How to Climb Devils Tower

How to Climb Devils Tower
Located in the northeastern corner of Wyoming, adjacent to the Black Hills of South Dakota, Devils Tower was proclaimed the country's first national monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It rises 867 feet high, and is made of phonolite porphyry, a magma-cooled rock. It was the site of the alien landing in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Devils Tower has long been considered sacred by Native Americans, and many myths address its creation. The first technical climb of Devils Tower was done in 1937, though it had been ascended earlier by means of a wooden ladder in the 1800s.


Difficulty: Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Ropes
  • Rock-climbing shoes
  • Harness
  • Rock-climbing protection
  • Belay devices
  • Climbing helmet
  • Backpack with water and rain jackets
Step 1
Respect the voluntary-climbing closure. Devils Tower has a voluntary-climbing-closure policy in June, as a sign of respect to the Native Americans who hold the Tower sacred and perform many ceremonies around it in June.
Step 2
Choose a route within your abilities. Because of the length of the climbs on the Tower, you are advised to choose a route at a grade you are comfortable at. The Tower's standard route is the Durrance Route, is a seven-pitch 5.6 route. Those looking for hard routes often choose El Matador, a five-pitch 5.10d.
Step 3
Practice crack climbing before ascending the Tower. Gym climbing is very different from ascending cracks, and most routes on Devils Tower follow long crack systems. Practice hand jams, fist jams, foot jams and stemming, especially for the harder routes.
Step 4
Start early. While renowned climber Todd Skinner free soloed the Tower in 18 minutes, most climbers take from 4 to 8 hours to ascend the route.
Step 5
Carry several liters of water. The length of the routes, combined with the heat in the summer months, can lead to dehydration.
Step 6
Use double ropes for the ascent. Double ropes are lighter and permit more flexibility in where you place your protection, and the rappels from the summit require two 50-meter ropes, so using double-rope technique will also save weight by using smaller lines as opposed to heavy single ropes.
Step 7
Use standard-length runners (two-feet long) to clip the rope to your protection, as opposed to the quickdraws commonly used in sport climbing in gyms and bolt ropes. Many of the routes wander a bit to find the easiest line; using long runners will cut down on rope drag.
Step 8
Carry a few big camming units for the occasional wide crack you may encounter. Camming units to size 4 should be sufficient.
Step 9
Carry a topo map or guidebook with you up the route so you have an idea where the route goes and where belay anchors should be set.

Tips & Warnings

West-side routes are closed from mid-March to June for falcon nesting.
Climbing Devils Tower is not for novices. Rock climbing can be exceedingly dangerous, and an ascent of Devils Tower requires extensive experience in constructing belay anchors and placing protection in the rock. Most routes on the Tower do not have pre-placed bolts that you can clip like short sport climbs. When rappelling off the Tower, tie knots in the ends of the ropes so you don't rappel off the end of the rope.

Article Written By Candace Horgan

Candace Horgan has worked as a freelance journalist for more than 12 years. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including the "Denver Post" and "Mix." Horgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and history.

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