Saturday, 24 September 2016

Road trip to Devils Tower

After some hot climbing action in Colorado it was time for the main event and we headed North into Wyoming. I love a good road trip in America, and the 8 hour drive to Devils Tower didn't disappoint.

Ranch land + buffalo's 
The roads were long and straight (generally), for hour after hour and I loved it. The scenery changed from hot arid 'bad lands', to slightly greener ranch land with cows, sheep, deer and buffalo all spotted along the way.

Early views of the Tower
The massive arable area near the town of Wheatland were something to behold. An area probably as big as Lancashire all arable farming (Tractor dealerships everywhere). Before the 19th century it was a flat arid landscape but in 1883 a local rancher and judge set up an underground irrigation system that allowed farming to start and take off. As Ben said I bet nearly all family discussions at a certain age are, 'so what do you want to do when you grow up....? Well farm like you of course'?!

So back to the main event... the scenery eventually changed and became greener with rolling hills. All of a sudden we spotted Devils Tower. It stands out like a giant thumb, impossible to miss. Immediately I could see why people are drawn to it.

Easy access!!
Devils Tower is basically a giant chunk of igneous rock (various theories to how it was created) that now stands out because the softer surrounding sedimentary rock has eroded away over ?millions of years. The columns are particularly distinctive to look at, and highly appealing to climbers.

Climbers on the steep side!

We stopped the car repeatedly as we got closer to it to take pictures and gawk at it. When we finally arrived at the visitors centre and you look up at the North face (I think!) its just mind blowing. The face closest to the visitors centre is the steepest side with the hardest climbs on it (all over 5.11 I think).

Weighing up the routes
If I'm honest I was totally blown away and actually starting to feel intimidated that we were going to climb it. I don't think I've felt this wasy since being below big walls in Yosemite many years ago. In the end I told Ben I couldn't look at it anymore as it was freaking me out so we went and set up camp and waited for the temperature to drop.

UFO and the Tower...
The Tower is an extremely important spiritual 'sight' to the American Indians, being sacred to the Lakota tribe, and there is much oral folklore about its creation. The tribes don't call it Devils Tower, and all have different names for it, but Bear Lodge seems a common translation. You can read more of its history here. Because of its spiritual importance its a real balance with protection, respect and climbing on it (which I believe the tribes would rather do without). With this in mind there is a voluntary climbing ban on the Tower for the whole of June (a significantly important time for many tribes). What was fascinating were the small 'prayer bundles' placed carefully in many of the tree's around the base of the tower.

The Durrance route goes up the fallen pillar then straight up

Another view of the Durrance route (fallen pillar) and loads of others!
Going back up to the Tower in the evening to suss out the approach and climbing routes thankfully it didn't feel as scary. Its amazing how your mind just needs time to adjust to places and size!

Ben on the first pitch
We figured out the approach (bit of a scramble) and checked out our route (Durance Route, 5.8) on the mellower/easy side of the Tower. The next days weather forecast was for a cooler day (good), but 50% chance of rain (not good). Ben had kindly suggested I have the crux pitch as it mentioned it was height dependant, so I didn't sleep much that night as there was a big storm with big winds and loads of rain, and I think when I did sleep I had nightmares thinking about the off width crux pitches.

Me entering the first chimney
The next day we woke to rain and 8 C, instead of the normal 20 C, and it felt like the UK, everything was soaked so I went back to bed (we'd planned a 6am start). By about lunch time it was drying up and we headed up to look if it was feasible (we only had 1 spare day to play with).

view of other climbers abseiling back down (as the rain started)
Unsure we set off from the packed visitors centre, and you sure do attract a lot of attention walking up the tourist path to the Tower from the carpark, with lots of silly questions like, 'are you going to climb it', as you walk past carrying ropes...

Ben enjoying one of the wide pitches
The scramble to the route start was fun, and we had to throw out the rope for the final interesting bit. As I had the crux 2nd pitch Ben started off. It was initially intimidating climbing with a crack that soon turned vertical until you ended up chimneying behind a giant column. Ben was relieved to pop out on top of this for the fixed bolt belay.

Just got to the top
The crux was reasonably taxing, a 70ft double crack, one that you could jam 50% of the time, the other off width. It felt about HVS 5b, and fairly stiff and I know I wasn't dreaming this and being a wimp as Ben was very complementary of my lead when he got to the belay, and this rarely happens!

With that in the bag I thought it would get easier, but the remaining 3-4 pitches were mostly off width, and it kept raining which did play on my nerves a little as its not much fun trying to squeeze up a chimney or off width as the very few footholds available were soaking wet...

back down - all safe!
The heavy rain showers stopped as we got to the last pitch, the very short 'jump traverse' pitch, which Ben did not like seconding one bit (a wee bit exposed). After this we finally hit the meadows (ledge system), before scooting along this and a final long but easy scramble to the top (we simul climber, but it was very easy).

It was a great feeling being on top, its like a slightly dished meadow with a cairn in the middle. Probably as big as half a football pitch, and you can't really see the edges, but you get unparalleled 360 degree views. We saw a few rainbows as the showers kept blowing through.

There was another pair of climbers on top and we chatted and took pictures of each other before signing the summit register and watching the rainbows. The American couple asked if we wanted to ab(seil) with them as they had 2 x 70m ropes. As we didn't know where the abseil points were at that point it made sense to join them. Because of this we didn't hang around on top too long.

3 abseils later we were back on easy ground and slowly scrambled down to the forest below and back onto the tourist path that circles the Tower. We then finally took a break and contemplated what we had done over the last 5-6 hours.

Summary.... Devils Tower is amazing and it definitely has a mystical and captivating quality to it. Along with places like the Grand Canyon it is one of the most compelling, distinctive and beautiful natural wonders of the world that I have witnessed for sure.

We were both super 'stoked' to have climbed it, Ben declared he never felt the need to climb it again but for me it was the opposite, and I was left wanting more. I feel captivated to return and climb some of the other routes to unlock the key to this place some more. Whether I do is another matter!

If you want to watch a quirky but cool video about Frank and the Tower (which actually further inspired me to go), click here (enjoy).

No comments:

Post a Comment