◊ 7.25.2017 ◊ Devils Tower, Wyoming
One of our major climbing objectives of this trip was to summit Devils Tower; a bewildering rock butte protruding 1,270 feet above the prairie below. To see it in pictures is inspiring, then to see it appear on the horizon as you approach is truly exhilarating. (Stock photo below)
Leaving the Black Hills in South Dakota we headed north-west a short drive over the boarder into Wyoming to discover this mammoth tower. The drive crosses prairie and rolling hills, pretty uneventful. Then all of the sudden Devils Tower seems to rise out of nowhere in the distance. The size and stark contrast to its surroundings is so dramatic it conjures up many emotions. It is right at this moment we become nervous about our undertaking. Would we manage to scale this beast?!
A bit of history: Ancient people have lived around Devils Tower for thousands of years, and it is still a sacred place of spiritual importance. Rock climbers are asked to obey a voluntary closure every June for native spiritual purposes. Devils Tower holds the honor of being the first declared United States National Monument established on September 24, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Back to the story of our climbing epic: We arrived at Devils Tower in the afternoon of Monday July 24th. It was a terribly hot day (96F), with a cooler forecast the following with afternoon thundershowers possible (around 88F). Our initial plan was to climb Solar 5.9, but we soon realized a large section of the tower was temporarily off limits due to Raptor closures. (This is a very common occurrence in the climbing world, to protect the falcons’ breeding grounds).
After chatting with the Rangers they recommended we try Walt Bailey Memorial Route, which happens to be one of their favorite routes on the entire wall, so we were sold.
We then headed to a lookout point to take a few truck pictures during the sunset. Damn isn’t that a sexy truck!
For the night we only had to go another half mile up the dirt road to Devils Tower Lodge. Frank Sanders is an epic old climber dude that owns the only piece of private property in the national monument, and he lets climbers come crash for a small donation. What a deal!!
Now the issue was logistics for the climb. There was a possible thunderstorm in the afternoon. About 30% chance at noon, and 90% chance at 5:00pm. Obviously it is a terrible idea to be on that tower during rain, let alone lightning, so we had to get out early and be efficient. Knowing it was going to take us at least 6 hours round trip, meant we would wake up at 5:30am to be on the wall by 7:30am.
The anticipation and early rise made for a rough start, but it was a beautiful morning, so once we touched the rock our focus was on the mission ahead.
The first pitch is an “easy” 5.4 route finding adventure up the lower slopes of the tower to find the start of Walt Bailey crack. Once we found it we were stoked, and a bit scared.
The crack is rated 5.9+, or as Devils Tower locals joke, 5.9+++++++. I agree with the second rating. It was tough!! The crack starts out as very small finger size, not even large enough for the tips of our fingers to fit in, and an otherwise featureless corner. The top half of the climb lets up to hand size, which is a relief, but by no means did it get easy. The entire 160 foot long continuous crack had very little opportunity for rest, leaving us utterly pumped and exhausted by the top.
The second obstacle was finding our way through The Meadows to Bailey’s Direct finish. The Meadows is an area ¾ of the way up the tower that you can actually scramble around on, without truly climbing. At the end of The Meadows we had to traverse “The Jump” move backwards to gain the start of Bailey’s Direct. This final pitch was more of a chimney climb up “easier” cracks leading to the summit.
We did it!! It was such a surreal moment to be standing atop this massive tower that dominates the surrounding prairie.
We signed the register, had a snack and chatted with a few other climbers for a moment, and then it was time to start the long process of rappelling off.
It took four rappels on double 60 meter ropes to reach the bottom.
All-in-all it took us about six hours to complete this climb. We started climbing at 7:30am and got off the wall around 1:30pm. The weather ended up being great that day, other than a smoky haze lingering from the many fires in Montana.