Peak(s):  Devil's Tower
Date Posted:  10/04/2021
Date Climbed:   09/30/2021
Author:  Wentzl
 Devil's Tower - Durrance Route   

Devil's Tower, Wyoming.

Every now and then a trip report shows up that has nothing to do with Colorado 14ers. Here, is one of those.

Who hasn't thought it would be fun to stand on top of Devil's Tower? If you raised your hand, turn the page now.

I met my friends Doug and Joan, who had come down from Alaska, at the Belle Fourche Campground on Wednesday night. Our original plan was to meet Tuesday, but a harsh cold front and serious rain forecast for that Wednesday pushed the rendezvous back a day.

Wednesday night.

It rained all day while I drove the 10 hours from Montrose and I was happy we pushed the meeting back a day. The rain had quit when I set camp and the forecast for the next day was nice. The temperature the day before exceeded 90 degrees but when I woke up, frost was covering everything.

So on Thursday morning we slept in late and let the frost melt while we ate breakfast and drank coffee and discussed how to tackle the Tower in the days ahead. By 11:00 in the morning it was agreed we would set out and try the first pitch of the Wiessman route, which is also a direct start to the Durrance Route, but adds a little difficulty to the effort.

Wiessman direct start

In the previous photo there is a red jacket visible almost directly above the yellow helmet Doug is wearing. This is one of the four Koreans that we watched starting the route through our binoculars from camp some hours ago. More on the Koreans later.

We get to the top of the Wiessman start and look around and think, let's get to the top of the Bent Column. The top of this column is where the red jacket of the previous photo stands.

Well, from here the Durrance Route really begins. It is around noon, the weather is perfect, the red jacket group is out of sight and we think, if not now, when? We are a little light on food and water, but with 2 liters of water and one headlamp we set off!

Doug sets off for the top of the Bent Column

This pitch, for anyone still following along, was the easiest of all day long. But it did make for my favorite photo of the climb!

So we are sitting on top of the bent column at around 1:30 in the afternoon, still not yet committed to finishing the climb, and decide that this seems to be a perfect day to go for it. And on we went.

I think the next pitch after getting on top of the bent pillar is the Durrance Pitch. It looks like this:

Durrance Pitch

It is pretty stout. For anyone thinking about the Tower, I will interject my thoughts about the rating here. It is rated 5.6 and later on some folks say it should be 5.8. My experience is somewhat limited, but I climbed El Cap East Buttress which is rated 5.9 and I thought the Devil's Tower is harder. Certainly the tower is more difficult to protect. But also, I think the moves are more difficult. Maybe because I was 30 years younger when I did El Cap? Sure, but be careful if you set out on the Tower! Enough of that, back to our story.

My foot on top of Bent Column

The previous photo was a look down, after taking the look up two photos back.

Now here is an action shot on the Durrance Pitch.

Not as easy as it looks!

After the Durrance Pitch is the Cussin' Crack. It was not hard to figure out why this pitch got it's name. It looks totally benign but is extremely difficult to protect and awkward to climb. After that is the Chockstone pitch. At the end of the day we had a debate about the single most difficult move on the climb. There was some debate, but it came down to either the pull over the chockstone, the finish on Bailey's or the first pitch on Wiessman. I can't say for sure, but I can say that all of them exceeded what I considered 5.6 climbing!

Here is what it took to find pro on the "Cussin' Crack".

Cuss Here

The Chockstone pitch was also difficult to protect. And when you got to the top, and had to pass over the chockstone, it was very slick. No photos, but set your pro well before trying to power over this obstacle. It was hard.

After the Chockstone you have an option to take the "Jump Traverse" or the Bailey Direct finish. We opted for the Bailey Direct. This is a serious pitch. The online descriptions say this is just a 5.4 walkoff, but that is not correct. This direct finish is a serious pitch and every bit as difficult as the earlier bits.

The next photo shows Doug looking around to the left, but then finishing right. The crack to the left did look inviting, but after committing to the right he found an old fixed piton to suggest the better path.

Bailey's Direct

So yeah, when you get up here, finish to the right. Also, the lower section goes easier on the face to the left so that pro in the center makes things harder.

Bailey's Direct goes up and to the left for 75' and then doglegs to the right for the final 75'. If you are carrying a pack, as I was, this will be really difficult. I had to call it the most difficult pitch of the day, but only because I was tired and carrying a pack. I does get quite obscure as you reach that dogleg and try to figure out how to ascend past the roof that seems terminal. But inch by inch, it comes away and eventually, it gives way! The route descriptions say the Bailey's direct is a 5.4 finish. I am calling BSt on that. The final twist to get out of there was 5.8 all day long. But pull through and the summit is yours!

Finally, easy from here.
Wiessman, Durrance, Bailey.

Oh yeah, the Koreans. We started our descent just past sunset. At the third rap station, where a double rope gets you to the ground, we found the party of 4 struggling with their rope, which had become stuck in a crack. They decided to abandon their rope and came down on ours. It was dark by the time we were all on the ground.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Comments or Questions
Keep it old school
10/04/2021 12:18
The grades that is.

Nice work and awesome to have the summit all to yourselves!

Sweet and Sad for me
10/04/2021 12:41
Nice TR and pictures that brought back some great memories of a super-fun climb and great sadness. (Both of my climbing partners from my 2009 climb of that route passed away way too young.) The hardest move for me was near the top of the second (Durrance) pitch which I'd call 5.8ish. We climbed Baily's Direct as well, which I thought was the most fun climbing on the route. Before starting up, we watched two guys impressively make the jump with no problems. Congrats on a classic climb!

And guilty as charged on those non-Colorado TRs. :-)

Nice job
10/04/2021 13:11
3 raps in all? How long of a rope? Thanks.

10/04/2021 13:27
We had two 70m ropes. Single rope for first two then double to the ground. We passed the Koreans who had stopped at some intermediate rap station, where their rope got hung up.

way to go
10/04/2021 15:23

Bailey's Direct
10/04/2021 18:34
Is that the normal gear placement location for that area? (Pic 8 of thumbnails)
Looks like massive drag? Interesting. Or does the climbing go out on the face of that pillar?
Either way, cool to see this report!

Gear Placement
10/05/2021 20:39
Absolutely not the standard gear placement. I was unclear in my report, but I put that photo in there to demonstrate that the route was not obvious. The leader was just poking around and looking up the left side and placed the pro, then decided to come back to the right. After placing the gear on the proper route, he went back and cleaned the errant placement before moving on up.

Durrance Pitch
10/07/2021 16:24
A college buddy and I did this climb back in the 80s. Right when we got to the bottom of the Durrance pitch, a thunderstorm came out of nowhere. We huddled on the ledge until it passed and blue skies returned. It was my lead, and I looked up -- the entire pitch was drenched. I hemmed and hawed until my partner said, "I'll give it a shot." That's all it took. I zipped right up, barely slowing to place pro. Which was good, because I don't remember a lot of spots to rest.

10/10/2021 22:43
That‘s awesome. One of these days I need to learn how to do that kind of stuff. Great story!

10/22/2021 01:30
congrats on making it regardless.
The Durrance is an old route with a classic rating - from back when 5.6 wasnt supposed to be "easy".
We didnt think it was harder than 5.6 back when we climbed the route.
It's a great outing.

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