Spring Snowstorm

April in 1898 seems to have been a fairly mild month. The prospectors' diaries talk of long sunny days and snow-blindness, of slushy, melting snow and having to work at night.

Then, on April 26, a spring snowstorm began, with heavy wet snow falling in huge flakes, hour after hour, for five days trapping 300 men at the Foot of the Summit Camp. Most had expected to be across the Summit. Many risked leaving their tents to go begging for firewood to melt water for cooking. The little available wood and kerosene that was for sale sold at 25 cents a pound for wood and $5 a gallon for kerosene. Caches soon disappeared under the snow.

On April 30, snow stopped. Men meansured 7-8 ft. of new snow; 12 ft. in drifts. They began shoveling out tents, hunting for caches, breaking the trail, listening to distant avalanches rumbling down the mountains.

Exhausted, the men retired for a good nights sleep. But suddenly a huge avalanche broke away from the mountain and ran out onto the glacier covering twenty tents. Immediately, over 200 men clad only in their underwear began digging out their buried comrades. A disaster that could have claimed the lives of many was averted by their efforts.

Although only two men died, the newspapers in Skagway feeling threatened by the rival Valdez route and reeling from an avalanche that had killed 37 on their trail continuously portrayed the Valdez Glacier Trail as a death trap. The myth has continued to this day.

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