Rockfall not without precedent on Sun Road

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This car was heavily damaged by a rockslide at the Weeping Wall in 2012.

Rocks falling onto the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park are far from a rare occurrence, but deaths from falling stones onto the road have only been recorded three times since the road was constructed.

A 14-year-old Farr West City, Utah girl was killed on Aug. 12 after rockfall hit the pickup she was a passenger in near the East Side Tunnel.

The rocks that hit the vehicle were between fist-sized and 12 inches in diameter. Park officials estimate that the amount of debris could have filled the bed of a pickup truck. The rocks fell from an unknown height from the mountains above the road.

Other family members in the vehicle were also injured, suffering significant bruises. The girl’s name was not released by authorities, but she was later identified through a GoFundMe page as Ayva Sparrow.

Incidents like this are not entirely uncommon.

A search of Hungry Horse News archives reveals that in July, 2012, a heavy rainstorm brought down several mud and rock slides on the Sun Road, prompting closure of the road between Avalanche Creek and Logan Pass.

In that weather event, a slide near the Weeping Wall totaled a car, and overall, about 150 vehicles were damaged by the slides. Two visitors sustained minor injuries when their vehicle was hit and damaged.

In September, 2004, a two people were injured when a rock fell off the cliffs above the West Side Tunnel and landed on their 2003 Porsche Carerra convertible.

In that case, about 15 rocks landed on the car, one the size of a basketball.

The driver of the car received significant injuries.

Then in 2005, a boulder fell off the road and crushed a trailer being used by construction crews. No one was injured. Over the years, mud and rockslides have also obliterated sections of the road.

In November, 2006, a weather event dumped more than 12 inches of rain in some parts of the park. The resulting slides damaged the road on both the east and west sides, taking out several hundred feet of the highway near the east side tunnel.

In June, 1996, Tsuyoshi Kamochi, 30, was driving the road near Oberlin Bend when a 25-ton boulder fell about 200 feet and crashed onto the highway.

The boulder actually missed his vehicle, but a shower of smaller rocks crushed it and pinned him inside from the waist down. The car then caught fire. His wife, a passenger inside the vehicle, was also injured, but survived.

In 1962, a rock went through a vehicle about 1.5 miles west of Logan Pass, killing Alice Jean Leckie, 52, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Leckie was in the back seat. The story at the time said she was afraid of the highway and had her head down in the seat cushion.

Two other men died from rockfall along the highway, but that was during road construction in the 1931 and 1932.

Today, the Park has crews that patrol the road daily, removing rocks and debris.

In the latest incident, Glacier spokeswoman Lauren Alley said the park isn’t sure what, exactly, prompted the slide.

“Like other mountainous regions, the areas above the Going-to-the-Sun Road are subject to tremendous weathering and erosion. Temperature changes, wind, rain, and passing animals can all dislodge rocks. Glacier isn’t a ‘climbing park’ with large granite rock slabs like some other prominent national parks. Glacier’s rocks are largely mudstone and limestone (sedimentary) which means that they are continually fracturing and shedding off the mountains. So far there is no obvious specific location where the rocks in this incident came from,” she said in an email.

The Park, when it reconstructed the Sun Road in the past 10 years did do rock scaling and even bolted in sections of cliff face in an attempt to make the road safer. But Glacier’s mountains are old and weathered, and as long as there’s snow, ice, rain, and gravity, it seems that rockfall is an inevitable risk.

The GoFundMe page for Sparrow is at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-the-sparrow-family

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