Backcountry Skier/Doctor Still Missing After 6 Days in Alaska | Avalanche Danger Is “Extreme”

AvyBrains | | AvalancheAvalanche
Snowbird Glacier, Talkeetna Mountains, Hatcher Pass, Alaska. photo: mountain guide Joe Stock
Snowbird Glacier, Talkeetna Mountains, Hatcher Pass, Alaska. photo: mountain guide Joe Stock

Dr. Liam Walsh, has been missing after last being seen at Hatcher Pass, Alaska heading out to go backcountry skiing last Sunday. 

6-feet of snow has fallen in the past week on Hatcher Pass.

Avalanche danger has been very high in the Hatcher Pass area all week including a large avalanche that closed the road and buried it under 12-15 feet of snow

Yesterday and today, the avalanche danger is rated at “Extreme,” the highest rating there is.  The road is still closed.

The recent bad weather has hampered search and rescue efforts.

Hatcher Pass road is closed. photo from Tuesday by Fronteirsman.com
Hatcher Pass road is closed. photo from Tuesday by Fronteirsman.com

Latest update from the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center:

“Due to high avalanche danger and poor weather, opportunities to search for missing skier, Dr. Liam Walsh, have been limited. Walsh was last heard from at 1:34 pm on Sunday, Nov 22, at the Independence Mine Parking Lot at Hatcher Pass.

The Hatcher Pass road has been closed at the base of the canyon, (the “gateway”) as of 2 pm on Saturday. This area will remain closed until further notice due to high avalanche danger and the inability to mitigate hazards due to weather. The road closure is also necessary to keep the area clear for avalanche mitigation work and officials who are continuing the search.

The Alaska State Troopers (AST) helicopter attempted to search for the missing skier on Wednesday but was turned around due to inclement weather. On Thursday, the AST helo conducted another search with Search and Rescue (SAR) and a HPAC avalanche forecaster. The search did not result in any clues as to his location. Up to six feet of new snow has blanketed the search area, covering old debris, and making the scene unsafe for a ground search.

Warm temperatures, significant new snow, and wind continue to contribute to increasing avalanche conditions. An avalanche cycle of this magnitude has not been seen at Hatcher Pass for more than a decade.

Currently, all agencies are formulating plans for next steps to continue with the search. Our condolences go out to the family and friends of Dr. Liam Walsh.” – HPAC

Pin = Hatcher Pass, AK.
Pin = Hatcher Pass, AK.

LATEST AVALANCHE WARNING FOR HATCHER PASS, AK:

AVALANCHE WARNING NOV 27, 2015

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This Avalanche Warning expires in 24 hours from posting.

THE HATCHER PASS ROAD (PALMER SIDE) WILL BE CLOSED TO ALL PUBLIC USERS SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2015 FOR POSSIBLE AVALANCHE CONTROL WORK. THIS MEANS THAT AVALANCHES MAY BE INTENTIONALLY TRIGGERED IN ORDER TO MAKE THE AREA SAFER FOR FURTHER SEARCH AND RESCUE EFFORTS.  PLEASE DO NOT ENTER THE HATCHER PASS AREA ON SATURDAY FROM ANY ACCESS POINT.

BOTTOM LINE:

THE AVALANCHE HAZARD IS EXTREME. 

AVOID ALL AVALANCHE TERRAIN.

VERY DANGEROUS AVALANCHE CONDITIONS. 

NATURAL AND HUMAN TRIGGERED AVALANCHES ARE CERTAIN. 

MORE:

Access to Hatcher Pass is now closed at the bottom gate on the Palmer side of the pass. Up to 6′ of new snow has fallen in the past week, in addition to significant warming/rain, and wind. New snow and dangerous avalanche conditions are still delaying any work to clear the road.

Access into Hatcher Pass may be possible on the Willow side of the pass. This is a reminder that we currently do NOT recommend traveling in any area of Hatcher Pass due to the avalanche hazard. An additional hazard exists for Saturday, as avalanche control work may be conducted. Please do not enter the area.

More avalanches have been observed, on all aspects and at all elevations, many of which have been covered by new snow. With limited access to the area and poor visibility, observations have also been limited. As soon as we have access with visibility and a chance to safely assess the hazard we will provide updated information.

AVALANCHE PROBLEM

A weak, persistent layer is now buried up to 6 feet deep. This layer has been overloaded through an unrelenting series of recent snow storms. More avalanches have occurred and will continue to occur.

Avoid all avalanche terrain.

We will provide updates as information becomes available.

TREND

The avalanche hazard will remain high to extreme for the near future. As this hazard is going to be high for a while, we will not be regularly updating the advisory page until the hazard improves.


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