Glacier Park: Avalanche strands 13 bicyclists on Going-to-the-Sun Road

Bicyclists were stranded on either side of an avalanche that crossed Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road on Monday. (Mary Marsh via Glacier National Park)

Thirteen bicyclists were trapped on the far side of an avalanche that careened across Going-to-the-Sun Road at Triple Arches on Monday. There were no injuries, Glacier National Park officials reported Tuesday.

Here’s a look at the scene as the avalanche came across the road, sending bicyclists scurrying. The video was shot by bicyclist Deven Robinson and shared Tuesday by Glacier National Park.

Avalanche video at Triple Arches courtesy Deven Robinson

Earlier Monday, the park managers had closed the Sun Road to all pedestrian and cyclist traffic at the Loop after a separate significant rock slide blocked the road and prevented emergency vehicle travel.

But many cyclists were already beyond the road closure at that point. So they continued up the iconic road, where bicyclists and hikers are allowed early in the season before snowplow crews open the full road to automobile traffic.

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

A park road crew cleared the rock slide, and began 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 the stability of the slope above, according to a report on the incident released by park officials Tuesday.

“The snow stabilized after several hours, allowing crews to work safely,” the park statement said. “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.

Officials reminded cyclists not to venture across a slide should the road again become blocked in coming days or weeks. Several visitors photographed cyclists walking over Monday’s slide to continue their cycling trip up the road.

“If you encounter a slide along the road, turn around,” Glacier officials said Tuesday. “Signs of slide activity mean that more avalanche activity is possible, as was the case yesterday. 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 Park officials also reminded visitors that conditions change rapidly in the park. Always pack extra food, bring extra clothes, and learn about potential hazards that may exist in the area you plan to visit. Read more about avalanche-related hazards during the spring hiker-biker season here.

“Sunny weather affords comfortable conditions for cycling and hiking, but does increase avalanche hazard as snow softens,” the park reported. “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.

“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.”