Please welcome Sarah of AK Baby Rentals to the blog today. Her story is one I have been waiting to hear for quite a while now. It has a good ending, but includes some lessons worth keeping in mind. As always, please leave her some love in the comments (I think she would REALLY appreciate them) and check out AK Baby Rentals!
Avalanche. A word that I never really thought much about til moving to Alaska a few years ago. I only thought it was a crazy event that affects those adventurous snowmachiners, ice climbers, backcountry skiers, etc. I was wrong and I will remember this day for the rest of my life.
Our family loves to travel and explore new places and for the past few years has chosen to be tourists in our own state of Alaska. While we are always exploring new places, we also have found some great places that we regularly take our visitors to because they are great places to get up close to a glacier, see a moose, etc. About an hour outside of Anchorage, near Portage, is a great family friendly trail that leads up to Byron Glacier. Along with the glacier, there is a permanent snowfield, a glacier fed river and breathtaking scenery. The hike is less than 1.5 miles, so it is perfect in all four seasons, even with little ones.
It was the beginning of June and yes, the snow had melted in Alaska and it was beginning to feel like summer after a long winter. My sister was visiting and it was her first visit to the amazing state. We all headed out for a hike to show her a glacier up close and to explore the Alaska outside of Anchorage.
We always tell someone where we are going. We didn’t.
We always sign in at the trailhead. We didn’t.
We always check the weather reports / avalanche risks. We didn’t.
But, it was a beautiful day and we started our hike. We have a Chariot Carriers Cougar 2 stroller and our 3.5 year old daughter and 1 year old son were riding. A Chariot is an awesome outdoor stroller that has large wheels, an enclosed compartment with a cover, a sturdy frame and a suspension. We were walking along the enjoying the sunshine and were approaching the end of trail. At this point, on the right side of the trail is a tall steep mountain. On the left side of the trail is a glacier fed river, with a snowfield and snow cave in the middle and further to the left, another tall mountain. Straight ahead is a beautiful magnificent glacier.
Fast forward three minutes. My husband walked over to the river and was headed in to explore the snow cave. I was standing on the trail headed towards the river with our kids in the Chariot. We hear this very loud jet engine sound. Very loud. I think, gosh that sounds pretty low and why would there be a jet back here….and look up. Think a really bad movie scene, except I am in it. The avalanche is headed right down towards us and where in the world do I go??? I’m on a rocky trail between two mountains with two kids in a stroller that weighs 80+ lbs! Adrenaline hits and I move faster that I possibly could pushing our Chariot towards the right, up the other side of the mountain, over rocks and around boulders, praying as I go, thinking to myself, it’s not too likely that someone is going to be checking the avalanche snow piles for us in June and how do I make sure my kids are okay? My husband was running to catch up to me and grabs the other side of the Chariot to help keep us moving. Just as he reaches me, the snow from the avalanche reaches the ground. It misses us by about two feet and we are sprayed with icy spray and debris that whipped my cheeks raw and froze my hair like bad hairspray with lots of knots.
I don’t know if you believe in God, but that day I know and could feel Him stopping the avalanche behind me like a wall, protecting my family. Where my husband had been standing not even twenty seconds before was now a snow pile over 20 feet high with wet heavy snow. I was in shock. My family was okay. Our dog was good, my sister was there. We were not dead, buried, injured and all of us were accounted for. And not only had we survived, but the only the cover had blown open on the Chariot and even with that happening, my little guy, the 1 year old, slept through the whole thing.
For a few weeks afterward, I had a lot of dreams about the event, avalanches in general and tried to process through what had happened, including doing a lot of research on avalanches. I’m not a big risk taker and am usually prepared. This event taught me a few key things that even though I knew and practiced, I didn’t that day and now do 100% of the time:
1) Always tell someone where you are going to be…even if it’s as simple as a walk in your own neighborhood.
2) If there is a sign in sheet, just sign in. Do it.
3) Be informed and aware of your environment before you go. I didn’t realize avalanches could occur in the summer. Ignorant, I know, so I didn’t check.
4) Invest in quality gear. It’s worth the money. Safety is priceless.
5) And yes, those warning signs…on the way back to our car, we saw signs for avalanche warnings. They are posted for a reason. Heed them.
We talked with our three year old quite a bit about what had happened and let her lead a lot of the conversations. We want her to have a healthy respect for our world and environment, but to also understand the dangers and risks. We want her to be adventurous and explore and we were sad that we had exposed her to this danger and removed some of her innocence. She was very upset about the “loud snow falling” as she described the avalanche and daily in the summer would pray that we would not have any more avalanches when we went to the playground. We have read books about avalanches together and talk about what we should have in our car and with us if we are outdoors and what we should do if one occurs.
I am so very thankful that the outcome of this avalanche experience was still positive as it could have had a much different ending. My entire family is safe, alive, happy and ready to keep exploring and traveling!
Author Sarah Phillips Knechtel lives in Alaska and is a mom of two little ones, a family travel enthusiast, entrepreneur and the founder and co-owner of Alaska Baby Rentals at www.alaskababyrentals.com