Kenneth J. Hayes, 04-16-99

Anchorage Daily News
Saturday, April 17, 1999
By Peter Porco, Daily News Reporter

A Healy man was missing and two others were injured in an avalanche that buried a group of five snowmachiners Friday afternoon in the Talkeetna Mountains near Cantwell, Alaska State Troopers said.

Troopers called prospects bleak for the buried victim, 44-year-old Kenneth J. Hayes.

Hayes was among 12 snowmachiners riding the popular "Big Notch in the Mountains" at Jack River Canyon, about 12 miles south of Cantwell, when a slide broke loose shortly before 4 p.m. Five riders were caught, troopers said. Four of them were dug out by other riders. Sophie Dickman, 37, of Two Rivers, suffered a broken leg. Ken Wench, 35, of Seattle, also suffered a leg injury. Mark Moreno, 30, of Two Rivers, and Jeff Vivlamore, 32, of Fairbanks, were not injured.

An Army medical helicopter flew Dickman to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. Troopers didn't know if Wench received medical treatment.

Two avalanche experts flew over the area Friday evening to evaluate whether conditions were too dangerous for searchers to enter the area, trooper Lt. Dan Hickman said. He had not heard a report from them by 11 p.m.

A group of snowmachiners went out about 10 p.m. to set up camp near the site to resume a search for Hayes in the morning, Hickman added.

"They suspect he's in a 30- to 35-foot-square area," Hickman said.

Jack Lawson, owner of Cantwell's Reindeer Mountain Lodge, said the snowmachiners who were caught ride in the Cantwell area at least once a year and rode through the same area last weekend.

"They saw a small slide coming down and the next thing they knew, it was on top of them, a big one," Lawson said.

"A few of them were completely buried, and a couple of them got themselves out and started digging the others out," Lawson said.

The canyon ride is part of a 60-mile loop through the Talkeetna Mountains that begins at the Denali Highway. The riders pass the Caribou Lakes at Caribou Pass and come out near Mile 196 of the Parks Highway at Broad Pass. They then head back to Cantwell along the highway.

"Generally the trail is on the creek bottom, and you're normally not in avalanche danger unless you choose to do some highmarking or go up into the high mountain draws," said Bob Gilbertson, owner of Backwoods Lodge, another Cantwell inn where snowmachiners from Fairbanks and Anchorage stay on weekends.

"I've been in there, and I've seen avalanches on the high slopes," said Gilbertson, who used to ride snowmachines and drive dogs through Jack River Canyon. However, the slides did not reach the bottom, he added.
But if the snowmachiners were highmarking -- driving hard up the slopes to see how high they could go -- that could lead to disaster, Gilbertson said.

"My immediate reaction is that these people were off the trail or highmarking or just exploring the high canyons and draws and just generally screwing around," he said. "I've done this same thing up in that canyon -- it's absolutely gorgeous in there, beautiful snowmachining country.

"But in the wrong time of year, you shouldn't be there."

Gilbertson said that this winter's snowfall has been less than normal but that it snowed recently.