As spectacular as the visuals were, it was the sound that caught Maureen “Mo” Connor’s attention.
The Snake River guide was assembling her passengers at Moose in Grand Teton National Park last Sept. 4 when she heard it.
“You’re busy greeting your clients, getting organized, explaining,” the veteran river runner said. Then…
“What the heck?” Connor thought. “It was really loud.”
“I looked up and saw amazing stuff.” A billowing cloud of dust enveloped Teepe Glacier below the East Ridge of the 13,775-foot Grand Teton seven miles away.
The cacophony and dust were from a cascade of boulders.
“This is a strange thing,” she thought as she took a picture. “That is a really large rockfall.
“It was an exciting and unusual moment,” one she directed her clients to witness, Connor said.
The gaggle of float-tripping tourists had assembled for an awesome encounter with the natural forces of the Snake River, however, and were nonchalant about the distant thunder cloud. The guides had to tell the visitors “This is really unusual.”
“I think we were more amazed than our people,” Connor said. “We stood there with our mouths open.”
Connor immediately worried about climbers who might have been in the area, whether an earthquake provoked the event and, if it did, whether one ought to be floating downstream from the dam at Jackson Lake.
The incident turned out to be a partial collapse of a feature known as the Second Tower. The Sept. 4 rockfall and subsequent similar events changed the famous Teton skyline forever.
Connor and other guides took their three raft-loads of clients upriver to their launch at Deadmans Bar and put on. About an hour and a half later and four and a half miles downstream from their put-in, Connor saw another dust cloud and took a second photograph.
She couldn’t tell whether the skyline had changed. “I’m not as intimate with each ridge as some people are,” she said.
Her second picture hints at a new profile. But more rockfall over subsequent days likely whittled the Second Tower further before its new shape became apparent to keen observers from the valley floor 6,900 feet below.
“Rockfall happens, I think, more than people realize,” said Connor, whose 45-year river career has been a study in erosion on the Snake and Salmon Rivers. On the scenic stretch of the Snake, where the river eats at banks dozens of feet high, guides are wary of a slump washing into the flow and creating a big wave.
It happened over in Idaho. “One of the bigger rapids on the main Salmon to me is a new rapid because it wasn’t there when I started,” she said.