DOT crews using explosives to reduce avalanche hazard in Hatcher Pass
Hatcher Pass road remains closed Tuesday as crews work to reduce avalanche danger in the area before attempting to clear the debris.
The Department of Transportation now says the road was closed by two avalanches, both of which occurred less than half a mile apart near milepost 15 on Monday morning. Hatcher Pass road is closed to traffic shortly before Milepost 8.
Weather permitting, DOT crews were planning to trigger several small avalanches in the area using explosives in order to reduce the overall risk in the area. Once that’s done they can begin safely clearing the roadway.
“Hatcher Pass is a little bit different than what we have on the Seward Highway or up on the Dalton. We can’t use our typical avalanche mitigation, which is with a howitzer,” explained DOT spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy. “It’s just a really different area, much more narrow. So we have to approach it with what we call a daisy bell.”
A daisy bell is an apparatus that hangs from a helicopter and is used to set charges on the mountainside to trigger small avalanches.
“Our aim is actually to hit some of these chutes that are a little bit higher up, holding on to some material, and cause really small avalanches but release some of that energy,” McCarthy said.
Crews are planning to reassess the avalanche risk Wednesday morning. If they get the go ahead from the avalanche specialist on scene, they’ll be able to begin clearing the road of avalanche debris, a process that’s expected to take only a few hours.
In the meantime, the avalanches have left at least seven people stranded at the Hatcher Pass Lodge, including a group of four from Anchorage and three skiers visiting the state from Belgium. One of the skiers, who identified himself as Rick, said they had only planned to spend one night at the lodge, but they’re not too upset about the change of plans.
“We’re having fun here. It’s the good side of the roadblock,” Rick laughed during a phone interview with Channel 2. “It’s nice here, we have everything. Food, a good lodge, so we don’t have any problems.”