Geosciences Experts Say Major Mt. Sentinel Rock Slide Unlikely - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Geosciences Experts Say Major Mt. Sentinel Rock Slide Unlikely

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MISSOULA -

A three-foot wide boulder tumbled down Mount Sentinel onto the University of Montana campus Sunday night.

No one was injured, and UM officials reopened the "M" hiking trail Monday afternoon.

UM police said the boulder took out a section of this retaining wall before it landed right in the middle of Campus Drive.

They said workers discovered the boulder around 6 a.m. and worked quickly to move it off to the side of the road.

Andrew Wilcox, an Associate Professor of Geosciences at UM, said the recent rainfall on top of existing snow created slippery conditions on the steep slope of Mount Sentinel.

"Soils are very wet and saturated right now, so it's not surprising that material is moving," he explained.

But, Wilcox said rocks fall downhill in every mountain landscape, no matter the conditions-- people just usually aren't around to witness it happen.

"Having sediment move downhill slopes is a natural and normal process," he said.

And, he said Sentinel's topography makes a full scale rock slide unlikely. He said rock slides can occur if a slope is extremely steep.

"And also whether the slope has a topography that's convergent, sort of pushing all the moisture and water into one place and kind of causing loading."

Wilcox said Mount Sentinel has a more divergent slope, meaning the flow of water and debris is more even and spread out.

"Which means that it's less likely that you would expect a full slide," Wilcox added.

But as a precaution, UM police closed the "M" hiking trail for most of the day and a portion of Campus Drive remains closed to parking.

"So, we need to just be aware of that when we're out in the landscape and if we're hiking, think about what might be below us," Wilcox said.

UM police said they've spoken to long-time employees who say this is the first time they've ever seen rocks falling down Mount Sentinel.

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