Devils Tower Trip Report (#1537)
- Signed By: Michael Shomsky
- Date submitted: January 13, 2003
- Date(s) climbed: 11-24-02
- Number of People Encountered:
After climbing the tower for the first time Thanksgiving of 2001 with a friend, Steve Regenold, we decided to make it an annual event. Unfortunately, Steve wasn't able to make it due to family obligations so I called my old pal Ed Baranowski a.k.a Doc. He had never climbed before but was excited at the prospect of a new adventure and spending some time with an old friend. So out to Minnesota he flew. We left town at 8:30 Wednesday evening after work and arrived at the lodge at approx. seven o'clock Thanksgiving morning. Yikes, was it cold when we pulled up to the lodge. There was even a blanket of snow covering the ground from the last storm. Thinking no one was up we drove to the ranger station to have a good look at the tower. We arrived just in time to see the sun rise. A welcoming sight indeed! After debating for a while as to what to do next; go back to the lodge to wake Frank and Lorna, start our climb, or track the eight point buck we saw on the way in, we decided to kill some time tracking the dear with our camera. After a couple of hours in the woods we went back to the lodge to see if folks were up. It turns out that they had been up since we first arrived. No loss I guess since we needed to unwind from driving all night anyway. Besides, to quote Doc, "things have a way of working out the way they are supposed to!" These subtle, poignant words would later become our credo for the entire trip.
After spending some time catching up with Frank and Lorna who were actually off to a late start themselves on their trip to Baja, the day started warming up and we were ready to climb. We said our good-byes and a-climbing we went. Being Doc's first time climbing the Tower, or his first time climbing anything for that matter, we decided to head up the first pitch of Durrance. Actually, we started in the Bowling Alley and climbed the first pitch of some un-named route and cut over to the top of the leaning column. We set up some anchors there and top roped for a while to go over the basics and get our feet wet. This was enough for the first day since we were both extremely tired from our travels. With Doc's indoctrination out of the way, everything was set for the following day's ascent. We arrived back at the lodge to find Frank and Lorna still packing so I volunteered to make dinner. After all, it was Thanksgiving, and it was the least I could do. Frank and Lorna are two of the warmest people I've ever met. They are always there, willing to give there all to the many people who cross their path. As I was cooking two Chezch climbers, Stan and Pallak arrived and the six of us enjoyed our feast of homemade stuffing and frozen (doctored) pizza. What can I say, I'm a climber not a gourmet. Finally, Frank and Lorna headed off on their journey and at twelve thirty a.m. we hit the beds.
That night, I slept like a rock! Ready, willing and able to climb like pros we get up at eight and decide to take the Durrance approach in hopes of a speedy ascent. A friendly face welcomed us at the ranger station when we checked in. "You going to do some climbing today are you?" Sue the ranger asked as we arrived. "We're supposed to get sixty mile an hour winds!" "Great!" I say as I scratch my name on the sign-in sheet. Ever the optimist, I think out loud, "We can always turn back." That said, we make it only two pitches due to the weather, our fatigue and our lack of experience climbing together. I am bummed. Does this mean no summit? More storms? My mind starts running and I can only imagine the worse. Still, Doc's enthusiasm prevails and he muses, "all is as it should be my friend." "Yeah right!" I mutter although I must admit we had much fun. Just being with one of my dearest friends and introducing him to something that has inspired and challenged me for a long time was alone worth the trip. Still clinging to my despair, that night I give Doc some discouraging news, "I fear that with the days so short and our lack of experience as climbing partners we may not make the summit on this trip." And he reassuringly replies, "Relax, I'm having a great time. If we make it we make it, if we don't we don't." "How can he say that", I think to myself. "I have been up the Tower a dozen or so times, on a variety of routes. We have to summit". In my haste to see to it that my friend gets to the top, I was forgetting the number one reason why I climb; to be on the rock, to be a part of the mountain, and to rejoice in the experience alone. Still, I put this notion aside and tell him, "We are going to have to be more efficient if we are going to summit tomorrow". "Okay". He says as we turn in for the night.
After a restless night from worrying too much, staying up too late and drinking way too much coffee we get up early again and start the day with summit eyes. This time we go to the southeast side with Stan and Pollak who are going to climb in the vicinity of Hollywood & Vine and then head over to El Matador. Doc and I climb El Cracko Diablo. Well, the first two pitches at least. We are still too slow and tired so we call it a day and return to the parking lot at exactly the same time as Stan and Pollak who also bailed after two pitches on El Matador due to the impending darkness. Tomorrow, Pollak has his eyes on Adrenaline Surfer and we still need to make the summit on whatever route that will allow us. We call it an early night and go to bed at 9:30 since I know we need an early start if we are going to make any progress.
The next day we finally manage to get the early start we need and arise gently at 6:00. "This is it, our last chance to summit since we have to drive home tomorrow." I exclaim out load while we prepare for the long day ahead. Yeah, we're out the door by 8:00, our best start yet. While we drive out to the parking lot we listen to Electric Laryland by the Butthole Surfers although it can hardly be heard beneath the buzz of excitement coming from us all. We are blessed with a gorgeous day and are all psyched to get on the rock again. Without haste, we hike up the Durrance approach in record time and silently prepare for our ascent. First pitch is fast and easy, no problem, I zoom up the leaning column in a minute or so with Doc quickly behind me. We cruise the second pitch at the same pace. "I think we have our shot at it today," I exclaim with excitement as Doc joins me at the belay. "Not that it matters right?" I joke to him once again. "Right, now you got it!" Doc says with a smile as we prepare for the next pitch. There is good crackin' fun for the next pitch and the same goes the rest of the way excepting a couple of haul bag snarls, until we find ourselves at the bottom of the last and final pitch: Bailey's Direct. Decision time, it's getting late now. We have headlamps of course but the thought of a nighttime descent with a beginner worries me. What can I say, I'm a worrier, or was. But, just when I'm ready to voice my concerns of the need for us to bail once again, Stan and Pollak appear at the meadows' rappel. And, they have Frank's video camera trained on us for insurance. Now we have to keep going. And we do. We cruise the last pitch and top out exactly at sunset. "Yee-ha"! I exclaim as Doc joins me at the top. "Get up there and shoot some pics while I get the ropes ready for the rappel," I say, and proceed to sort things out while Doc has a look around on top. Fortunately, all goes smoothly with our descent and we rap down safely in the dark. It was almost surreal. In an attempt to conserve light, we only used our headlamps at the rap stations and spent most of the time under the warm glow of the horizon. For anyone watching from below, that, combined with the glow that was emitting from us, must have been a site to behold.
Climb this wonderful monument, stay with the wonderful people at Devils Tower Lodge, and have the time of your life!
Living the dream, Michael