Book Review: ‘Fate is a Mountain’

Fate Is A Mountain Fate Is A Mountain by Mark W. Parratt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Mark, Monty and Smitty Parratt had a big back yard between 1950 and 1964, the million-acre Crown of the Continent in northwestern Montana called Glacier National Park. The boys’ father, the late Lloyd Parratt and his wife Grace brought the family to the shores of the park’s St, Mary Lake every summer where Lloyd worked as a seasonal ranger naturalist for the National Park Service. Later, Mark Parratt served as a fireguard and the late Monty Parratt worked on a Blister Rust crew.

Since Mark and Monty were avid fishermen, the book includes many great fishing stories along with climbing and hiking adventures, the trials and tribulations of living in a remote cabin accessible only by rail, a stormy night in a fire lookout, canoeing on a rough St. Mary Lake, and encounters with wildlife.

For local residents, these stories will bring back old memories; for park visitors, the delightful exploits of three young men in their coming-of-age years will cast the trails, lakes and mountains along the back bone of the world into a deeper perspective. Comments appended to some of the stories note how the park has changed over the years.

The harrowing centerpiece to the book is “The Otokomi Grizzly Bear Attack” of July 18, 1960. Ten-year-old Smitty Parratt was badly mauled by a grizzly bear as he returned from a fishing trip to Lake Otokomi with two ranger naturalists and two tourists. The story of the attack, the injuries, the rescue and the aftermath demonstrates courage, resourcefulness and grit while serving as a cautionary reminder that wild places are wild.

The “Fate is a Mountain” (June 1962) and “Lone Climber Missing” (July 1963) stories describe mountain search and rescue operations at Mt. Henkel near Many Glacier Hotel and at Going-to-the-Sun Mountain in the St. Mary Valley. Search-team members routinely place themselves in harm’s way while looking for missing climbers, as Parratt describes in a late-night moment on the slopes of Mt. Henkel:

“Suddenly, a tremendous crash echoed from above. Instinctively, we all dove into crouching positions next to a nearby cliff face. A shower of lose scree was rapidly followed by a thunder of large bounders that careened over our heads and plummeted toward the valley below. Smaller pieces of snow and rock pelted our hard hats for several moments.” (This reviewer has climbed Mt. Henkel and appreciates the challenges of a rescue attempt.)

Compiling these stories was obviously a labor of love and of remembering bygone days where a family’s life intersects the world of a beloved tourist destination and wildlife preserve. If there’s an omission here, it’s the lack of a story about the Montana flood of June, 1964, quite possibly the state’s worst natural disaster, that caused extensive damage to roads and facilities throughout the park including those at St. Mary.

The book provides a rich, insider’s look at the world of Glacier National Park as it was over 40 forty years ago. As the park approaches its 2010 centennial, these stories as part of its history add to our understanding of the place and the people who worked and played there.

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Published by Sun Point Press in Whitefish, Montana, the book is available on line at Barnes & Noble and Amazon and at selected stores near the park.