On Sunday afternoon, Marc Roston and his son Simon were in the middle of a backpacking trip through the wilds of Glacier National Park when they rounded a corner and saw a column of smoke reaching thousands of feet into the air.
It was about 2:30 p.m. and the duo from Whitefish had just stumbled upon the Thompson Fire, which in two days has burned nearly 2,000 acres of land in the park. The cause of the fire is unknown and a Type III management team was brought in to battle the blaze.
The Rostons were hiking the Nyack-Coal Creek loop and had planned on camping in the Nyack area Sunday night, but those plans changed when they saw the fire. Roston said he estimates that he and his son were about 5 miles from the fire when they first saw it but that they “didn’t want to get any closer to confirm.” The Rostons decided to turn back to the Beaver Woman Campground where they stayed the night before. Roston said the smoke plume continued to grow as they retreated.
“It was scary,” Roston said. “But I kept telling Simon and myself that being scared is OK but being panicked is not. We just kept hiking as fast as we could.”
About two hours after initially seeing the smoke plume they saw another object in the sky above: a helicopter. The father and son started to wave their arms and the aircraft hovered overhead for a few moments before disappearing. Soon after, the helicopter returned and someone inside motioned the father and son to keep hiking down the trail. A few minutes later, some National Park Service employees came down the path and asked, “Are you Marc Roston?”
Roston said he and his son were some of the only backcountry hikers in the area and so the Park Service sent in a helicopter to find them.
“It was the best $30 I ever spent on a backcountry pass,” he said.
After boarding the helicopter, Roston said one of his first concerns was if someone had called his wife. But the pilot said word had barely even gotten out about the fire. Within a few minutes, Roston and his son were back at their car in Nyack. He said the service was so good that the pilot asked which vehicle was theirs and dropped them off right beside it.
“It was an amazing end to the trip,” he said.