Portage, 20-Mile River Avalanche Fatality
From “The Snowy Torrents”
May 10, 1975: 4 hunters caught, 1 injured, 1 buried and killed.
Accident Summary: Portage is a small community about 45 miles southeast of Anchorage. The 20-Mile River empties into Turnagain Arm just north of Portage. On May 10, Jesse Tapley, 43, John Bacon, 36, and Bacon’s sons, Richard, 16, and Vance, 11, were bear hunting along the 20-Mile River. Tapley had piloted the group in an airboat up to mile 8 of the river where they had beached the boat. They were on the shore of the river when a wet avalanche released naturally on the mountainside above and swept over the group. All four were caught, but only Tapley was buried. Vance Bacon suffered a deep cut on one leg.
The three survivors searched in vain for Tapley. More than a week later, searchers located his body in the avalanche debris.
Comments: Spring “breakup” in Alaska is a time of upheaval and occasional violence, as winter gives in to summer. Wet snow slides, rock avalanches, and mud flows are common occurrences. Bear hunters must be especially vigilant; in 1972, two bear hunters on a nearby mountain narrowly escaped with their lives in a similar accident (see May 7, 1972 Bird Ridge Avalanche).