Friday, June 18, 2021

Rangers rescue two bikers after avalanche on Sun Road

Daily Inter Lake | May 18, 2021 7:00 AM

Glacier National Park rangers rescued two bicyclists who were trapped by an avalanche Thursday night on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Neither was injured.

In a news release, park officials said three bicyclists  — a husband and wife and their friend, all residents of Bigfork — were traveling up the road when they encountered the aftermath of a slide and decided to turn around. Then a second avalanche occurred around 5:30 p.m., spilling more snow over the road and trapping the two men on the uphill side near the Triple Arches, roughly 2 miles from Logan Pass.

The woman, who had been riding ahead of the men, heard the slide and warned them to stop before it reached the road, park officials said. Neither man was trapped in the snow, but they were unable to get to the other side of the slide. The woman continued biking down the road to summon help.

Rangers were alerted around 6:30 p.m. and the first ranger arrived at the site of the avalanche about an hour later, park officials said. But conditions appeared too hazardous to begin the rescue operation right away.

"Park officials determined that they would wait until the sun was off the slope above, decreasing the chances for further slides, before starting rescue attempts," the news release said.

The rescue began around 9:30 p.m. as rangers belayed across the avalanche chute and took the bicyclists back one at a time, park officials said.

Park spokeswoman Gina Kerzman said they sustained no injuries and were not hospitalized.

The Sun Road will remain closed to motor vehicles at Avalanche Creek until it's fully reopened at Logan Pass for the season. Due to the avalanche conditions, hikers and bikers currently may not access the road past the Loop.

Avalanches are more likely to occur before or after sunny or warm weather, rainstorms and snowstorms, and park officials warn that hazardous snow conditions often aren't visible from the road. They say hikers and bikers should plan to start and finish their trips before the warmest part of the day, never stop under gullies or snowfields, and turn around if there is a rapid increase in temperature.

Describing Thursday's avalanche, Erich Peitzsch, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said in a statement: "The sudden onset of sunny and warm weather on Thursday afternoon, combined with recent new snow from the previous weekend, created unstable surface snow conditions. These conditions resulted in a wet, loose avalanche originating above the road in Triple Arches that deposited debris on the road."