National Geographic : 1956 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine Unable to see more than inches above him, John mustered one last, desperate effort. He lunged upward, reaching blindly over a curved rock surface. His fingers found a tiny crack. Straining, he pulled himself up to a relatively safe perch. After a rest he went on to a place from which he could belay the second man, and the rest of us climbed safely up. The danger had been only moments long, but from exertion and fear we were left weak and trembling, with splitting headaches. John's wife, Margaret, an accomplished mountaineer, has topped all the major Teton peaks, not once but many times. When the subject of danger in the moun tains comes up, Margaret can tell about some exciting moments playing tag with lightning. "Once we were on a steep knife edge, try ing for the summit of Teewinot, when a lightning storm struck," Margaret relates. "We could see balls of lightning roll down the ridges to the lakes far below. Static elec tricity set our hair to buzzing as if bees were swarming around us. Our ice axes started humming and sizzling. We got off that ridge in a hurry. "Then there was the time Jack Durrance led a party up Moran," says Margaret. "Lightning struck near by and knocked out everyone momentarily. The party had hud dled under an overhang for protection. After the bolt hit, Jack couldn't feel his legs, and looked down, half expecting to find them gone. The legs were there, all right, but completely devoid of sensation. It was some minutes before feeling returned to them." Lightning, however, claims few casualties. Biggest killers in the Tetons (and very few deaths are on record, fortunately) probably are the precipitous snow and ice fields. Avalanches Menace Climbers Falling rock is another hazard. Loose boulders rolling down a steep couloir are hard to dodge. Spring snow avalanches are, of course, a deadly menace, but climbers rarely take to the trails so early in the year. Maybe one reason we're so partial to our valley is that it periodically nudges us, often when we least expect it, saying, "Time to get your mind off your work." One most persuasive diversion at such times is-cutthroats! The cutthroats here, be as sured, are fish, not men. The cutthroat trout is the fish of which white men first learned when Lewis and Clark described it on their trek to the Pacific. A slash of red on both sides of the lower jaw suggested the common name. The species abounds in the Snake River, the lakes of the valley, and the ponds that beaver have backed up in abandoned river-channel sloughs. Cutthroats can be greedy. When Frank opened one big fellow, he found inside, newly swallowed, a full-grown field mouse. An other time, angling for whitefish, Frank was floating a five-inch length of dry willow down the rapids with an artificial nymph dangling from it. A big trout, ignoring the tiny lure, scooped in the entire float. Frank Snags a Beaver The biggest thing Frank ever hooked lurked in the depths of the Gros Ventre River, a fisherman's dream of long blue pools linked by white-water riffles. On a still evening, when trout were rising freely to a hatch of small gray flies, Frank was casting to the rise of a fine trout sucking in its insect supper far across the stream. Almost at his feet, the pool erupted in a tremendous splash. A fat beaver surfaced, smacking the water repeatedly with his broad tail. The noisy activity quickly put down the fish. When Frank nevertheless made another cast, the little hook snagged the beaver's thick coat. Action packed the next quarter-hour for both contestants. Once Frank had landed a human swimmer on heavier tackle, but this was a new kind of challenge. He let the beaver tire himself by tugging against the persistent pull of the rod. Led close to shore, the animal sat on the bottom for a moment to rest. Then he suddenly headed for his lodge. Frank put on all the pressure the tackle would bear. The furry quarry reached his doorway and dived. The fly pulled loose. Beaver are valued conservationists in Jack son Hole. Their engineering works filter the mountain water, settle out silt, and help en sure pure, clean stream flow. Trout thrive in cool waters of their ponds.* We each have two boys and a girl; their ages roughly match up at eight, six, and one. The boys like to go with us when we run over to see old "Uncle Jim" Manges at his X Quarter-circle X Ranch. Uncle Jim has * See "Arizona's Operation Beaver Lift," by Willis Peterson, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1955.