Devils Tower

Devils Tower Trip Report (#1630)

  • Signed By: Roy Lenzo
  • Date submitted: November 01, 2002
  • Number of People Encountered:

The first time I climbed Devil's Tower was September 11th 2001. My guide was Frank Sanders, who has climbed Devil's Tower probably more times than anyone in history. We climbed the Tower Classic, "El Cracko Diablo" which was an awesome route. I was a bit distracted by national events that time however and was unable to climb to my potential. Only a few months later I resolved to come back and do a better job.

When I arrived in Rapid City and was picked up by Frank's assistant guide I was astounded to learn that we would be having dinner with Pat Padden, the same man who put up "El Cracko", the route I'd climbed the last time! By my incredible luck he was back to climb it again on the 30th anniversary of the first ascent. Pat is a great guy who even treated a rank beginner/loser like me as if I had the right to climb on the same rock as him. (Frank is cool that way too, but I pay him!) Pat was climbing with his buddy Fletcher Andrews who would lead "El Cracko" this trip.

On May 5th we all woke up in Devil's Tower Lodge and after breakfast drove the mile or so to the tower. It loomed overhead, solid, vertical, imposing. My guide was again Frank Sanders, also brought John Cathy along with us. Perhaps I should have worried about my skill level if Frank needs two guides to get me up the tower? But since ignorance is bliss, I was blissful indeed. My fear and anticipation rose as we hiked to the start of our route, the standard "Durance" route. When we arrived there were two parties on the route and another one or two waiting their turn. So we moved to another, slightly harder, route nearby called Weissner Crack. The first pitch was easy and served as a nice warm up. Once I got climbing I was so absorbed in what I was doing that I was not scared the rest of the day. The crux pitch (the actual Weissner Crack) was about 500 ft up and is climbed with your left arm and leg stuffed in a crack between two nearly vertical pillars with your body turned so that you are facing outward into empty space! 500 ft up and a view of nothing but air, that was exhilarating! At another point about 700ft up I had to make what is called a "Jump Traverse". This is simply a very large step or small jump from one ledge to another. The hard part is that the ledge you are jumping to is pretty thin...Miss this move and you are dangling with hundreds of feet of air beneath your feet. But on Devil's Tower that is the norm, so what else is new?

The last hundred something feet were straightforward and soon I was on the summit. The summit of Devil's Tower is about 1/2 acre and nearly flat. There are grasses, small cacti, and shrubs on top. Small rodents live there as well as birds of prey and the occasional snake. It had been sunny and in the 70's and so felt warm as we climbed but now it was becoming overcast with a sprinkle of rain. After a half hour or so of quiet celebration, picture taking and even filming, we began the descent.

Clipping in to the bolts at the start of each rappel, Frank tied two ropes together and we took it 200 feet at a time. About halfway down a loud crash of thunder announced the beginning of the rain. A few minutes later and still 200 feet from the ground, lightning was flashing all around us. From my vantage point I saw a bolt hit nearby with such ferocity that the ground smoldered for at least a minute. Devil's tower is the tallest thing for miles and thus is the last place you want to be in a lightning storm. The guides knew I could rappel by now and decided to send me the rest of the way on the faster and more dangerous single rope rappel. I wasted no time getting down, expecting to feel a burst of electricity through my body at any moment. On the ground I hurriedly packed up the gear and stacked ropes as the guides came down. By the time we were all down the storm was over and we stood there soaked to the skin watching the late afternoon sun light up a fresh washed tower. Man I felt good!

Any errors are due to to the ignorance of the author, don't bother me with corrections!

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