July 26 – Glacier National Park officials investigate an illegal BASE jump from Mount Siyeh last weekend.
When hikers Jody Hildreth and her daughter Aubrey heard screams and cheers near Cracker Lake in the Many Glacier area on Sunday morning, they couldn’t figure out what it was.
When they looked up at the sky near the 10,014 foot summit, they found their answer.
“We got to the lake and we heard all these screams and cheers, like someone was watching fireworks,” Jody Hildreth said. “We couldn’t understand why the campers were so excited, then we looked up and saw a parachute descending in front of us.”
Hanging from a blue and white parachute, a man in a wingsuit and helmet equipped with a GoPro camera slowly descended to the trail not far from where the Hildreths were hiking. Within a minute, the pair passed the flyer as they continued down the trail.
“My first thought was that it seemed like something that would be illegal in the park so I didn’t want to confront him too much. I said hello to him and asked him where he jumped from and he replied pointing to Mt. Siyeh, but he didn’t say much.”
After completing their day hike around the lake, Jody Hildreth checked with Many Glacier park rangers to make sure the flight was legal. Unsure of the answer at first, the rangers later informed Hildreth that the theft was indeed illegal.
“I gave them what little description I could of the man and showed them my photos. He never took his helmet off and I had very little interaction with him,” Jody Hildreth said. . “I can’t do much more.”
Predating the sport of BASE jumping by decades, a 1965 law prohibited the “air delivery” of people or goods into national parks, but attempts inside Glacier are not unheard of.
A jumper in 1997 only covered 300 feet on Siyeh’s 4,000-foot vertical north face before his parachute snagged on rocks.
While this climber was rescued, 22-year-old Beau Weiher died from around 1,500 to 2,000 feet in the park while attempting the same jump in September 2014.
Other national parks are struggling with the same problem. Zion National Park in Utah saw two BASE jumpers die in 2014 and Yosemite National Park in California saw numerous incidents, including the death of BASE jumping expert Dean Potter and his friend Graham Hunter in 2015.
Ray O’Neal, a longtime Zion ranger, told The New York Times after the 2015 fatalities that the problem with BASE jumping in national parks isn’t necessarily about safety or rescue costs, like the assume many jumpers.
“The reason we would want to discourage him is not so much because of the danger, but because of the spectacle,” O’Neal said. “We like to think that people come here to enjoy the scenery, not the spectacle of people jumping.”
The penalty for being caught BASE jumping in a national park carries a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to six months in jail.