Deaths in Glacier National Park this year tie for record

By: - August 11, 2022 5:24 pm

Glacier National Park. (Keila Szpaller/The 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.

Some top recommendations from Glacier:

Visitors need to be prepared for all types of weather, have adequate clothing, especially shoes, and carry enough food and water.

Check the weather before starting their day in the park.

Don’t hike alone.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”

MORE FROM AUTHOR