Cold temperatures and record-level precipitation converged on the U.S.-Canada border this week to create significant challenges for cyclists setting out on the Tour Divide ultra-endurance bikepacking ride, requiring numerous search-and-rescue responses along the northern leg of a route spanning 2,745 miles from Banff to New Mexico.
The rescue efforts have mostly occurred north of the border in British Columbia, where Fernie Search and Rescue reported 10 separate rescues of cyclists suffering from hypothermia and broken ribs.
On Tuesday, June 14, however, a cyclist required attention inside the northwest corner of Glacier National Park after he wrecked his bike, lost his way trying to return to Canada and encountered significant floodwaters in the Kishenehn drainage of the North Fork Flathead River Valley, according to a Wednesday afternoon press release from park officials.
“Yesterday afternoon at approximately 12:36 p.m., Glacier National Park dispatch was notified that a 25-year-old male bicyclist had activated his GPS tracking device to signal for help in the North Fork area of the park,” the release states, identifying the rider as Alex Minge of Riverton, Wyoming.
Upon receiving the GPS alert signal, park rangers began an immediate search and swept the North Fork Road as far as possible but were unable to reach the location of the tracking device due to flood conditions. A Minuteman Aviation helicopter responded from Missoula and ferried rangers from park headquarters in West Glacier to the Kishenehn Drainage up the North Fork, where rangers found and rescued Minge, who was transported by Three Rivers Ambulance to the hospital.
According to park spokesperson Gina Kerzman, Minge has since been released from the hospital and his condition was not serious.
“He tried to self-rescue and got to the point where he couldn’t make it out without assistance, so he signaled for help,” Kerzman said.
The search and rescue was an international effort with several agencies involved including U.S. Border Patrol, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Fernie Search and Rescue out of British Columbia.
The North Fork Flathead River Valley is situated along the 2,745-mile long Great Divide Mountain Bike route, an underground endurance feat known by all in the cycling community. Although few riders attempt the entire length of the route, and fewer still compete in the annual Ride the Divide event which kicked off on June 10, numerous riders explore sections of the Great Divide.
The riders who are competing in the official event encountered blizzards, rain and freezing temperatures, requiring some cyclists to spend hours on end pushing their bikes through more than a foot of snow. Their stories are recounted here.
Although floodwaters in the Flathead Valley have been relatively minor compared to other portions of the state, they have resulted in some road, trail and campground closures in Glacier National Park. The Inside North Fork Road is closed from Polebridge to Logging Creek while Kintla Road is closed at the head of Big Prairie due to flooding. The trail to Avalanche Lake is also closed, as are Quarter Circle Bridge and the boat ramp at Lake McDonald.