Avalanche danger closes Hwy. 133 | AspenTimes.com
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Avalanche danger closes Hwy. 133

Janet Urquhart

High avalanche danger resulting from today’s heavy snows forced state highway officials to close Highway 133 over McClure Pass, south of Carbondale.

Meanwhile, a rockslide that sent debris crashing onto Highway 82 at Shale Bluffs outside of Aspen last night has been cleared off the roadway. Both upvalley lanes were reopened to traffic this afternoon, according to Joe Elsen, CDOT program engineer in Glenwood Springs. Work at the bluffs, however, is not finished.

There were no reports of injuries as a result of the rockslide, which apparently occurred shortly before midnight on Monday, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department.

Commuters heading into Aspen this morning slowed to a crawl as they approached Shale Bluffs, where a CDOT crew had been working through the night to clean up the highway, the sheriff’s office said. Traffic was backed up to the downvalley end of Cozy Point Ranch.

Only one upvalley lane was open; the right-hand lane that abuts the steep bluff was closed to traffic. The closure exacerbated travel headaches for Aspen-bound motorists who were already dealing with an icy highway after yesterday’s rain froze during the night. In addition, periodic heavy snows began falling early this morning and have continued throughout the day.

“It’s a mess out there,” one Basalt resident said after reaching Aspen this morning.

Motorists heading south on Highway 133 can reach Redstone and Marble, but McClure Pass ” the route toward Paonia ” was closed at 11 a.m. due to high avalanche danger, according to Elsen. The road cuts across steep slopes on its way to the top of the pass, just beyond the turnoff to the tiny town of Marble.

The highway will be closed indefinitely, Elsen said. CDOT will next evaluate the avalanche threat Wednesday morning.

At Shale Bluffs, located just downvalley from the Aspen airport, all lanes in both directions will have to be closed at some point so that a contractor can knock down any remaining loose rocks and finish clearing away the debris. Crews will probably halt traffic for short stretches of time, perhaps 10 minutes, while they work, and then let traffic flow before cutting it off again, Elsen said.

It appears most of the shale that broke loose came straight down and wedged itself between the bluff and the highway barrier on the edge of the road, he said.

Its removal will depend upon when a contractor is available and when weather conditions will permit crews to stop traffic safely.

“It may happen this week, it could happen next week,” Elsen said.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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