Highway 97 between Summerland and Peachland is now expected to be closed for an “extended period” due to a weekend rock slide, says the B.C. Transportation Ministry.
A bulletin issued Sunday states a new detour has been established via the 201 Forest Service Road that connects to Carmi Road in Penticton and heads east to Highway 33.
The route is only available for light-duty passenger vehicles, and adds about 90 minutes to the usual commute between Penticton and Kelowna.
That usual commute has been snarled since last Thursday, when rocks and debris spilled onto the highway between Callan and North Beach roads. More debris fell over the weekend, hampering the efforts of rock scalers.
The next official update on the situation came at noon with no estimate on when the highway would reopen.
"So far, between 4,000-6,000 cubic metres of rock has fallen at this location. This is a significant amount of rock, as an Olympic swimming pool holds 2,500 cubic metres of water," the agency said in a press release.
“The highway is anticipated to be closed for an extended period of time due to continued instability at the site. Ministry staff are working to have Highway 97 reopened to traffic as soon as it is safe to do so.
"Safety is our top priority, and we will reopen the road as soon as it is safe to do so," it added.
Crews are working to scale the slope and blast through solid rock at the top in order to provide more stability to the slope.
The first blast happened at 3 p.m. today, which the ministry said in its press release would allow for a better indication of when the highway will reopen.
Meanwhile, there’s been a fresh warning to drivers not to attempt a detour via Garnet Valley Road and other back roads between Summerland and Peachland.
"The driving conditions up there are terrible; the roads some of them were using really aren't much more than goat's paths," Randy Brown of Penticton Search and Rescue said Monday.
Eight people were rescued from stuck vehicles on the weekend. Police responding to the calls for help turned away dozens of other drivers headed into the same backwoods area.
A sign has now been put at the north end of Garnet Valley Road in Summerland warning drivers not to attempt to take back routes to Peachland to circumvent the Highway 97 closure.
Most of the drivers, police said, were following on-board navigation systems that indicated there were viable backcountry roads between Peachland and Summerland.
Google Maps shows a winding, alternate route between Summerland and Peachland using Garnet Valley Road and Meadow Valley Road.
In fact, Brown said, the roads are either covered deep in snow or are not intended to be used for vehicle traffic.
"They're not maintained. You can't even get through some of them on an ATV in the summer," he said.
In places, the roads follow the Fur Brigade Trail, a path developed by early 19th Century fur traders using routes opened up by Indigenous people.
The trail was used to transport furs and trade goods between early settlements on the Pacific Coast and the interior of what would become British Columbia.
The original trail width varies, averaging about three metres. It's strewn with boulders in many places, and washouts have eroded its sides in several locations.