A labor of love – My labor day climbing road trip! Part 4.a: Ascending the tower itself


Saturday, 04-Sept-2021, through Saturday, 11-Sept-2021

I Saturday, 04-Sept-2021, through Saturday, 11-Sept-2021

I love road trips. I’ve learned that, speaking to various therapists and councilors in the last year or so, long drives are a major form of meditation for me. I have something to keep me focused, and I’m accomplishing a goal, but I can let my semi-conscious mind wander and reflect on what’s been happening in my life.

I try to do this at home, of course, but… I always get too stressed out, feeling like I should be doing something instead of just sitting back and letting my brain process all the various thoughts and possibilities that are constantly screaming around in my skull.

For my birthday, I’d originally planned to climb at Index with Daniel. When that fell through, I’d sketched out a road trip down highway 101 into California with my friend Laurel. That fell through too. Finally, I gave up and decided to do something on my own – something I’d always wanted to do, but had never quite been able to make happen.

An ascent of Devil’s Tower...

Thursday, 09-September-2021

It was early.

I mean… really early.

“Keep your headlamp by your pillow, because it’s way before the sun is up”, type of early.

I was moving by 3:15 – Pulling on my clothes that I’d laid out beside the bed, doing some jumping jacks and stretches to warm up my cold muscles. I scarfed down my quick breakfast of protein shakes, sipped on my pre-made coffee from the night before (the thermos keeping it mostly warm, still), and shook the cobwebs from my brain.

I’d gone to bed early the night before… The drive from Rapid City was long, but beautiful, and I’d arrived at the tower with more than enough light left to bring my gear into the teepee, to cook a meal, and to do a quick initial recon of the tower itself.

Still, I’d had a bit of spare time… one of the advantages of a kindle, that I’d been able to pick a short book to read that evening… and I’d been asleep by 8:30. Hadn’t slept perfectly, of course, since I was too excited… but I’d slept acceptably well.

Two days before, Doug and I had talked about where we’d meet:

“Okay, we’ll meet at the gravel parking lot. But Doug, how will I find your truck?”
“Ben, it’ll be 4am. We’ll be the only cars there. Don’t worry about it”

He was right, of course. We’d met at 4am, and started the walk to the tower by headlamp. By 4:45 we were on the wall, and by the time the sun broke the horizon we’d already made it half-way up Devil’s Tower.

We climbed by the Durrance route (5.7+, trad, 6 pitches), one of the most iconic climbs in North America.

We didn’t follow the “jump traverse” section, where you vault over a 5ft gap, since it’s the most common spot for accidents… and there’s a perfectly good option called Bailey’s Direct that goes straight up to the top. The climbing was glorious, though I honestly don’t remember a huge amount of the Durrance itself. It was dark for the first three pitches, which doesn’t help… but I do recall that I stuck to the off-width for the eponymous “Durrance Crack”, which is definitely the less-optimal way to do the route.

But hey – it was fun! And at the end of it, I was at the top of Devil’s Tower!!!

From here, We relaxed on the summit for an hour or so.

Doug gave me a quick tour, showing me the semi-famous Bison skull (proof that the Great Creator had raised the tower from the ground) and the cache of food from a stunt gone wrong years ago (A guy named “Jumpin’ George” who parachuted to the top… but lost his descent rope on the skydive). We looked at lightening strikes, we ate some food, and we appreciated the serenity of being at the top of the nation’s first National Monument – completely alone.

After a solid amount of reflection and relaxation, Doug asked if I was up for some more climbing. I was hesitant, not wanting to push myself to injury, but after some stretching and frank / candid self-assessment, I knew that I was ready. We descended, and I started climbing back up…

Instead of descending all the way, I’d rappel down a pitch, then climb back up to Doug. Then, we’d rappel down to the base of that same pitch… and do the same thing again.

This way I was able to climb Bon Homme, a 5.8 variant ascent, that was singularly gorgeous! Honestly, it was even better than the Durrance route; clean climbing, great cracks, and gloriously fun movements. I felt great, and absolutely felt my love of rock climbing refreshing itself.

Soon enough though, we were back at the foot of the tower, the climbing completed. Doug and I chatted as we walked back to the cars – thanking each other for an excellent few days of adventure, and with him sharing some much-appreciated feedback with me. Feedback… and a few tips for new climbing spots back in Portland!

Then we were off – Gear was traded back, cars started, and I was heading down the road to get some much-needed napping in…


“Jumpin’ George” = https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/stuntmans-jump-parachutist-stranded-days-devils-tower

Link to the Lakota Legend of the bison skull = https://www.nps.gov/deto/learn/historyculture/first-stories.htm

Leave a Reply