The UCSB community has suffered a loss following the death of Davidson Library employee Morgan Cowles during a Sequoia National Park avalanche on Monday.
Cowles, 39, worked in the library’s Map & Imagery Laboratory as the digital projects conversion coordinator for two years. Cowles, a graduate of the University of Washington Information School with a Master of Library Science, is survived by an older sister and his parents. At the time of his death, Cowles was on a backpacking trip.
MIL Data Services Coordinator Greg Hajic, who worked closely with Cowles, said his friend exuded optimism and was well known for being an avid outdoorsman.
“He was just a person that had great vitality and awesome personality,” Hajic said. “A super positive guy, really friendly and well-liked. He has friends all over the library.”
Hajic described his friend as a “modern librarian,” well aware of the importance of technology in the field. At the MIL, Cowles was in charge of digitizing a large collection of historical aerial photographs and maps.
“Morgan was one of the new age, new era librarians,” Hajic said. “He was a really promising figure in our department and in our library. He’s going to leave a huge hole.”
In addition, Map Library Director Mary Larsgaard, Cowles’s supervisor, said she enjoyed working with Cowles and will remember him fondly.
“I thought Morgan was just the best,” Larsgaard said.
According to a press release from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Public Information Officer Alexandra Picavet, the National Park Service received a report Sunday night that two hikers – Cowlesand an unidentified second man – were overdue from their backcountry excursion.
A search and rescue team was immediately sent out. Five hours later, searchers found Cowles’ body at the bottom of an avalanche chute. The rescuers discovered the second man in stable condition.
Both men were knowledgeable about avalanches and backcountry safety, but due to the heavy snowfall, conditions in the park were unstable. On Monday morning, the party lost the trail and crossed a steep slope, where the avalanche struck. The investigation indicates that Cowles and the other man were swept down 200 yards in the avalanche. Park staff said this was the first avalanche-related death in Sequoia and Kings Canyon in several decades.
A memorial service is not yet scheduled, but Hajic said the library will likely hold an event of some kind for Cowles.
While remembering his friend, Hajic reflected on Cowles’ passion for nature and said the library would miss him greatly.
“He was out doing what he loved, but he was way too young to go,” Hajic said. “We’re really going to miss him.”