The movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" might spring to your mind when you think about the Devils Tower in Northeastern WY. Or that it's one of the most popular monuments in the U.S. Even though I was not even born when that movie came out, it was a classic. I got the priveledge to watch it at the KOA Camp ground below Devil's Tower. I was so exhausted I fell asleep though. It's been such an amazing week as far as climbing goes for me.
I originally had planned to head up to climb the Devils Tower and then from there head to the Grand Teton to climb it's North Face. Another big wall classic like the Diamond. I moved the trip ahead one day to climb the Diamond with Danny. When I got back from climbing it at one in the morning, I did not feel like driving 7 hours the next day to climb the Devils Tower. Especially from the thought of the offwidth grungy climbing. It ended up that I woke up at 12 in the afternoon. The thought that I climbed the Diamond seemed like a dream I had overnight. For once, not a nightmare.
I called Shawn, a climbing partner and good friend I met on my semi-solo ascent of the Notch Couloir on Longs, and he stated he was half way there. I was actually excited. I threw all the gear in my car and food/water and told my family my plans. They looked at me like I was crazy. Some people tell me I'm a climbing machine. My oil and gas to keep me going is sleep I guess and determination. But anyways, the drive was not that fun. Especially since the last half was in the dark. I was pretty tired going into a euphoric state like I was on drugs or something. It's something that's hard to explain when you go in that state from climbing. Everything is so like a dream. I called Shawn at 9 and told him I just left my house as a joke. He told me he had not gotten used to my humor and that he would not be surprised if I had just left since I had an insane day the day before.
I arrived and went straight to bed. We set the alarm for 5:30. The alarm rung and I just about threw it out the tent. It was disturbing my sleep. We got up and took pictures of the Devils Tower at sunrise. This thing is so unique.
The Devils Tower at Sunrise
I wanted to do so many routes on this thing. I really wanted to do the unrelenting El Metador and couple others like Soler. But I did not have the right gear for it. You need a ton a medium sized cams and nuts on those. So we sided with the Durrance route. It's one of the 50 classics in the world or U.S. if I remember. It's 90% offwidth. For those that are not familiar with that, it's a wide crack that is to small to chimney up but you can't jam it with your hands. You have to put half your body in the crack and squirm painfully and slowly up. It didn't help that it was sharp rock either.
Close to our route on the Devils Tower
Shawn led the first pitch which formed the approach to the actual route. It was quite easy and gave you a taste of the sandbagged state of the route.
The route marked. He also lead the second pitch which was said to be 5.5. It turned into a vertical crack and ended with a huge offwidth.
Shawn On the Second Pitch of the Leaning Column I grunted up it. By this time there were hundreds of tourists pointing up at us. Shawn gave me the next lead which was said to be the crux of the route at 5.7+ offwidth. Since the route is so much offwidth, you can't carry anything on your back or it will get shreaded. We also had to carry a second rope for the double rope rappels. I carried a water bottle on my harness along with a camera. We lead with the second rope so the follower would not shread it on the way up.
Me Leading the Durrance Pitch Which Forms the Crux. Towards the top of it.
I went up the vertical offwidth crack with a small crack to the left of it. I quirmed inch by inch and grunted. This is pure offwith fun. I was glad I had my #5 and #6 cam to protect it. I would hate to run this out. I soon had to commit completely to the offwith and pulled out of it on the ledge. Made the anchor and screamed off belay. Shawn soon came up completely exhausted. He groaned the whole way up. He told me a tourist yelled don't fall when I was leading. Selfish people I thought.
I got the next lead which was even more of a akward offwith where the footing technique was quite complex.
Me Leading the Offwidth Fourth Pitch I soon got up it to only see another offwidth to the belay. This one was unprotectable. I went to the right and saw a handcrack. I thought to myself that I was going up this one. I got up to the belay and Shawn followed. We were both getting tired of offwidth. I didn't mind it on the first and second pitches. It was actually pretty fun but now it was just getting old. I then lead the 5th pitch which was not offwidth for once. It was a akward crack system. I soon belayed Shawn up.
I gave him the next lead and he lead the 6th pitch which was a offwith with a roof you had to pull over at the top. He lead it easily. I followed and thought it was the easiest pitch. Instead of doing a traverse, we did a variation to go straight to the top. He gave me the lead. This proved to be a very sketchy lead.
There were two cracks. They both looked as difficult. The one on the left was the 5.4 150 ft pitch exit I later found out. I chose the one on the right which was Devils Tower 5.9. I thought it was a little harder then the other pitches. I offwidthed my way painfully up to get to this offwidth bulge. I told myself this was not the route. I remember on a description of it that it traverse right or left at one part. So I went right and protected the traverse for Shawn. I then saw a pin above me. I was convinced this was the route. I clipped the pin that I did not want to fall on. I placed another piece to back it up. Then I looked up and there was a roof. I knew I was off route. I could not backtrack because of the terrain though. Bad thing is that there was not gear on it. I pulled it and mentally it was exhausting. A fall would of been safe but would have been quite painful. The roof was at the 5.10 range. Then there was no gear for the next 15 feet. It was a steep slanted friction face with quite the exposure below. I slowly worked my way up it with liken on it which made friciton moves sketchy and delicate.
I got to a ledge and set up a belay and breathed in and out. Wow - that was pysicological. I brought Shawn up who was even more exhausted when he came up. I could tell he was a little upset that I chose a 5.10 roof instead of a 5.4 exit but he understood. He lead the next short pitch to the top. I followed fast and we were soon on the summit of Devils Tower! A climb I have been wanting to do for quite a while.
We soon met another party up top that had only had one rope. We offered them another rope and to rappel with us so they would not be stuck on top. We got down after a few rappels and they treated us out as a thank you note. We both relaxed the rest of the day and watched "Close Encounter of the Third Kind" that night. What a bittersweet day. I looked at the conditions of the Tetons. It looked like a snowstorm had hit them. I wanted a alpine rock climb of the North face of the Grand not a mixed climb. It's not winter yet. They have had a lot more snow then usual this year.
We agreed that it's not a good time to do it. Next year though. Hopefully better conditions. I made the long drive home. I went straight to bed. Life is good.