On Sept. 17, a group of nine hikers – all local to the Flathead Valley – set out to hike Dragon’s Tail, a ridgeline overlooking Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park. However, they only managed to get halfway down the mountain’s steep southern face before calling 911 for help.
Already cold and windy at 6 p.m., the party lacked adequate equipment to brace the weather and were not prepared to hike in darkness, according to park officials. At this point, Two Bear Air dispatched a helicopter to rescue them.
Dragon’s Tail is an off-trail route not maintained by the National Park Service. The Sept. 17 incident is one of multiple recent calls for emergency assistance from visitors in the area and is reflective of a steadily increasing search-and-rescue workload in Glacier. So far in 2023, there have been 80 incidents, officials said.
“Multiple, recent search and rescues and several fatalities on and around Dragon’s Tail in recent years highlight the inherent dangers of traveling in Glacier’s backcountry,” Glacier National Park Public Affairs Specialist Brandy Burke stated in an email. “It is critical, particularly in the shoulder seasons, for visitors to have the correct equipment, clothing, knowledge and planning to prevent tragedies.”
In the case of the party on Dragon’s Tail, the helicopter was able to land near the hikers and conducted multiple trips to bring them to Logan Pass. However, Burke warned that rescue efforts are not always so smooth and emphasized the importance of preparation.
“Visitors should remember that helicopter rescues are frequently unavailable due to weather and concurrent incidents,” Burke added. “Two Bear Air receives multiple requests and responds to the most critical need […] Of the 80 Search and Rescues in 2023, Two Bear Air has been requested for ten since May. Three of those were delayed due to weather.”
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