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Glacier Park Avalanche Leaves Bikers Trapped For Hours

An avalanche left more than a dozen bicyclists trapped for hours on Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun road Monday. Crews worked to plow through the snow and get the bikers to safety.

First, around 1 p.m., a rock slide closed the road just above a tight switchback known as "The Loop."

"That actually closed the road to even emergency vehicles."

That’s Lauren Alley, park spokesperson.

But lots of people were already past that point on the road. And near the Triple Arches area around 3 p.m., an avalanche dumped a thick blanket of wet snow across the road.

The slide trapped 13 cyclists as snow tumbled down the slope for hours.

"They had quite an afternoon," Alley says.

From the time of the rock slide it took about eight hours for crews to get through the rock and snow.

"Thankfully there were no injuries. Certainly people got a little bit cold, and I imagine fairly hungry."

Alley says people flocked to Glacier National Park this holiday weekend. On Memorial Day alone, more than 400 people hitched a ride on the park’s free hiker-and-biker-shuttle service.

"It was definitely a very busy day," Alley says.

Most of them hoped to go where cars aren’t yet allowed, namely, sections of Going-to-the-Sun Road that won’t open to vehicles until mid-June or July.

The winding, awe-inspiring road hugs cliff-sides as it crawls over the Continental Divide, spanning the width of the park. The problem is, as you get higher on the road, lots of terrain is prone to avalanches.

"It’s definitely a dynamic area, an area where you need to have your wits about you and a little bit of an understanding about what’s going on," Alley says.

As icy mornings turn to warm, sunny days, Alley says those types of wet slides are fairly common in the park.

"We actually see rock slides happen all year long. Certainly, avalanche activity happens primarily in the earlier season, which can happen all the way through June."

So she says to watch out for fresh snow near the road and make sure to bring warm gear and enough food and water. Mornings are safer than afternoons as things heat up. And if hikers come across an avalanche slide, never try to cross it.

Nick Mott is a reporter and podcast producer based in Livingston, Montana.
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