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Avalanche brings dark news on a bright day in Haines

Heather Lende
Heather Lende photo

Everyone in town was talking about the accident yesterday, an avalanche that killed a 35-year-old Colorado heli-ski guide and a client. 

It was such a lovely day, and there was so much spring sunshine that it was a little hard to imagine anything bad happening. And yet, just walking puppy Pearl to town, she was frightened by the rumble of a distant snow slide. For the first time in many years, the avalanches across the inlet from our house have been plowing right to tidewater. A huge avalanche earlier this winter at Pyramid Harbor reminded me that the old cannery warehouse there was leveled by one back in the 1880s or so.

On the radio Tuesday morning, the history talk was from Skagway, and all about the Palm Sunday avalanche that killed over 60 prospectors at a camp on the Chilkoot Trail in 1898 during the Gold Rush. That year Palm Sunday was on April 3.

Nowadays, that is the height of the heli-ski season. Obviously heli-skiing is thrilling and dangerous, dropping down these rocky, steep, wilderness slopes is not for sissies (or me, for that matter). Spring snow can be wet and heavy. Of course, none of that is any consolation for the families and friends of the victims. Or for parents of snowboarders like me, who now have another good reason to worry. People do die backcountry skiing, and now, even right here in Haines. Then again, I'd rather my son was out in this wonderful world than in a dark room playing digital games. I just want him to still be enjoying the outdoors when he has a gray beard. I pray that is true. Right now, I'm just so terribly sorry for the families and friends of the two who perished.

Speaking of gray beards, Paul Swift says there is 16 feet at the measure stick at 2,000 feet on Mt. Ripinsky (the snowshoe trail is packed) or there would be if you could see it, but that's how tall it is and it is now buried. Paul says that our season snowfall total in his backyard on Union Street as of yesterday (we did get about an inch last night) is 354.7 inches. You do the math, but that's about as tall as my house, and I have a tall house. The old record of 307 inches was passed on March 3.

Heather Lende writes from Haines. Her new book is "Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs." This post originally appeared on her blog. It has been reprinted with permission.