Devils Tower is a pretty awe-inspiring sight.
When I saw it appear on the horizon my first thought was "holy crap" and my second was "how do I get on top?" Actually, getting on top of the tower isn’t exactly easy. There are only a few moderate routes up the tower and they're mostly located on the south and east sides. This is more than a bit of an issue in the heat of summer, when climbing in the sun is absolutely intolerable, and when thunderstorms are nearly guaranteed to roll in by mid afternoon.
On our first day at the tower, Jason and I figured we'd take our chances with the rain and waited to start climbing until our chosen route was in the shade. I was feeling pretty smug as I climbed up the first pitch and watched three guys rappel past looking exhausted and sweaty after having climbed the tower in the blazing sun. The smug feeling didn’t last very long; we were only one pitch up when the sky turned dark and thunder started rumbling in the distance. We bailed. To my annoyance, the storm didn't amount to much and the sky was bright and clear by the time we made it down. Jason snapped a pic of me ignoring the wildlife as I hunted through the guidebook to find a better strategy to make it to the top.
The climbing guides and park rangers at Devil’s Tower are full of great advice ranging from what routes to climb to how to avoid being mobbed by bikers (wear a Harley Davidson t-shirt and make sure your rope is completely hidden in your pack!). Following some advice from Ranger Jen, on our second attempt we got an earlier start on the north side of the tower. We got to the base of the climb and found one party ahead of us, but figured we'd have plenty of daylight, as they were already two pitches ahead of us. The first couple of pitches were 250' of quality climbing that brought us up to a comfortable ledge known as the Teacher's Lounge. The guys ahead of us had some issues with stuck gear (and a lost sock!) so we chilled out on the ledge for a while. Finally we racked up and started climbing what was undeniably the best pitch we've done in the last four months. A short finger crack crux led to a solid hundred feet of perfect hands.
The super sustained, near-vertical climbing was pretty grueling and both of us were exhausted by the time we made it to the top of the pitch. Thankfully, the climbing above eased up and we made it to the top about an hour before sunset.
Here’s Jason signing the summit register.
While the climb up was the best one we've done, the trip back down was probably the worst. Firstly, our guidebook had some issues with accuracy. As I was rappelling down in the dwindling light, I crept lower and lower, well below where the guidebook showed the anchors were, and finally found a manky pair of bolts. I was pretty relieved to have avoided being suspended 300’ off the ground unable to move, but while we were pulling the ropes down we felt a felt a little snag. Jason gave the rope a solid tug. And a basketball-sized rock came careening down from 70 feet above, ricocheted off the rock and flew down about three feet away from us. Not cool.
It was dark by the time we made it to the ground, avoided stepping on a rattlesnake on the trail, and collected our stuff. As we hiked around the base of the tower back to the car, a late thunderstorm rolled in. The lightening was absolutely crazy. The flashes were nearly continuous and would light up the entire tower. We jumped into the car exactly two minutes before a torrential downpour started.
We had made it to the top and avoided a real epic. Naturally, we were feeling pretty smug as we sat in the car and watched the rain. Until we remembered we'd left the windows of our tent open…