Deaths in Glacier National Park this year tie for record
Keila Szpaller/Daily Montanan
This year in Glacier National Park is tied with three other years for the most recorded fatalities counting natural causes, according to a park spokesperson.
Seven people have died in Glacier this year so far including three of presumed natural causes, said Brandy Burke, public affairs assistant for the park. Late last month, the park reported three people died in two separate incidents, including two expert climbers who were locals.
The park considers all four accidental deaths this year the results of a fall, but Burke said the falls occurred while people were climbing. In general, she said the top three causes of deaths in the park are natural causes (such as heart attacks, seizures and strokes), drowning and falling.
If the count doesn’t include natural causes, she said, 1925 is the leading year of deaths, with four drownings, two exposures and one fall. In addition to 1925, the years that tie with this one for deaths counting natural causes are 1969 and 1981, according to the park.
“None of them include bear attacks,” Burke said.
In 1969, the park experienced an historic tragedy when an avalanche took out five climbers at once on Mount Cleveland, Burke said. Local writer Terry Kennedy documented the story in a book, “In Search of the Mount Cleveland Five.”
This summer, in the 72-hour-period when responders were seeking the three people who fell in two incidents, personnel from ALERT, Two Bear Air, and Minuteman Aviation were all at work at once in the park, Burke said. At the same time, she said, law enforcement officers were responding to unrelated life support and other incidents.
“Those are the things that don’t get reported, (that) you don’t hear about every day, but they are working extra hard,” Burke said.
Visits to Glacier National Park have increased in recent years and hit various record highs. Last year, for example, the park counted its highest year-to-date visits through May.
Burke declined to provide the number of law enforcement officers that work in the park for security reasons, but she said they are responding to many calls for assistance. She said the types of calls vary depending on when Going-to-the-Sun Road opens.
“There has been a significant increase of service calls over the last 10 years,” Burke said.
She said the top thing she hopes visitors will do to be safe is to be well informed and also understand that conditions may change once they’re in the park, including weather and trail and road closures.
“Visitors should know their own personal limits,” Burke said in an email. “If hiking, make sure they understand the terrain, the distance and difficulty level of the hike. Many of our calls come from people who were participating in activities above their capabilities, i.e., too strenuous of a hike.”
She also said the park receives a lot of “overdue party” calls, which resolve themselves. But she said people should know there’s no cell service in the park, so visitors should make a plan to check in with interested parties at a prearranged time.