HATCHER PASS — For the first time in 17 days, the road in Hatcher Pass is clear and open to vehicles all the way up to Hatcher Pass lodge near the historic Independence Mine site. Following a string of avalanches that crossed the roadway in five sections over the Easter weekend, the road has been closed at sections between mile markers 10 and 14.
“We are still clearing. Some of the slides were really deep, like 20 feet deep so we’re still clearing,” said DOTPF spokesperson Shannon McCarthy on Monday.
Late Tuesday night, the clearing work had completed and the DOTPF posted that the road would be open near 7 p.m. The road closure that has lasted over two weeks was necessitated by unsafe avalanche conditions on the slopes in Hatcher Pass that persisted even after five slides crossed the roadway over two weeks ago. The avalanches that caused the second road closure are a “once in a 40-year event” according to DOTPF avalanche specialists. While the road is clear of snow and open to vehicular traffic, drifts along the avalanche areas tower nearly 20 feet high in some places. Areas of rough, uneven, missing and badly damaged pavement exist on the roadway. The visible paths of large avalanches near the popular ‘Paradise’ road run had been tracked through by excavators and snow was piled along either side of the chutes through the hills that had been left bare.
“This was the first time in recent memory that we preemptively shut the road down—Hatcher Pass often experiences natural avalanches that force a road closure,” wrote McCarthy.
Over the course of the winter, no humans were seriously injured or killed in avalanche related incidents in Hatcher Pass. Last weekend, DOTPF avalanche specialists dropped from a helicopter six pounds of pentolite distributed in 15 charges that were detonated on specific predetermined areas in Hatcher Pass. The aerial explosive drop is not uncommon for DOTPF to employ in Hatcher Pass or in the Juneau area as part of efforts to let loose additional dangerous snow that could cause avalanches. No additional avalanches were caused by the 15 explosives placed by DOTPF, but heavy equipment operators were unable to begin clearing snow drifts on the roadway until it had been determined to be safe by the avalanche specialists.
“Placing charges in avalanche chutes, before people have to work below in a stationary position, is an industry standard—we have to see if we can pull down any more material in order to provide the safest working environment possible. And that’s what the helicopter mission did for us,” wrote McCarthy.
The DOTPF staged heavy equipment prior to last weekend’s helicopter mission to drop explosives on dangerous snow in Hatcher Pass, and got to work right away clearing the roadway. McCarthy said that operators passed the halfway point over the weekend and the road was reopened Tuesday night after 17 days gated off for the safety of the public. Though the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center issued their last forecast on April 17, HPAC posted a review of the ‘16 Mile’ road run from their instagram page as soon as the road had reopened.