Climbing Destination Guide: Devils Tower, Wyoming

Devils Tower Rock Climbing Destination Guide

Devils Tower Overview Chart

Overview: Devils Tower, Wyoming

Devils Tower is a striking igneous (phonolite porphyry) intrusion located in northeastern Wyoming, just north of Interstate 90 between Rapid City, SD and Gillette, WY. Prominent splitter cracks surround the tower every 5-10 feet, and most climbs offer several pitches of sustained, near-vertical climbing with bomber protection.

The top of the tower reaches 5,117ft (about 800ft from its base) and all approaches leave the main Devils Tower parking lot. No approach takes more than 30 minutes, and completing a registration card is required to climb.

Looking at the images, you’ll notice that the upper third of the tower is more blocky, with lower quality rock. That said, most climbers wanting to summit choose to climb to the Tower’s Meadows area on the south face and then scramble to the top.

 

Specific description of climbing style

There are over 200 climbs at Devils Tower, about 90% of which are free multi-pitch trad routes. The first pitch is often sweeping, gradually getting steeper. After 100ft up, you tend to get consistent, very steep climbing.

Due to the blocky nature of the upper portions of the tower, very few climbs have a safe/good quality summit finish, so most of the climbs are done on the bottom two thirds.

Fixed anchors provide great rappel stations, but be sure to bring two ropes! Even an 80m is not enough for some of the good routes.

There are a few sport routes that were put up before bolting was restricted, and some aid is still available. No new bolting is permitted, except for the replacement of old bolts—usually anchors—by permit only.

 

Best season

April through October is the prime season, with March generally being the earliest you can climb and November the latest.

The busiest climbing month at Devils Tower is September (Labor Day), and Memorial Day weekend gets fairly crowded as well. One recommendation is to avoid coming during the Sturgis Bike Rally—it’s during the first two weeks of August and it brings a lot of traffic. It can take forever to get into the park and it’s pretty loud with all the Harleys.

There’s also a voluntary climbing abstinence in June—the summer solstice—as there are ceremonies at this time among Native American tribes. The park isn’t allowed to pressure anyone not to climb, and many climbers do elect to climb during this time … crowds tend to be lower and the weather is excellent.

Editor’s note: please see the National Park Service’s message at the bottom of this article regarding climbing in June.

 

Climbing grade range

As grades get harder, the cracks generally get thinner: 5.6 is wide, 5.7 a little less wide, 5.8 is fists, 5.9 is hands/fingers, etc.

Durrance, a physical 5.6 off-width/wide crack, is the easiest summit route. There are also some other easier single pitches, and at the upper end of the spectrum grades go up to 5.13.

In terms of quantity and quality of climbs, the prime grades at Devils Tower are 5.10 and 5.11.

 

Best local spots

Be sure to visit Frank Sander’s Devils Tower Lodge Bed and Breakfast. Whether you’re going to stay in a room or just camp in his meadow, this is the spot.

There’s also KOA with a restaurant outside the gate and a Ponderosa Cafe in Hulett, about 15 minutes northeast of Devils Tower. The best bar is the Longhorn in Sundance; they have great drought beer, microbrews, etc.

 

Top climbs in area

  • Durrance (5.6) is the easiest and also a 50 classic climb of North America.
  • El Cracko Diablo (5.8)
  • Soler (5.9)
  • Assembly Line (5.9: A good summit route that doesn’t go through the Meadows
  • Walt Bailey (5.9): Devils Tower test piece—if you can lead this clean, you can lead 5.10 almost anywhere else
  • Tulgey Wood (5.10a)
  • New Wave (5.10a)
  • McCarthy West – Free Variation (5.10b)
  • Belle Fourche Buttress (5.10b)
  • Burning Daylight (5.10b)
  • Hollywood and Vine (5.10c)
  • One Way Sunset (5.10c)
  • El Matador (5.10d)
  • Casper College (5.10d)
  • Back to Montana (5.10d)
  • Mr. Clean (5.11a)
  • Carol’s Crack (5.11a)
  • McCarthy North (5.11a): The trifecta is to do Mr. Clean, Carol’s Crack, and McCarthy North all in one day!
  • Direct Southwest (5.11b)
  • Digital Extraction (5.11d)
  • Bloodguard (5.11d)
  • Avalon (5.11d)
  • Brokedown Palace (5.12a)

 

Best kept secret

Climb in June, stay at Frank’s place, and use your feet.

Editor’s note: please see the National Park Service’s message at the bottom of this article regarding climbing in June.

 

Where to stay

Frank’s Devils Tower Lodge. There’s a restroom outside with hot showers, for a suggested $10 per night.

There’s also a campground in Devils Tower for $15/night and A KOA near the park’s entrance.

If you’re further away, Reuter Campground is in Sundance and there’s also a campground outside of Hulett called Bear Lodge. While these two campgrounds have a fee, there’s free disbursed camping in the National Forest land east of the Tower.

 

Other information

The tower is striking. It’s iconic … a very special place. It has great protection and given the high density of climbs, it offers cragging-style trad climbing.

Editor’s note: a message from the National Park Service regarding June’s voluntary closure

NPS: The National Park Service asks that climbers choose not to climb the Tower during the month of June. The June voluntary climbing closure was selected as part of the Devils Tower Climbing Management Plan by a working group that included two climber organizations, two American Indian organizations, and other agency and local government representatives. Observance of the voluntary June closure balances American Indian cultural and ceremonial values associated with the Tower and the month of June, with the status of the Tower as a world-class destination and experience for rock climbers. Climbers are strongly encouraged to consider enjoying the many other climbing options available in northeast Wyoming and the Black Hills area of South Dakota during the month of June.

Compliance with the voluntary closure is critical in maintaining a self-regulatory environment for climbers at Devils Tower National Monument. A rise in numbers of June climbers requires that monument managers undertake actions to minimize climbing in June; a spectrum of actions that range from basic re-education regarding the importance of voluntary closure, to the possibility of formal restrictive measures to keep June climber numbers minimal and in alignment with the spirit and letter of the 1995 agreement embodied in the Climbing Management Plan. The Access Fund fully supports, recommends and encourages compliance with the voluntary June closure as a means to maintain the minimally restrictive climbing environment enjoyed by climbers at Devils Tower. The National Park Service, contrary to information espoused by unofficial sources, strongly recommends and encourages compliance with the voluntary June closure as a direct means to avoid a more restrictive climbing environment at Devils Tower.

Official information on climbing at Devils Tower can be obtained by visiting https://www.nps.gov/deto/index.htm or calling (307) 467-5283.

 

Now to you

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Photos in this posts have been sourced from Flickr, with usage under Creative Commons.

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