After avalanche, crews clear road to Hatcher Pass

An avalanche blocked the road to Hatcher Pass on Monday, March 19, 2018. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)

The road into Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Mountains north of Palmer reopened Wednesday night after avalanches had blocked it since Monday morning.

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About 10 people were stranded in the pass when two separate snow slides came down from Marmot Mountain, piling debris across the roadway. Most of those stuck in the pass were reportedly staying at the well-provisioned Hatcher Pass Lodge.

Danger from further avalanches prevented crews from clearing the debris until avalanche mitigation work could be done, Department of Transportation spokesperson Shannon McCarthy said.

“They had just had 12 to 15 inches of new snow,” McCarthy said. “That’s that critical time within that 24 to 48 hours after a new snow that we’ll see a lot of slides let loose.”

The mitigation generally involves using explosives to intentionally trigger avalanches before removing the debris, and to do that, DOT will often shoot a howitzer cannon into an avalanche-prone mountainside. But the team in Hatcher Pass on Tuesday instead used what’s called a Daisy Bell system. That’s a bell-shaped piece of equipment that dangles on a line beneath a helicopter and can deliver a concussive blast to trigger a slide.

McCarthy said the Daisy Bell is much more precise than a cannon.

“In Hatcher Pass it’s narrow, there’s oftentimes weather, but we also oftentimes have people recreating in the area, and using the Howitzer would just not be conducive,” McCarthy said.

With the mitigation work done Tuesday, McCarthy says it was safe enough Wednesday to send plows, a snowblower and a grader into the pass to clear away the snow.

A small building on a semi trailer collided with a bridge over the Glenn Highway on Wednesday, March 21, forcing the highway’s closure. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)

Also Wednesday, DOT was dealing with a different type of mayhem on Southcentral roadways.

The southbound lanes of the Glenn Highway were shutdown near Eagle River Wednesday afternoon after an 18-wheeler carrying a tall load crashed into a bridge over the highway.

McCarthy said engineers were inspecting the bridge before motorists could travel either over it or underneath it. Drivers were able to bypass the area by detouring through Eagle River.