WEST GLACIER — Glacier National Park Rangers are reflecting on the over 80 rescues performed in the park so far this year as the main tourist season comes to an end.
With the increase in visitation the rescuers in the park, as well as the outside agencies that assist in the rescues, are feeling the strain.
“You think about Glacier. It's a million acres. It's so diverse. From high alpine peaks to raging, swift water, wild and scenic rivers — to [the] true wilderness of being out in the middle of nowhere with very limited communications,” observed Glacier National Park Chief Ranger Paul Austin.
But that beauty and diversity can come with a price. Park Rangers say as more people flock to the Crown of the Continent, they're also seeing more people who are unprepared for the severity of the climate.
“It can snow here 12 months a year. And sometimes we get complacent as humans think, 'Oh, we're fine. I just need my Camelback and that's all I need'. But traveling the mountains in Montana, you need to be ready for everything and you need to be prepared if something were to go wrong to spend the night,” said Austin.
Rescues can range from a three-day search for a missing hiker to Rangers responding to the Highline Trail for a twisted ankle or heat exhaustion.
“One of the great things about rescues in glaciers is the variety. As a ranger, that's one of the things that's amazing that we have the opportunity to do to impact human lives, but in a variety of settings," Austin told MTN News. "It can be truly everything from technical rescue, to helicopter rescue, to high alpine environments, to swift water, to flat water to large scale search incidents."
Park Rangers work with Search and Rescue, local fire departments, the Sheriff’s Office and Two Bear Air to aid in in rescues in Glacier National Park. While Two Bear Air is a critical asset in handling extreme terrain rescues, it's also up to visitors to be prepared for what they will encounter.
“Our pilots are second to none. We have rear aircrew — some of those deputies with his office — and they're all trained to the best level that they can to perform, in these often rough terrain scenarios. I think educating the community is important. And one of those aspects is to be prepared for a lot of the different terrain things," observed Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino. "We have a lot of people that come here that maybe have an idea of what Montana is, but the terrain is definitely challenging in a lot of aspects."
With the shoulder season approaching at Glacier National Park, it's even more critical to be prepared for variable weather conditions.
“We often see people just unprepared when the weather changes. Because I think a lot of people we get away with it until the weather changes and Mother Nature reminds us who's actually in charge,” said Austin.
People visiting the Park should always remember to plan ahead, pack accordingly and follow the Recreate Responsibly guidelines while adventuring in the park.