Monday, December 12, 2011

Goat Rodeo at the Pass

The blizzard was supposed to hit Saturday afternoon, but the storm was late. The Sunday AM inter-tubes weather station check had confirmed this. The stars were out in Anchorage and only 0.1" SWE had accumulated overnight at Turnagain Pass.

Sunday had been penciled in as "Glacier Training" for an April trip. We had planned to get on actual glaciers, but the visibility was not great and the wind was kicking up. We opted to practice at our fall-back location: Center Ridge. At the parking lot there was 2" of fresh and it was snowing at 0.5"/hour (S2-ing for you nerds). We roped up and marched into the low angle trees.

At 1,600', I sussed out an exposed ridge and the winds were howling. Going higher would not be prudent. We retreated a few 100 vert to a nice roll-over to practice haul systems. Even this sheltered location was catching some gusts. And it was snowing. Hard. 2,000' above us the wind was gusting up to 121 mph. Exhausted and wet, we returned to the cars after 4 hours of training. Our feelings of victory were short lived, as it became obvious that our rides were snowed in and we were 150 yards from the plowed highway. The shit show was underway.

Hubris convinced us that we could rally out to the road no problem. This was not to be. After nearly crashing the cars into each other and getting them high-centered; it was time to reassess. Fortunately we had 6 shovels and 6 motivated, thirsty shovelers. After about an hour we had the vehicles pointed towards the road and a launching pad shoveled out. Rusty accelerated down the ramp and momentum allowed him to surf out to the road. Heather followed in his wake and we were ready for a beer, but first we had to free a stuck traveler that had augured his Hyundai into a snow bank.

The wind was howling and snow was still coming in thick. The highway is divided at this point and visibility was so low that confused motorists were driving on the wrong side. After 10 minutes of Hyundai work, there were 3 more cars stuck: 2 traveling in the wrong direction and one in the middle. Junk show. No one in these four stuck vehicles had a shovel or boots, and Team Hyundai was in shorts. And the weather was not going to let up.

No one wants "Donner Party 2: AK Edition" on their conscience. I could envision the shadowy interview with voice disguise technology on the TLC or NatGeo.

Interviewer: "So you left them to die?"
U.K.: sounding like Ned from South Park "Yep"

Amusing as that sounds, it really was not an option, so we dug. We pushed and we dug some more. In front, underneath, next to, and behind. More motorist got stuck. Motorist number 2 got out and borrowed a shovel. Finally some help. But this doooooosh, tried to blend in and kept pointing as his own car and saying, "We should probably get those guys out first." Nice....

We did finally get the dooosh and his family unstuck and on the correct side of the highway based on their direction of travel. But then they stopped and the back door opened and a barefoot 8-year boy got out and proceeded to take a piss in the middle of the highway. As they drove off the lil' bastard starting snapping cell phone pics of us as we continued to shovel.

We freed a Neon and sent them on their way South. Heather yelled, "You're never gonna make it!!" as they fish-tailed down the highway towards more mountains and higher passes. Team Hyundai was the last to be set free and they required the use of Rusty's moose-blood stained tow strap. They yelled thanks out the window as they tried to maintain momentum.

Time for some beer, but as a final insult another 2-wheel drive, bald-ass tired POS, mother-f'ing shitbox augured in. We had already shoveled this stretch of highway down to pavement and were operating with the efficiency of a NASCAR pit crew; so we freed them quickly and headed for Gird.

Conditions did not improve as we descended but with gravity on our side traffic moved slowly and surely. Those travelling up towards the pass were not fairing as well. Especially since a tractor trailer abandoned his load in the middle of the only south bound lane.

We finally made to Girdwood to quench the thirst that had been rapidly building. It was definitely a mess, but I was glad we went. And so was the inept, ill-equipped, road-whizzing, 2-wheel driving, shorts wearing, bald tire spinning slice of humanity that we met along the way.

- U.K.