Transcript of 30 minute program
Bruce Reichert, Host:
Early Americans called them Teewinot, or pinnacles. Later French
fur trappers named them the Tetons. Today these jagged peaks
spear the skyline of Eastern Idaho.
In their shadow lies a year round playground where outdoor
adventures revolve around the mountains.
They've been called the most spectacular mountains in all of
North America. Certainly the Tetons are among the most famous.
Hi, I'm Bruce Reichert.
Without a doubt, the Tetons dominate the landscape of Eastern
Idaho. Rising thousands of feet above the Snake River Plain, they
can't help but catch your eye.
But these distant glimpses give only a hint of the beauty that
lies in the shadow of the Tetons.
They are the youngest of our mountain ranges, formed less than
ten million years ago when the earth's crust pulled apart along a
massive fault line.
The east side of that fault dropped away abruptly, forming the
valley called Jackson Hole.
The west side rose skyward, creating the peaks we know as the
Over time, other faults within the mountain range pushed the
central peaks even higher, where they were attacked by wind and
Ice, as thick as 3,000 feet in places, covered all but the
tallest peaks and massive glaciers carved depressions and huge
gorges in the bedrock.
Finally about 15 thousand years ago the ice began to melt. Plants
and animals, "biding their time," as naturalist John Muir put it,
followed the receding ice.
"Pine trees marched up the sun warmed moraines," Muir wrote.
"Young rivers roared in the abandoned channels of the glaciers.
The ground burst into bloom.
Life in every form, warming and sweetening and growing richer as
the years passed."
But it wasn't scenery that attracted early explorers, it was
Early in the 1800's, fur trappers spread across the country
searching for beaver. They found plenty on the west side of the
Tetons in the valley they called Pierre's Hole.
While the trappers were focused on getting rich, they did pay
some attention to the scenery. Lonely Frenchmen compared the
mountains to the female anatomy. They called the peaks the Tres
Tetons, with the centerpiece the Grand Teton.
Long before those Frenchmen named the mountains, Native Americans
called them by another name, Teewinot, or pinnacles.
For centuries, early Americans crossed the mountains in search of
For many years, the land around the Tetons was simply a place to
pass through. It wasn't until the late 1800's that the first
permanent settlers put down roots.
They were a hearty folk, determined to carve out a life in the
shadow of the Tetons.
Hay, peas, clover, and other crops were planted. And cattle
roamed the once open meadows.
Towns popped up complete with all the trappings of life in the
As the population grew, the demand for water increased, and the
thirsty valley cast its eyes on the Teton River.
Plans were drawn up to dam the river and divert the water for
Critics went to court to stop the dam. They called it a threat to
fish and wildlife and criticized the location, questioning the
wisdom of building in an area prone to earthquakes.
The critics lost their case and construction began.
Soon problems with the site became apparent. The fractured rock
of the canyon wall absorbed water. Engineers decided to build a
grout curtain, essentially sealing the canyon wall in a layer of
Finally as the dam filled, it began to leak, setting the stage
As I sit here and watch I can see it's caving, it's just coming
apart. What can I say. People down stream had better get out.
The dam's gone.
The whole thing has gone now?
The whole thing has gone. It rolled over about 5 minutes ago.
Tell people not to worry about cattle, clothes and things like
that. The river is moving too fast, it's too high. If they try
it's a lot of wasted effort, we're liable to lose people.
Within minutes, a 20 foot wall of water rushed downstream killing
11 people and 16,000 head of livestock.
More than 25,000 people were forced from their homes as the water
washed through the towns of Sugar City and Rexburg, and flooded
thousands of acres of farmland.
Clair Yost, Teton Valley Resident:
When I first saw the wall of the flood, it was, there wasn't any
water in it, it was all debris, trailer houses, and dead cows,
and lumber, and propane tanks rolling. And what was amazing was
seeing houses floating down Main Street in Rexburg. That was
It was a pretty crazy time.
After the flood, there was talk of rebuilding the dam.
It never happened. And today the remains of the Teton Dam stand
as a reminder of the failed effort to tame the river.
Fifteen miles upstream, there is another reminder, a boat ramp
left high and dry when the reservoir drained.
A hundred feet below, the Teton River runs free.
Today it attracts whitewater enthusiasts, drawn by the novelty of
floating through a land that was once underwater.
They float through a deep canyon, scarred when the dam collapsed.
Gavin McPherson, River Guide:
When the dam was here, when the water got sucked out of the dam,
it just really eroded. I mean, it didn't take very long at all
for that water to leave. And the dam was filled long enough to,
you know, pretty much kill everything that was underneath it.
So that's a pretty interesting part of the float to see the old
walls of where the reservoir was. You can tell where the trees,
you know, you can see where the trees that are older than
basically 20 - 25 years.
It's kind of like hobbit land down here, it's really rounded, a
lava flow that probably came from the north here and just some
really interesting shapes. I've been in a lot of canyons and I've
never quite seen them like this.
And the Teton River has its share of whitewater.
In fact, the floating may be better today than before the dam was
My understanding in talking with friends, that there was, you
know, there was some good water down here, but I understand that
when the water rushed out of here, a lot of the rapids,
especially in the middle narrows were formed just because of the
banks falling in and as the water rushed out. Or, as the water
eroded the banks and they started to cave in, even before the dam
broke. And I think it's created a lot of the rapids that are up
The biggest whitewater is a Class IV rapid called The Chutes, a
50 foot drop that will make the most competent boater think
You've got to stay out of a few holes in there and just kind of
play it right and let the water push you, if you get in the right
line. It's basically setting up the right spot. Once you set up
then it's pretty easy. If you get in the wrong spot then you're
in trouble. Bad things can happen.
But, it's fun. That makes the whole float right there.
It would sure be interesting if this dam never went, there'd be
people, jet skis, water boats, wind surfers.
I kind of like the way it is right now, there's not hardly
anybody down here. It's pretty untouched.
Further upstream, the Teton River is slower, quieter, twisting
and turning its way through the valley.
Some say it's the best fishing in the area.
Mitch Prissel, Fisherman:
In this stretch, it's all native cuts, rainbows, and what they
call a cuttbow, obviously a crossbreed between the two. And
there's a few brookies and once in a while you'll hear someone
catching a brown trout.
But generally you're going to catch fish from about 10 inches all
the way to 27 inches when you're very, very lucky. But, you know,
later in the summertime, to catch an 18 or 20 inch cutthroat on
this river is not too uncommon. So it's a fish friendly river.
Even on a bad day you're going to come up with something.
A bad day here is when you see like two boats on the river before
you pull out. But it's still a great day of fishing. And the
thing I've noticed is you get spoiled by it.
Caddis and PMD are definitely predominant hatches. You can use an
Adams on this river all year long too. And then here in a couple
of weeks, let's say this year probably like by the end of July or
into August, I imagine we're going to have a fabulous grasshopper
too. And that goes for a while and that's probably the best,
that's my best time on the river.
It's just beautiful to be out here everyday on the water. This
entire river, up here in this valley, it's like every other bend
is a view of the Tetons. It's a little inspiration just to enjoy
it, days when you're not catching fish.
You can't beat that view.
To some, mountains are a thing of beauty. To others, they are
something to conquer. And the Tetons are no exception.
But these peaks remained unscaled until 1898, when a climber
named Billy Owen became the first to reach the top of the Grand
Others followed, but one name is legendary in the Tetons, Paul
In 1924, the 16 year-old Petzoldt and a friend decided to climb
the Grand Teton.
Despite the odds, they reached the top.
Petzoldt's climbing career was launched.
Petzoldt went on to climb around the world, but the Tetons were
After World War Two, Petzoldt and partner Glen Exum established a
climbing school, and went on to pioneer many of the routes now
used in the Tetons.
Dennis Dunn, Climber:
Those climbs are rated 5-8, 5-9 today, still. They're still major
They led in an era when the protection was not as good. When the
clothing as not as good. The ropes would break your spine if you
fell and hit the end of one. They were amazing, amazing people.
Despite the improvements in gear, climbing in the Tetons is still
On the Grand Wall, climbers struggle to find hand and footholds
as they inch their way up the Z-crack, a 120 foot sheer rock
Every few feet they pause.
Clinging to the cliff they jam metal wedges, called protection,
into cracks in the rock.
You clip your rope to them. If you fall, these then hold the fall
and will keep you from hitting the ground.
The climber gets further protection from his partner holding the
rope at the bottom.
The person on belay is holding the rope through a belay device,
or running the rope through a belay device which will then lock
if you fall and prevent you from hitting the ground.
Later, the person on belay climbs, retrieving the gear as they
make their way up the rock face.
It does require some upper body strength. It is physical but it
also is a thinking type thing. You can't just be up on the rocks
saying, "If I am strong enough, I can physically grunt through
this." That's not always the case. Sometimes it is the person
with a little more finesse, a little more delicate touch who is
able to succeed in certain climbs.
But sometimes even finesse is not enough.
I ran into a spot where I just couldn't find a place to hold
onto, and so at that point I came down. That's part of learning.
That's part of the game. And next week I'll come back here, and
we'll do it again, and I'll find another way, and I'll make it
up. And that's no problem.
Despite all the changes in climbing, the basic premise is still
the same--it is the climber against the mountain.
You can't think about anything else, just what you're doing at
that moment. And the feeling of satisfaction of just being able
to do something new or to make a new move or to get up a route
that you've never been able to do before.
I like having to focus all of my mental energies and physical
energy towards the climb. Some people play chess and all their
mental energy goes there. For me, it's all my mental energies go
to the rock.
Early on a summer morning, the Teton County Fairgrounds is full
Balloonists from around the country are in town for the annual
Teton Valley Balloon Festival.
Experienced pilots, aided by volunteers fill the balloons with
hot air and make other preparations to launch.
Suzanne Crosley, Balloon Pilot:
It's the most gorgeous place to fly. And a great backdrop against
the mountains. And then the people here are wonderful. I've never
met any cranky people here in this valley. We always have
What a gorgeous morning.
We're looking down on all the different fields and the different
colors of green.
It's like a patchwork quilt out here in the valley.
I think we'll just go over the top of them and then we'll come
I like contour flying, which is right down along the ground, and
you get as close as you can to the ground without touching it and
keep the balloon right there. That is really fun to do.
Get a little bit higher so we can get over the fences. Then we'll
get right down there on top of the grass again.
When I used to crew, and I used to get to ride I could never
understand a pilot skimming across the ground. I thought, "Get us
up high were we can see something. What fun is this being down on
the ground?" But as soon as I became a pilot that flying down
close is real fun.
It takes a little more skill.
Interesting old machinery here. Sometimes I feel like I'm
eavesdropping or snooping or something.
Spying, yeah. You can't keep any secrets from balloons.
Well this is one of the most beautiful places in the worlds to
fly. All those Tetons over a backdrop and then a great valley to
fly in. This is God's country, I think.
In the winter, early settlers thought the Teton Valley was
anything but blessed.
Deep snow and below zero temperatures made life difficult.
As one pioneer put it, "There was little to do but wait for
But in the 1930's that changed when valley residents found a new
way to enjoy the winter.
About 100 of them built a ski run on a hillside near Victor.
Soon, people were coming from all over Eastern Idaho to ski.
Today the skiing attracts people from all over the world.
For some, the ski hill is just a little too crowded, so they find
their excitement elsewhere.
With deep snow and steep hills, the Tetons are perfect for
And the backcountry is especially appealing.
It's beautiful. The snow, for the most part, when you're out in
the backcountry is going to be powder. Which at the mountain is
going to be tracked powder, or it's going to be packed powder, or
it's going to be, you know, hard surface snow.
I love open bowls, where you can fully take advantage of a
snowboard, where you can point it for a long distance and time
and carry a tremendous amount of speed and then maybe lay out a
big old surf style heelside turn. It's just the feeling of
Just flowing with the hill, looking for any natural terrain
that's going to help me lean into the snow to flow, to flow down
Just to be in the rhythm.
With better equipment and clothing, valley residents no longer
have to just wait for spring to come, they're now able to enjoy
the Tetons year round.
Misha Thompson, Snowboarder:
I like to get away. I like to get in the trees. I like to get in
the mountains. You've heard of earning your turns. And your turns
feel a lot different if you've just broken a sweat getting there.
In the backcountry it's like every turn is precious and you
really enjoy it and that's nice.
There's something to do each season here. You've got the
mountains, you have the rivers, and you have one natural great
To truly appreciate the Tetons, you must see them from the air.
Pilot Mike McCollister is lucky enough to do just that.
Every day a single engine plane tows his glider a thousand or so
feet above the ground.
Mike McCollister, Glider Pilot:
I never really thought I could be a pilot. I though you had
somebody pretty special to do that. But I decided to take some
lessons and did all right and just kept at it. Basically if you
can drive a car safely you can fly a plane.
Once we release, we just continue flying. The tow plane makes a
diving turn to the left. We make a slight climbing turn to the
right to get separation and we just keep flying.
Now we're soaring. We're gaining altitude. I found a column of
rising air and I'm in it, and trying to stay in it, and trying to
find the strongest part.
We're climbing at about 300 feet a minute right now. And now
we're 500 feet a minute.
There's a few things out there that can help us find lift,
soaring birds, certain kinds of clouds. Flying along certain
areas in the topography, along ridge lines. Looking for dust
devils on the ground which might indicate that thermal has kicked
off. There's a number of things but there's no guarantees.
If you're lucky enough to find some lifts, you gain an entirely
new perspective of the Tetons.
From thousands of feet above the ground, the mountains and
valleys seem compressed, and what is miles in the distance seems
to be within just a few feet.
People have no idea what this is like.
All the mountains, we're headed right toward the Grand right now,
Mount Owen, Middle Teton, South Teton, Cascade Canyon, Jackson
Lake, Jenny Lake, Ice Flow Lake, Wigwams, Teton Canyon, Lake
Solitude, Mount Moran. The list is endless.
Everybody that we take on this flight, they're just totally blown
And there's no way you can really tell people what it is like.
It's just too good.
It's the most unbelievable experience that you can imagine,
soaring in the Tetons, up with the birds, using the natural
currents of air is just unbelievable. You get right in there. We
see the climbers, they wave to us, we wave to them. We see
beautiful mountain lakes, glaciers, canyons. Unbelievable. You've
got to soar the Tetons before you start pushing up daisies.
That's for sure.
While the east side of the Tetons with Jackson Hole and Grand
Teton National Park may be more famous, it is the view from this
side which inspired the early explorers. Today these mountains
attract a new breed drawn to the outdoor life lived in the shadow
of the Tetons.
Thanks for watching. We'll see you next time.
Closed captioning: Kelly Roberts
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