10 people freed as Hatcher Pass road reopens after avalanche
Willow-Fishhook Road, the only road in and out of Hatcher Pass this time of year, was buried by not just one-- but two avalanches for several days this week.
The slides came down early Monday and weren't touched until Wednesday. The snowpack was unstable and the snow removal crews from Alaska Department of Transporation were forced to wait until it's safe to begin working in the area. They spent Tuesday trying to trigger avalanches with dynamite from a helicopter to help clear any unstable snow. The roadway was cleared by 6 p.m. Wednesday.
The area picked up a foot of snow Sunday after several rounds of heavy snow the week before.
Hatcher Pass Lodge owner Hap Wurlitzer saw the storm coming.
"Sure enough at midnight, I look out here and I can see blowing snow and I'm thinking, 'here we go. We're on the roll to a big avalanche thing again,'" said Wurlitzer.
By morning, the avalanches had covered the road and seven skiers staying at the lodge were stuck.
"It was pretty brutal. Monday morning we woke up and the snow was coming at us sideways. And [there was] a drift going up into our door, and we had to plow our way through to the cabin here," said Brennen Bendel, a skier from Anchorage.
With nowhere to go and a safe spot to stay, these groups of strangers from Anchorage, Vermont, Belgium and Switzerland are now enjoying their time together.
"I feel pretty safe here right now. I feel like it's pretty good, I have an adventurous spirit-- I think we all do-- so we've been making the most of it," said Patty Bartle, visiting from Vermont.
"We were just looking at what flanks we have here and what summits we can do around here, said Stijn Vandenberg, visiting from Switzerland.
Wurlitzer takes care of the logistics of keeping the lodge and cabins warm so the guests could turn this rustic cabin into a home.
"You couldn't feel more at home than at this place, they essentially just tell you just come on in and make yourself comfy," said Bendel.
That includes full access to the kitchen.
"We're trying not to go overboard because you can see it's limited supplies, and not really knowing the conditions. You can see he's got eggs, some vegetables and he's got a couple of pies," said Bartle.
Eventually, the road will clear and these folks will return to their day jobs as veterinarians, engineers, lawyers and medical technicians. Until then, they'll take in the view.
"We couldn't imagine being in a more beautiful place," said Bendel. "It's paradise, stranded isn't exactly a proper term for us," said Robert Wise, a skier from Anchorage. "It's rustic but comfortable. It's got everything you need but protected from influences of the outside world, which has been really nice," said Fiona Whitton, a skier from Anchorage.
They say the worst part about this whole experience is they've missed seeing the Aurora, the sauna is out of propane and the beer is warm.
These seven people weren't the first to be stranded at Hacher Pass and they won't be the last. But they say if you're prepared with food and water and you're safe, turns out it's not such a bad place to be stuck.
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