Patagonia owners Yvon and Malinda Chouinard joined Friends of the Teton River this summer on a trip down a wild stretch of the Idaho waterway. Their trip commemorated a float the Chouinards had taken down the same stretch of river 35 years ago, before construction of the notorious Teton Dam. Unfortunately, the trip was not a celebratory one - Friends of the Teton River's Amy Verbeten explains:
Thirty-five years ago, biologist and early Wild and Scenic Rivers
advocate Frank Craighead, his son Charlie, Patagonia founders Yvon and Malinda Chouinard, photographer Jeff Foote, and others, organized a multi-day paddling and fishing excursion in Teton Canyon. Photographs from their trip were some of the last taken before the canyon was inundated by the ill-fated Teton Dam.
The original Teton Dam, authorized by Congress in 1964, was protested on the water and in the courts, but this had little effect on slowing construction. Geology and weather provided a far greater challenge. On the morning of June 5, 1976, as rapidly melting snow filled the reservoir for the first time, water began to gush from the porous rock abutting the sides of the dam. Within hours, the entire structure collapsed. Eleven people perished, entire towns were destroyed, 13,000 head of livestock were killed, and tens of thousands of acres of farmland were stripped of topsoil. Congressman Leo Ryan, chairman of the House subcommittee which held hearings on the disaster, described it as "one of the most colossal and dramatic failures in our national history."
[Preparing to float the Teton River in protest of the original dam, Yvon Chouinard, Mary Hutz, Jana Craighead, Malinda Chouinard, and Ted Major, Jr. rig boats before winching them down the canyon wall in 1974. Although more accessible put-ins exist, the infamous “Bitch Creek slide,” and the whitewater below it, makes for the most adventurous trip down Teton Canyon. Photo by Frank Craighead.]