3 sheep hunters caught in Chugach Mountains avalanche, 2 injured

Three hunters in the Chugach Mountains were rescued early Thursday after they were caught in an avalanche in the Hunter Creek valley, Alaska State Troopers said.

The three were hunting Dall sheep Wednesday and traversing a ridge on foot at an elevation of about 5,500 feet when the avalanche occurred, said public affairs specialist Dana Rosso of the Joint Force Headquarters and Alaska National Guard. Hunter Creek is south of the Knik River in the Chugach Mountains northeast of Anchorage.

The group was believed to have triggered the avalanche, troopers spokesman Austin McDaniel said. There were winds gusting up to 50 mph and lots of fresh snow had fallen in the area in recent days, Rosso wrote in an email.

The men slid about 300 to 500 yards and one man was carried over a 10- to 15-foot ledge, Rosso said.

One of the men was buried 2 feet in the snow, head first, and was dug out by the other two men, Rosso said. The group was not carrying any avalanche safety equipment, Rosso said. The man who was buried suffered cold-weather injuries, and another man had a dislocated shoulder, according to a statement from the Alaska Army National Guard.

The hunter’s names were not released.

If you’re heading on a trip to the backcountry, it’s important to be prepared for the possibility of an avalanche. Make...

Posted by US National Weather Service Anchorage Alaska on Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The men used a satellite communications device to call for help just after 9 p.m. Troopers’ aircraft are not equipped to handle nighttime rescues, so the Alaska Army National Guard was called to help, McDaniel said.

A UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter left Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson around 11 p.m. for the short flight to the scene, the Guard said.

“They were able to move about 100 yards down to a flat area where the helicopter could land,” Lt. Col. Michele Edwards said in a statement.

The hunters used their headlamps to signal their location to the helicopter crew, Edwards said.

At around 12:15 a.m. Thursday, the hunters were transported to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, according to troopers.

The early season snowfall this year means that avalanche season has already arrived, said Wendy Wagner, director of the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Center.

“If there’s enough snow to make the slope mostly white, there’s enough snow for it to avalanche,” Wagner said. “You actually don’t need very much snow to have an avalanche — there have been incidents where only 6 inches of snow on the ground has caused bad outcomes for hikers, in particular.”

There is currently snow throughout much of the Chugach range and Wagner said avalanche danger increases significantly when there are changes to the weather, like rain, snow or increased winds. Weather patterns appear to be unstable throughout the next week, so Wagner stressed that it’s important to check conditions before heading into the mountains.

Wagner recommended that anyone without avalanche safety training should avoid avalanche terrain, which includes any slopes steeper than 30 degrees and spaces under those slopes.

The avalanche center does not start publishing avalanche forecasts until mid-November, but Wagner said the center will post some condition reports and updates on its Facebook and Instagram pages.

A woman triggered an avalanche and was carried and partially buried Wednesday while hiking back to the Crow Pass trailhead near Girdwood after staying overnight at a public use cabin, according to a report on the avalanche center’s website. The woman’s partner was able to dig her out of the snow and she was not injured, the report said.