Bouldering Teton Dam: The Joy of Unexpected Stoke
Sometimes stoke arrives unexpectedly. I found Teton Dam almost by accident, after browsing around Mountain Project to see if we could climb anything between our planned stops of the Mountain Brewers Festival in Idaho Falls and a weekend of biking in the Big Hole range near Driggs. Ever since we stumbled upon Teton Dam on that trip, we’ve been back every year. Not so much because the climbing is world class, as it’s a fact that I can’t seem to say no to an unloved piece of rock, no matter how chossy it may be. Rather, the Teton Dam presents a high quality fun factor that makes the sheer experience of climbing, where few other areas do, even more satisfying.
If you’ve never heard of it, Teton Dam is a really interesting breakdown of human ingenuity that failed catastrophically in 1976, leaving 11 people and 13,000 head of cattle dead. Despite the tragedy, it also rolled some super interesting boulder problems into the Snake River Plain. The fact that these rocks were blasted into a mostly flat canyon also means the landings are universally great.
This area is a bit unique as it is almost invisible until you are standing at the lip of the lower Teton River Canyon. You will wonder aloud as you approach how you’re going to boulder in a cornfield, but have faith. Arriving at the Dam, you’ll need a stout 4WD vehicle to access the river bed. If that isn’t an option, you’ll just need to hike down about a mile from the top of the Dam. The camping options are plentiful once you’re down, but keep an eye out for locals who mostly make the trip to shoot things at the opposing canyon wall.
Unlike our local super classics in Little Cottonwood, Utah, the welded tuff rock actually presents holds! This means that Teton Dam can be a satisfying bouldering destination for groups of mixed ability. The concentration is definitely in the moderate grades of v2-5, but if you’re looking for stout problems they exist both in the form of established and yet-to-be-sent climbs.
I’ve also appreciated this spot as my life has changed from roving mountain bum to semi-responsible parent. We have found climbs perfect for a 3 year old and plenty of shaded spots for a brand new kiddo as well. One word of caution for those considering a family trip: the canyon gets chilly at night. On our last trip the forecasted low was 52, but the mercury fell to 28 overnight rather unexpectedly. The result was a double sleeping bag filled with four people and a Coonhound, but we survived.
Despite the feeling that you get when climbing at Teton Dam – that you discovered the whole place – it’s worth mentioning the massive effort by locals Dean and Heather Lords, who have probably spent more time brushing than climbing since they began to explore the area in 2004.
The Teton Dam Checklist:
- A stout 4WD vehicle
- Standard car camping setup and a 20 degree or warmer sleeping bag
- Firewood – driftwood is hit or miss, don’t risk it
- Multiple Pads – Highball opportunities abound and are worth it!
- Tape – unpolished rock is good for finger slicing
- Rod & reel – depending on the time of year, we’ve found decent trout at the dam
- : Standard