New information park rangers have gleaned from climbing guides suggests the 100-foot crack in the headwall near Hidden Falls has been there for months.
The horizontal fissure is consequential because it has indefinitely closed the portion of the Jenny Lake trail network that leads to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, perhaps Grand Teton National Park’s most popular day-hiking destinations.
Rangers’ continuing investigation of the crack unearthed the information that it formed well before July 9, when park officials became aware of it.
“Additional conversations with some of the climbing guides revealed information that they thought perhaps that has been there for a while,” Teton park spokeswoman Denise Germann said. “They believe that it may have been there since last fall.”
“It’s uncertain when that established itself,” she said. “Perhaps it’s just a part of the freeze-thaw cycles that happen on a routine basis.”
Exum Mountain Guides normally uses the rock wall that fissured to prepare its clients for ascents in the Tetons, though the company’s practice area has been moved for now. Exum President Nat Patridge, who’s contractually prohibited from speaking with the press without park permission, did not return phone calls by press time.
Teton park staff have monitored the section of rock that has splintered for the past 10 days, and they surveyed it at being 100 feet long, 20 feet high and 20 feet wide. So far, the crack hasn’t changed in any discernible way, and it’s being monitored with time-lapse cameras and precision GPS equipment.
Rangers are consulting National Park Service geologists, Yosemite National Park and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landslide Hazards Program about what to do.
A “risk assessment” needs to be conducted before the area can be labeled safe for the public and reopened. First, though, more data is needed to inform the assessment, Germann said.
“We need to continue to do that,” she said. “I’m not sure that a couple days of data is to the point that we need.”
Against the odds, the 100-foot crack at the base of the Tetons has attracted media attention across the Atlantic Ocean. The DailyMail.com, for example, ran a story Wednesday with the clickbait headline, “Rock fissure sparks URGENT closure at Grand Teton National Park, just 60 miles from Yellowstone supervolcano.”
Such reports have generated phone calls to Grand Teton from prospective visitors fearful that the park is entirely closed, which isn’t the case. Almost all of Jenny Lake remains open, as do Jenny Lake shuttles and trail access to Cascade Canyon.
University of Utah professor Jamie Farrell, an expert on the Yellowstone hotspot, said that it’s baseless to link the crack to a dormant supervolcano some 40 miles away.
“It’s not unheard of that deformations from Yellowstone can affect things in the Tetons area,” Farrell said, “but it wouldn’t be as localized as what you’re seeing.”
Farrell wasn’t surprised by the misleading overseas news reports.
“It definitely creates undue hysteria, but we respond to things like this quite often,” he said. “Yellowstone is kind of notorious for doom-and-gloom headlines. That’s just something that we deal with.”