Stand your ground! Some species of avalanche are known to false charge.
It rained this week.
Which means it got warmer in town.
Which means it got warmer up in the snow-smothered mountains.
Which means stuff starts getting loose up there.
When it first slid, this avalanche snow blocked about 1/8 mile of the road.
Given that Juneau allegedly has the highest risk of urban avalanches in the nation, this isn’t a hugely surprising event. We’ve had something like 12 natural avalanches in the past few days here.
But let me tell you a little bit about the road above. It’s called Thane Road. It’s “the end of the road” in downtown Juneau, as in, the end of the town on the southeast end. (There are no roads into or out of Juneau.)
Six miles long, hilly, lovely views, very sparsely trafficked — in short, Thane makes a terrific out-and-back 12-mile run. Fun fact: People who live out Thane Road have no way to get to work when the road is blocked by an avalanche slide, which happens at least once during any winter with a higher snowfall. And in case you were wondering: no, nobody lives in houses that are in the actual avalanche risk zone.
During avalanche season, the safety folks always have to put out public service announcements that say something to the effect of, “Now, the biggest predictor of avalanches is other avalanches, so we urge you not to go check out the avalanche zones or spend any time in them unless you must.”
Well, I ran with two different sets of running buddies this weekend.
When it came to deciding where we should run, what was the resounding party line from both groups?
“Let’s go check out the avalanche!!!”
So, typically when I’m presented with the idea of encountering scary things outside — bears, sharks, muggers — I feel much safer with a large group, since it reduces my chances of being the one attacked. Somehow I suspect this “herd immunity” strategy may not have the same protective factor when groups of us stampede our way along roads nestled below the mammoth piles of snow that sit quivering atop the mountains.
Nevertheless, I gave swiftly into peer pressure and proceeded to run through this road’s two-mile stretch of designated avalanche zone a total of four times this weekend. **
On Saturday morning, after I voiced my “herd immunity” concerns to the group, we briefly compared the safety advice for bears against that for avalanches, and came up with a fake plan for what we should do if another avalanche seemed imminent during our trot. We decided the appropriate response would be to stop running, face the avalanche head on, wave our arms and yell at it. Maybe hit it in the face with a hefty shot of pepper spray for good measure.
Because let’s face it, pepper spraying an avalanche is no less useful than attempting to outrun one.
Sorry mom… not funny?
**These guys have all been living and running in Juneau for a long time. I trusted I was not about to be lead into some truly high-risk situation. Also, it was really cool.