Glacier National Park avalanche traps cyclists on Going-to-the-Sun Road

Posted at 4:02 PM, May 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-28 19:42:32-04

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK- Thirteen cyclists were trapped for several hours Monday on the Going-to-the-Sun Road after avalanche activity at Triple Arches prevented them from returning down the mountain.

Glacier National Park officials closed the road to pedestrian and cyclist traffic earlier Monday at the Loop after a separate, significant rock slide blocked the road and prevented emergency vehicle travel. However, many cyclists were already beyond the road closure at the time.

Two park volunteer bike patrol units were also up the road, although they were on the west side of the avalanche area. They relayed the call for help to park dispatch and stayed in the area for more than four hours until park rangers gained access to the scene.

A press release stated a park road crew cleared the rock slide, and begin cutting a path through the avalanche debris to open the way for the stranded cyclists. Avalanche forecasters with the U.S. Geological Survey also assessed the avalanche area and slope above.

The snow stabilized after several hours, allowing crews to work safely. Conditions often do stabilize after a period of hours, so the park reminds hikers and bikers to carry extra food and clothing in order to be comfortable if stranded because of an emergency or unexpected situation.

The operation took approximately eight hours and involved more than a dozen park staff and volunteers. The cyclists were reportedly cold but in good spirits, and otherwise unharmed, according to park officials.

The press release states visitors photographed cyclists walking over the slide activity to continue their cycling trip up the road. If you encounter a slide along the road, turn around. Signs of slide activity means that more avalanche activity is possible, as was the case Monday. Do not attempt to cross an avalanche slide unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you do, you may become trapped on the other side as more snow continues to slide. If you must cross, use a spotter to watch for additional slide activity further up the mountain. Cross one at a time.

“If you see fresh snow on the side of the road or across the road, even if you are excited about your bike trip, turn around,” said Chief Ranger Paul Austin. “Take responsibility for your safety and though disappointing, plan on heading out another day. Biking along the Going-to-the-Sun Road is not the same as an easy bike trip around town.”

Glacier officials reminded visitors that conditions change rapidly in the park. Sunny weather affords comfortable conditions for cycling and hiking, but does increase avalanche hazard as snow softens. Even small slides can knock a person off their bike or feet, and the steep terrain along the road can increase the danger of even a small slide.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a narrow mountain highway prone to rock slides and avalanches. It’s not uncommon for the park to have one or two incidents each year where visitors become trapped on one side of a slide, according to the press release.

Spring rescue can be particularly difficult because the road is not yet cleared along its entire length. The final area to be cleared is the “Big Drift” near Logan Pass, a large snowdrift that accumulates all winter and typically is 40 to 80 feet deep.

Read more about avalanche-related hazards during the spring hiker-biker season here.