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Boulder, CO

A guide to the wilderness of the West.

Devils Tower

Blog

Devils Tower

Derek Bartz

I hadn't been to Devils Tower since I was just a little kid, on the classic Midwest family vacation out to the Badlands & Yellowstone.  My dad had talked the family into making the three hour detour to Devils Tower National Monument to see an ancient volcanic plug that rises over 1,000 feet from the rolling prairie surrounding the Black Hills.  It is an incredible geologic formation featuring fantastic examples of columnar basalt.  Apparently at the time I(and everyone besides my dad) wasn't that impressed.  We made a quick lap on the paved path around the base of the tower and left.  What a shame because the camping(and climbing) there is fantastic.  

A return trip to the tower was first brought up while ago to my friend Zach.  We both worked trail crew for Boulder Open Space and Mountain parks the previous summer and had plenty of time to dream up adventures while shoveling dirt and digging tread.  The prairies and plains of southeastern Wyoming isn't a usual destination for us which only added to the allure of the Tower.  Over a year later we were making it happen.  Also joining us was Kirsten and Steph. 

I don't consider myself much of a climber, I wish I was.  I frequent the local climbing gym, Movement, here in Boulder, but rarely get outside due to the lack of commitment and confidence while on lead (and if you can't lead, you can't really climb anything).  I love it though, and am a great belayer :).  Kirsten and Zach on the other hand are stellar climbers with tons of experience and no problem with being on the sharp end of the rope.  They were game to take us up Durrance (5.8), a 6 pitch, 500' route on the south side of the Tower.  I am fortunate to have such good friends willing to let me tag along on such an adventure.

Durrance

We left Boulder after work and made the 6 hour drive up to the southeastern corner of Wyoming, arriving at the Bechler River campground just after midnight.  We could just make out the outline of the tower in the moonless night.  In the morning the we watched as the Tower was set ablaze by the rising sun.  

Listed as one of the fifty classic climbs of North America, Durrance is a super popular choice for many climbers first trip up the Tower.   This also makes it a busy climb, and even though it was Friday and mid-October there were still two parties ahead of us at the base of the climb by the time we got there around 11:30am.  Kirsten wasn't psyched on being behind two large groups and decided to head to another route with Steph (they ended up climbing Solar 5.9, another classic).  Zach, Michele, and I decided to wait it out.  It was another perfect Autumn day so we hung out in the sun after the first pitch waiting for the other parties to get ahead a bit.  From there, Zach cruised up while Michele and I followed.  The climbing was fantastic.  Crack climbing is fairly new to me(my first experience with it really), so I struggled a bit for the grade, but didn't have too many troubles making my way.  After reaching the meadows we were able to put the rope away and scramble to the top just as the sun was beginning to set, perfect timing.  The summit views were spectacular.  Golden prairie stretched as far as the eye could see, the Belle Fourche River meandered through the landscape, and the Black Hills dominated the horizon to the East; really beautiful country.  

Zach heading up the Leaning Column

Great belay ledges the entire way

The Durrance Crack 

Zach contemplating the infamous Jump Traverse

And nailing it

We finished the rappel down just as it was getting dark.  Walking back to the car we couldn't stop mentioning how cool this place was and how lucky we were to be there enjoying it in a way most people are unfamiliar with.  Back at the campground we swapped summit stories with Kirsten and Steph over a few drinks and a fantastic dinner of Blackened Tilapia and sauted Green Beans(we are getting good at this car camping thing).  I awoke early the next morning and went for a run along the Belle Fourche River and up around the Tower on some excellent single track that sees little use.  We packed up and headed for Spearfish for the night.

Morning along the Belle Fourche River

Excellent single track on the Red Beds Trail

I knew nothing about Spearfish Canyon before getting there.  I was pleasantly surprised. Limestone cliffs and thick forest cover the entirety of the lengthy canyon.  A complex series of side canyons enter here and there, each with crystal clear water and lush greenery.  A type of landscape that begged for further exploring, in South Dakota of all places.  The climbing was as good as it was hyped up to be too, just needed more time as always!  A really fun weekend with a good mix of relaxing/hanging out with good friends and climbing of course.  

Lush gardens & crystal clear water

Zach sending Indecent Exposure

Great short on Frank Sanders, Devils Tower legend.  We heard from another group that we just missed him on the summit.