway until June 28.

On average, the road opens about June 8, one week later than this year's opening day.

Reporter Michael Jamison can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at mjamison@missoulian.com.

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