Palm Sunday Avalanche Page 2
On the night of April 2, avalanches began to tumble down the slopes above the Scales. At about 2:00 the next morning, one of the slides buried twenty stampeders in the Scales area; another one, at about 9:30, buried three others.5 All of these people were rescued, but the roar of additional snow slides convinced the entire Scales population to evacuate, along with a number of construction workers for the Chilkoot Railroad and Transport Company who had been on the top of Chilkoot Pass. Some 220 people, therefore, began to descend toward Sheep Camp.6 Workmen for the tramway went first; the remainder left the Scales between 10:45 and 11:00 a.m.7 At the time of the mass descent, it was snowing heavily, and visibility was cut almost to zero.
Between 10:00 a.m. and noon, three fatal snow slides cascaded down from the eastern escarpment.9 The first slide took place at Squaw Hill, which was north of Stone House but south of the Alaska Railroad and Transportation Company powerhouse. Here three campers were crushed to death in their tents. Here also an ox named Marc Hanna was enveloped in snow. Despite his burial several feet under the top of the slide the ox was unhurt, and after being extricated was put to work hauling the bodies of slide victims down to Dyea.
Sometime later, the party of CR&T Company construction workers came down the trail from the Scales. As they were passing through a narrow gorge near the AR&T powerhouse, a second avalanche buried the entire party. All were killed. This avalanche probably occurred on a cut-off trail (an alternate to the regular Chilkoot Trail) that followed along the east side of "drow-a-low" ravine, located east and about 800 feet north of the AR&T powerhouse.
There is some confusion regarding how the construction men got to this area. One source, based on supposedly eyewitness accounts, claims that the group headed north from Sheep Camp at 8 a.m. and were engulfed by the slide as they headed north. More reliable sources stated that the crew headed down from the summit in the mid-morning, and were killed as they hiked south. Either way they went, the low visibility may have caused them to wander off the main path.
5. New York Times, 4/10/98, 6/13/98; Lung/Martinsen, Black Sand and Gold, p. 376.
Did You Know?
The mystery of why these canvas boats were left behind at the Chilkoot summit of Klondike Gold Rush NHP, remains unsolved. One theory reports that it was too costly to pay the customs to take them over the border. Perhaps they were too flimsy for the rough waters of Bennett Lake?