LABOR DAY ROCKFALL IN THE TETONS

Posted on: September 6, 2007


[Photo] Roy Miller

My wife, Sally, and I spent Labor Day climbing in the Tetons. Our goal was the Complete Exum. I was supposed to be off work mid-day on Friday: we would enjoy the drive from Boise, pull into the valley as the sun was setting. We ended up leaving on Saturday, and eventually we found ourselves at the moraine, which was surprisingly uncrowded. The Ranger told us that only one or two parties had come in for a permit wanting to do the Exum. This was shaping up to be a great weekend.

[Photo] Roy Miller

I have no idea what the problem was, but neither of us could sleep Saturday night. The alarm went off at 5 a.m., and I turned it off. We talked about getting up later, taking our gear up, stashing it and making an early go the next day. We finally got out out of the tent around 9 a.m. and thought we should go for it. We decided to do the Owen-Spalding instead; it was getting late, and I was worried about parties on the Exum. I had looked at a topo of the Owen a few months back and thought I could remember it. We left around 10 that morning. Talk about perfect—we had the summit to ourselves and no lines on the rappel. We were scrambling down from the lower Saddle, with only fifteen minutes of knee-busting descent between us and our wine, when it happened...

We heard a huge crack we thought was thunder. But the rumbling kept coming. We both looked up, and I was in awe: a huge rockslide was right over us. All I could do was yell "run!" We took cover behind a boulder, and I snapped a couple of pictures. I thank God we were outside the fall zone, maybe by fifty feet.

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I have to give credit to my wife for the pics as well. She was tucked in behind a rock, and the camera was tied to her pack—she had to stand so I could take the pictures. She looked at me in horror as I kept yelling "stand up" so I could get a photo. I snapped a couple before the canyon filled with smoke. Luckily no one was hurt, and we got back, had dinner, enjoyed the wine and another sleepless night. Every time I heard rock fall, I jumped in my bag. I have never experienced anything like that, and hope to never again.

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Comments
denteixeira

Hey

I'll try to keep it simple (cause my english is not the best!) I don't know if climate had an influence in this particular case (don't know the area at all), but it influences similar situations of rock fall. One of the best examples is the increasing rock falls in the Alps (look at the Drus as an example). The warmest summers in the Alps, are when you have more rock falls. First, water gets in the fractures of the rocks, and when it freezes, its volume increases enlarging the fractures. On the other hand, it keeps the rocks together. If temperature rises, ice melts, rocks get unconsolidated, and gravity does the job, inducing rock falls. This is the simplest explanation I can provide you within my pour english. If you feel it’s not enough, I can try better  I hope this helped. Alpine regards

2007-09-25 06:52:20
dlcroc

Am I missing something. Why is a rockfall a sign of climate change? I am open to both sides of the climate change debate. I lean to the side of we need to act. However, please explain this to me. Is this an example of the sky is literally falling.

2007-09-24 16:51:36
dthoenen

Luke Simmons and I had just set up camp in the middle of the North Fork of Cascade Canyon camping zone. Luke was gazing up at the Grand and soaking up the view when we heard a tremendous crack and rumble. Luke yells at me to get my ass over to where he was sitting. The rock dust was pouring down the mountain and simultaneously rising up into the air like the eruption of a volcano. We were absolutely stunned. Nothing like I'd ever, ever dreamed of seeing in my lifetime! All we could think of was the fate of anyone caught in the path of the fall. It was awesome to watch but very, very depressing when we considered the probability of casualities. We were more than relieved to learn several days later that no one had been killed.

2007-09-24 15:06:39
bkw

The REAL Roy Miller and his wife Silly, would never still be in their tent at 9am.

You are obviously a poser.

Please go back to the gym.

Blair

2007-09-16 15:34:36
Anguish

Roy, great picture. Please contact me for possible use. Time is of the essence. Angus 307 690 5586 angus@jhnewsandguide.com

2007-09-10 19:30:00
Longforshort

Each time I have been on the Grand the past two summers there has been rather sizeable rock fall down the Stettner. One narrow miss covered my partner and I in pulverized granite and encouraged us to head up the Exum instead. We were also greeted by a second volley as we retreated. You always have to keep your eyes open for rock fall in alpine settings, but the frequency of events on that side of the mountain is a bit unnerving. Keep your head down and your helmet on!

2007-09-07 16:41:33
pigfarmer

We went up early Monday morning to climb the Crystal Tower on the Grand, over by the Underhill on the margins of the east and south faces, and were warned against crossing the base of the Stettner. Someone showed us images they'd snapped the day before of this rockfall, which scared us off. We continued up and, at the base of the Ramp that leads to the Direct Exum, a couple of minutes from the base of the Stettner, took a break to heed nature's call. Two minutes later the Stettner let loose again. We changed our objective to the Gold Face and watched from a safer perch as the couloir kept letting loose all day.... I'm convinced it's because the summer has been so warm, and continues to be so, everything up there that historically has been grouted by ice is letting go. I've never seen the Tetons so active.

2007-09-07 11:07:48
racermech

Interesting that we all are going back in a few weeks. It would have really sucked to lose the two of you. Both you and Sally are amazing parts of our community, and heck...you are my guide for most of the crazy stuff you get me involved in. No more rock falls for you nearly killing you.

2007-09-07 10:22:21
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