Trip Report



For more information


Warren Teissier

Grade Index to Devil's Tower

Friends of Devils Tower


1.5 set of stoppers with double pieces from 5 onward. (could have done without all the small pieces 4 protects the cussing crack (kinda) )
Metolius 0-4 (used the 3 and 4 only) (could use 0 for Cussin’ crack but Deb doesn’t believe in them)
Camalots: 2 number 1’s, 2 number 2’s, 1 number 3, and 1 number 4 (I love you man) (all protect the Durrance Crack)
10 slings
Two 50M ropes
Bring your helmet, too many people thrashing around…

Devils Tower, Durrance Route (May 2001)

By: Warren Teissier

Devil's Tower

When I started doing my research into Devil’s Tower (DT) and the Durrance route I found that good information was particularly hard to find. I went to my local bookstore and bought the Flacon guide to climbing Devil’s Tower and the Needles, being the only guide available. Big mistake, the book is worthless and adds no info except for hazy black and white pictures.  I was unable to secure a decent guidebook until I actually got to the tower and bought Devil’s Tower National Monument Climbing Handbook at the ranger station. You can order the book at P.O. box 37, Devil’s Tower WY, 82714. I hope this TR helps you plan in case your are planning on doing the Durrance route.


We contacted Frank Sanders who runs a B&B literally next to the Tower. Frank,  who is not only a great host, but is also a guide with many a first ascents in DT and offwidth lover extraordinaire, set us up with a cabin in a local ranch 6 miles from the park and with a view of the tower that is hard to beat.


Our plan was for me to get there Thursday afternoon, recon the approach on Friday and do the climb on Saturday really early. That left Sunday free for another attempt or other routes in case something didn’t work out Saturday. Deb, my climbing partner was to join me on Friday night. The best single piece of advise I got from Frank was to get to the climb way and I mean WAY early, because, to put it in his words, “there are lots of people on this route on week ends and frankly, lots of them are wankers…” . We were to do the shoulder approach in our climbing shoes and to carry a small pack for water, camera and to shove our clothes as the day warmed up. Once on the climb, the leader will haul the bag on the second rope (you need to carry two ropes for the rappels). This worked out pretty good except for a couple of snags. The optimal would be to go packless, if you can carry water on your harness. A camelback would be torn to pieces in the first 3 pitches…


Deb, arrived Friday night, and after a quick dinner we turned in for the night. We were up at 4 AM. After a high carbo breakfast we left the house at 4:28 AM, two minutes earlier than planned as pointed out by Deb. When we got to the parking lot, (15-20 minutes later) there was another party racking up. As I signed us in, I met the leader of that party, Larry leading a group of teachers from Minnesota, 8 of them in total, 4 of them new climbers… We politely exchanged some verbal niceties and then rushed back to our cars and on to the approach trail, the race was on… We could hear them 30 yards behind us, the clanking of too many hexes being their give away.




The approach begins heading right on the paved trail (tower trail) which loops around the tower.  After about 20-30 yards, when the trail reaches the trees, your will see a faint trail leading left (towards the tower) and through a boulder field.  As you look up you will see the tower shoulder (bench) and dead ahead you will see a ramp formed by two or three bent columns reaching into the boulder field the approach aims left of those ramps. 


The boulder hoping was done in the light provided by a nearly full moon (we were too rushed by the clanking Minnesotans to have time to put on our head lamps). Once we reached the shoulder a sign reminded us to register if we hadn’t done so. At this point we took a right and followed the edge of the shoulder. The goal was to turn the West side of the Tower towards the South. It is hard to describe the rest of the approach other than to say that after about 100 yards of scrambling / traversing you will have to climb a couple of ramps to reach the base of the Durrance route. If you traverse too far right, you will reach a gully called the bowling alley, at this point if you look up, the Leaning Column will be above you and you’ll know you’ve gone too far… Overall, the scramble is not too technical although I believe a couple of moves may be 5th class. Tower guides regularly rope up their customers for the approach. A fall, would have nasty consequences since the shoulder is 100+ feet from the base, “and all the king’s horses, and all the king’s men…”


Once you reach the area below the first belay, if you take the time to look up, there is an easy scramble up a broken ramp, there is also an exposed ramp further right and directly below the first belay (left of the belay)


In the twilight of dawn and the rush to beat our mid-western friends, I missed the easy ramp and we wound up doing the exposed ramp. The ramp went at about 5.2 with grassy footholds in most of the available cracks.  While on the ramp, I could hear a party of two already on the route. We beat the party of 8 by less than half a minute (they dropped one of their 6 ropes and had to retrace their steps losing vital seconds). As it turns out, being 2 minutes early in the morning made the difference between starting the climb at 6 AM and starting it at 11 AM  (time in which the last of the 8 was blasting off the first belay).


In no time, there were 12 people besides us at the foot of the climb. In addition to the Minnesotans we had a group from Iowa University that was planning to cycle something like 20 folks through the Durrance on that day. Unlike us, the Iowans had decided to climb the last rappel pitch (5.5 130 ft) up to the base of Durrance. This proved to be a slower method…It was 5:35 AM the approach had take about 25 minutes. After waiting for about 20 minutes Deb started up the Leaning Column pitch.


Word to the Wise, the single most important obstacle to completing this climb is time. If you are stuck behind 28 folks, your chances of completion are slim, and this doesn’t take into account the concept of sitting and waiting for 4-5 hours or of being caught in a late afternoon thunderstorm as you queue up to rappel…


Pitch one, Leaning Column :


This is an 80 ft 5.6 pitch up the face and crack of the leaning column, transferring later to a chimney/off-width behind the column. There are pins at each of the cracks where the column broke and good pro everywhere else. Deb led this pitch in a stiff cold wind and with the 11 people in the queue analyzing her every move and some of them narrating the proceedings. So much for savoring the classic climb… Our only hope was speed… The belay ledge is large enough to accommodate three people, and when I joined Deb, the first party was completing the lead of the Durrance crack. My turn to lead…


Pitch Two, Durrance Crack:


This pitch is 72 feet and rated at 5.7 in the guide book mentioned above. The best description I have heard regarding  the rating of this pitch is: “ it is rated 5.6 (+), it’s really a 5.7 and it feels like a 5.8”. Couldn’t agree more.


Some parties choose to link pitch one and two (leaning column and Durrance crack) which would make good logistical sense and a stiff “first lead of the day” (save your large pro for the Durrance Crack if you do this). 


Due to traffic reasons this was not possible for us to even consider. The route goes up two parallel cracks that widen and separate at the top until you have to commit to the right crack (right side in) which by then has turned into a large offwidth. The left crack starts at fingers and goes to fist and offwidth, the right crack starts at off width and stays there, waiting for you… There is plenty of pro on the left crack and there are a couple of pins that secure some of the scary moments on the pitch.


The stylin’ way to climb this, is to jam the left crack and stem the lip of the right crack. But that right crack beckoned at me, and I spend a lot of my lead jamming left and right. The crux comes 15 feet from the top, after one last good foothold on the left and placing my number 4 camalot in the left crack, I moved right into the offwidth and tried to remember how to squirm up these things… After some toe/heel moves and much groveling I pulled over a bulge and onto a nice ledge.


Deb followed up the second pitch with less huffing and puffing since she was able to stay out of the offwidth until the end, ahhh the prerogatives of having a rope in front of you…But her turn in the grinder was next.


As I belayed Deb up pitch 3 and 4, I could hear teacher Larry huffing and puffing up the Durrance Crack. The sound came to a crescendo and then disappeared only to start again 10 minutes later. Once he reached the belay, he told me he had placed his # 4 camalot somewhere in the middle of the pitch only to realize he had reached the crux with 15 feet to his last pro and that the # 4 was the only piece that could protect it…so, he down-climbed to get the #4 and walked it all the way back up. Took him about 10 minutes to regain his composure when he finally topped out.


Pitch Three, (aptly named) Cussin’ crack:


Pitches 3, 4 and 5 are relatively short (30ft, 40ft and 40ft respectively) although we could run them together, we had heard that rope drag is a nightmare, so Deb led 3 and 4 together and finished off 5 after a short belay to reset the rope. Cussin’ crack (5.5) is scant in pro and high on grovels. The first 10 ft happen on the face of the left column and reach a small flake that accepts some pro (exposed and awkward). From there it’s into the Squeeze chimney, over a bulge and up 10 more feet to another bulge. Exit right onto a small ledge and walk around a block and up an easy 10ft hand crack. While following pitch 3, I was able to clear the first offwidth bulge (where most of the cussin’ occurred) by staying outside of the crack for the most part (my turn to have the rope in front of me)


Pitch four, Flake Crack:


At 40 ft and 5.5 one of the most pleasant and aesthetic pitches. Nice jamming up a crack/flake dihedral with plenty of pro, footholds and yes, no offwidths.


Pitch five, Chockstone Crack:


As mentioned, Deb dispatched this one too, this is another 5.4 chimney with pro at the chockstones and lots of footholds. To exit the chimney, you have to clear an overhang or bulge. The exit grabbed my attention.


Pitch Six, Bailey Direct:


The original route downclimbs right after the chockstone pitch and “jumps” to the meadows where you then proceed to scramble some 150 feet of exposed 3rd class dirt, grass and rock to the top. Having not had our fill with chimneys and offwidths, I proceeded to lead the Bailey direct. This is a 5.6 150 ft pitch described in the book as  “moderate fifth class climbing”.  It is the crack (chimney) furthest left when you are standing on top of the 5th pitch. Supposedly there is another crack even further left that is nicer and merges with the original Bailey half way up. Didn’t see it.


The pitch is steep and goes from chimney to offwidth and back a couple of times. Protection is good and you will even find a pin on the first crux (40 feet into the pitch). The final crux comes at the end of the pitch where for the last 20 ft you can follow an offwidth (left side in) or move onto the face of the column where at 5.6, the holds are abundant but rounded and the pro is nil, as an added bonus, at this point in the climb, due to the steepness and length you are dragging two 165 ft ropes with the corresponding friction.  I wandered up the face and eventually worked my way back to the crack on the left to place my number 4 camalot yet again, for a last piece before the exit.


From the belay, Deb did a 15 foot scramble to the top. We summited at 10 AM. By then the party ahead of us was rapping down so we had the summit to ourselves. We lost Larry and his crew at the Durrance Crack and from then on the experience had become the intimate classic climb that we had expected. Now we took the obligatory summit photos, signed the register, pondered Todd Skinner’s “Deep thoughts” inscription on the register for about 15 seconds, and proceeded onto the rappels before the wave of climbers summited and spoiled the experience for us…


We used the meadows rappel. It is located left of the Baley pitch if you are looking from the summit. Marked by cairns it took some looking to find the bolts and some exposed but easy scrambling some 10 feet down and right (again looking from the summit).


The second rappel was even harder to find. It is tucked around a rock under the Jump pitch. On the other side of the Durrance route. Lucky for us Larry was reaching the top of Pitch 5 and was able to point out the bolts for us. We were standing on top and couldn’t figure out how to get to them. Standing on the “landing  side” of the Jump scramble down and left from the rock you are standing and then right and around that same rock. This brings you to a small ledge. Proceed left and around on the ledge to the bolts.


Rappels 3 and 4 were straight forward. The last one putting you at the base of the bowling alley and 50 yards from the tourist trail.


It was 12:30 PM, there were people on every belay of the climb and we counted 12 folks waiting at the base as we completed our last rap…


Saturday was a beautiful day topping out at 65 degrees. After a shower and some hiking with the kids we headed back to the Devils tower junction (6 miles from the park) to the Crook County Saloon (another excellent piece of Beta from Frank), where we had beer, steaks and potatoes that couldn’t be beat .  When we woke up Sunday morning, there were 2 inches of snow on the ground. A couple I met at the base after the climb, had queued up for 3 hours and were following the 8 people team, they bailed after one pitch because of how slow things we going. They planned to get up earlier Sunday for another shot… Not this Sunday I guess…





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