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Two dead in climbing accident were distinguished mountaineers

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The bodies of two mountain climbers were recovered from the cliffs below Dusty Star Mountain, the square-topped peak on the south side of St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park.

Two well-known climbers died on a mountain in Glacier National Park after they attempted to summit a remote peak last week.

The bodies of Brian Kennedy, 67, of Columbia Falls and Jack Beard, 67, of Kalispell, were recovered on Monday below the east face of Dusty Star Mountain, a distinctive peak at the western end of St. Mary Lake. 

The pair planned to summit Dusty Star Mountain through Virginia Creek. Both were considered high-level mountaineers and had decades of experience climbing in the park, according to Glacier staff who knew them. They left on Thursday with intention to return Friday.

They were declared missing by family Sunday. Park rangers found the climbers’ car at the trail head and transitioned to searching for the climbers. 

An air rescue started that evening with Two Bear Air searching the cliffs into the night. Minutemen Aviation took over Monday morning, and spotted the two quickly on the mountain. The Two Bear Air helicopter team recovered the bodies.

Greg Notess, the president of the Glacier Mountaineering Society, said Kennedy and Beard were exploring a new, technical route.

“It is a great loss and a terrible tragedy,” Notess said

Brian Kennedy was a longtime member of the Glacier Mountaineering Society, first joining in 1982. In 2009, he received the J. Gordon Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award for expertise in alpinism and mountaineering. 

He had climbed nearly every named peak in the park, once winning an award for scaling all of Glacier’s 10,000-foot mountains in less than two years. He also scaled regional giants like Mount Hood, Mount Rainier and Denali, the highest peak in North America, in 2015. 

Kennedy is also remembered as the publisher and editor of the Hungry Horse News based in Columbia Falls with his wife from 1978 to 1999. There he built on the emphasis of Hungry Horse founding editor Mel Ruder in celebrating Glacier Park's scenery, using his backcountry and climbing skills to take readers far off the typical vistas and landmarks.

Kennedy also edited the Going-To-The-Sun Journal — the Glacier Mountaineering Society's annual publication. 

Beard had an equally extensive history of extreme mountaineering. In 2007, he received an award for climbing all five of Glacier’s technical peaks, including Mount Wilbur, Mt. St. Nicholas, Split Mountain, Blackfoot Mountain and Walton Mountain. 

The two were excellent climbing companions, according to Larry Hiller, the previous mountaineering club president and most recently editor of the group’s journal. He said both were respectful of hazards, especially the loose sedimentary rock in Glacier National Park. 

“They were not easily discouraged or deterred, but rather viewed finding ascent routes through Glacier's convoluted terrain as a puzzle to be solved,” Hiller said in an email.

Hiller said Beard, who worked full time as a cabinetmaker, was more interested in finding difficult, challenging routes. Beard’s knack for trying new routes led him to a near-death encounter in Glacier in 2015 when he slipped off a glacial wall route he was exploring called the Lithoid Cusp along Ipasha Peak. 

After losing his grip in wet snow, Beard fell 600 feet down the couloir and was seriously injured.  

Despite breaking several bones in that incident, Beard continued to climb, eventually getting one of the first ascents up Lithoid Cusp. He also planned numerous group hikes for the mountaineering community. 

For Kennedy, according to Hiller, any day in the mountains was a good day.

Richard Smith, a longtime mountaineer with GMS, said the two were part of the inner circle of climbing “heroes.” Not only did they have technical expertise, but a desire to explore new climbing paths while getting other people interested in bagging the high peaks. 

“People look up to them,” Smith said. “Those guys were the leaders of the organization in terms of setting the example.”

The two were some of GMS’ oldest active members, not to mention the skill level they took on. Two years ago, the duo scaled an unnamed spire on Little Chief Mountain.

At 65, the duo tried multiple times to successfully get up to the top, which is more than 9,000 feet above sea level.

The two set off Thursday to summit Dusty Star, an 8,000 foot peak just west of St. Mary Lake via the Virginia Creek side. The route they took from the east is thick with vegetation and has hazardous cliff faces.

It will likely be unknown what caused the two deaths on the mountain, Hiller said, but it is a reminder that accidents in mountaineering can happen to anyone.

“The loss of Brian and Jack is a reality check,” Hiller said. “Accidents are not infrequent in mountaineering — they go with the terrain … Regardless, we'll continue to climb in spite of the hazards, keeping the spirit exemplified by Brian and Jack alive.”

The deaths come as the Glacier Mountaineering Society, which is dedicated to alpine sports in the northern Rockies in and around Glacier, is holding its annual climbing celebration. The annual membership meeting is on July 30 in East Glacier.

The deaths bring climbing fatalities to four this summer. In June, a 19-year-old Columbia Falls man died while attempting to summit Mt. Brown. And on Tuesday, a 79-year-old Florida man died in a fall on Rising Wolf Mountain.

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Related to this story

The young man who died in a climbing accident in Glacier National Park on Tuesday has been identified as 20-year-old Josh Yarrow of Wichita, Kansas. 

AJ Allard, who was still on scene, told law enforcement he was going into the burning building to see if anyone was there. He found two people in the house and helped transport them to safety.

A fall victim who died in Glacier National Park on July 25 has been identified as Bob Biondi of Lutz, Florida.

Crews have started on the Inside North Fork Road working on the Anaconda Creek, Camas Creek and Dutch Creek bridges. 

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