"Broken Ankle at Hatcher Pass" or "How I got an Oil Company Job Story"

Copyright Alan R. Henderson February 25, 2004 (minor revisions October 1, 2012)

It was March 1980. I had been out of work for 3 weeks and had been unsuccessful in finding a job. Gary Guinn called me early Sunday morning and wanted to go to Hatcher Pass skiing. This is at the "Independence Mine State Historical Park" up Fishhook Road from Palmer, Alaska. I decided that this was going to be the last day (and night) of fun until I found a new job. We left around 7:00 am before the sun was up to get to the mountain as early as possible. The day turned out to be beautiful with a clear sky and temperatures peaking around 30 degrees. Gary wanted to ski from the Independence Mine site all the way down to the Little Susitna Roadhouse at the bottom of the hill. We decided to drive up to the mine, leave my car, ski down and hopefully get a ride late in the evening back up the hill to the car. Gary was feeling quite ballsy that day and thought we should go up over one of the passes in the eastern mountains and down the other side in a "long short-cut" back to the Roadhouse. We took off on the long climb up to the eastern pass. This was a 2 mile hike straight up a glacial hill that only gets steeper the further you go up the mountain. With our mountain cross-country skis and seal skin furs strapped to the bottom, this is a fairly easy task. We made to the top of the hill around 11:00 am with plenty of time to get down the hill, so we stopped for a nice lunch. We had never been over the mountain before, but we could see down the hill to the Roadhouse at the base. It hadn't snowed in a week or so, but the snow was super nice on the east side of the mountain. There was around 12 inches of powder on top of the old snow and we couldn't see a single ski track in site. We started down the steepest slope (always at the top of the mountains due to the glacial effects). It didn't take Gary long to start his typical tumbling. I don't know how he never got hurt. He would start down a steep slope and start to make the first Telemark turn, then would end up going straight down a slope until he crashed. I, on the other hand, would make about 8-10 turns before I crashed (usually at a much slower speed). This day was no different than before. Gary crashed often and I crashed occasionally. We made it down to the end of the first major glacial valley that was a hanging valley above the steep slope down to the Roadhouse around 1:00 pm. We stopped again, this time for a little liquid courage. We had reached the edge of the "Alder" tree zone. They are called trees, but are actually 20 foot tall bushes that are almost impossible to walk through, although the moose in the area act like they are not there. We scanned a route down the hill, where hopefully we wouldn't have to go through the Alders. Gary started first and immediately fell down the extremely steep slope. I followed, then passed him, laughing, when I caught my ski in an Alder branch that was just below the surface. Needless to say, I immediately knew that I was in serious trouble with at least a sprained ankle. I took my ski off and laid with my back to a bank, holding my foot up. Gary took 30 minutes to get up from his crash and finally get to me. We tried many ways to get me  down the hill, but nothing worked. We were around 2-3 miles above the Roadhouse and no where close to any known trails. Gary decided he better go for help. I laid back with my skis sticking straight up with a orange plastic tarp strung between the skis to help the rescuers locate me. It was around 2:00 pm when Gary left and there was around 3 hours of daylight left. I was hoping it was enough time for Gary to get down the hill, organize a rescue mission and get back up the hill. Around 5:00 pm, with the sun setting quickly and I was starting to get nervous. As I laid there I heard a snowmobile in the distance. I tried to get up, but that was not a viable solution. I tied my ski hat to one of my ski poles and started waving it around. I was laying with my back against a 10 foot high bank, when all of a sudden a snowmobile comes flying almost over my head. The man in the snowmobile was almost as startled as I was. I asked if he was part of the rescue mission. He just laughed and said "what rescue mission?". He offered me a ride down the hill. He gathered all my ski equipment and then helped me get on the back. This was my first time on a snowmobile and there was hardly enough room for the two of us, let alone including all the ski equipment. I was trying to hold my foot up off the running board while holding my ski equipment. We got around 10 feet before I jumped (one footed) off the back of the snowmobile. The man finally agreed to take me down to the road and then come back for my gear. It took at least a half hour to get to the road and he started to leave me by the road, but decided he would go ahead and take me down to the Roadhouse. Two guys helped me into the bar and put me in an easy chair in the corner near the woodstove. I asked about the rescue party and everyone said "what rescue party?". I knew at that time, I had better organize a rescue party for Gary. Around 20 people let in cars and on snowmobiles looking for Gary. The owner got a metal tub and filled it full of snowy, icy water. I started to take off my ski boot, but quickly stopped. The boot is an all leather boot with a soft inner boot. I decided to leave the boot on and just waste it in the icy water. The bartender brought me a beer and then I put my foot in the tub. I was in a lot of pain, but in a little slice of heaven within 10 minutes. I somehow ended up with a bottle of Jack Daniels, then everything seemed to get better. It took over an hour for the posse to find Gary. They had to bring him to me, to get the car keys, then back up the mountain to get the car. The crew poured me into the passenger seat around 9:00 pm and Gary drove me back to Anchorage. I didn't have a job, insurance or much money, so I had Gary just take me home. Gary didn't have a car at the time, so he helped into my water bed (with one boot and all my clothes on) and drove my car home. The next morning, Gary picked me up and took me to a orthopedic doctor. I still had my boots and ski pants on. The doctor wanted to cut the boot off, but there was no way I was going to lose my only good (and expensive) ski boots. I'd had to order them and wait 4 months for delivery, so there was no way the doctor was going to destroy them. It took a while to get the boot off. As soon as it was off, my foot immediately ballooned up. The doctor told me that actually it was a good thing I hadn't taken the boot off. Of course, now I had to have a splint on and then wait a week to put a cast on my foot. I had broken the tab at the back of the heel that prevents the foot from extending too straight. Of course the tab didn't work in this case.
It could hardly move around and with the splint I didn't even try taking a bath. On Friday morning my friend Bill Horstmann, who had a temporary drafting job at Sohio Oil Company of Alaska, called me to tell me that there might be an temporary job opening up in his office. I thought this was great, I was even going to get a cast on until the following Monday, but at least I had a possible job. I no soon got off the phone with Bill, when a lady in the personnel department called and asked if I could come down for an interview. I almost started crying. I told her a short version of the broken ankle adventure and that Gary had my car and I couldn't drive down today. She told me she loved skiing at Hatcher Pass and that she would come pick me up. I still hadn't taken a bath, so I told her to give me an hour to get ready. I quickly took a sponge bath and was trying to get dressed when the lady showed up. She just laughed and said "don't worry, I'll help". We finally got me dressed and then down to the office for the interview. I didn't know that the interview was just with her. I had to fill out an application and then we spend 10 minutes discussing Sohio policies. She then informed me that I was hired. I was to start Tuesday morning (after I had my cast put on Monday). Since it was 12:00 she decided to take me over to "Clinks" for lunch and a couple of drinks (since I was still in pain). We had several too many and she finally took me home later that evening. To this day I've always wondered why she didn't just do the interview at my house. I never did see her again, but I did end up with a permanent job at Sohio. At least for 6 months until Arco Alaska hired me away.

The adventures at Sohio will be in another story probably called Adventures at Sohio or "the best shortest job I ever had".

The morals of this story are -
1. Don't follow Gary skiing.
2. Don't break your ankle when you don't have a job, unless you're really lucky.
3. Sometimes you just have to have one more fun day.

Notes -
Text in italics is sidebar information about Alaska and Alan's adventures.