Just got back from Mato Tipila. Or Bear’s Lodge. Or, most commonly, Devils Tower.
The 1,000-foot-high thumb of rock in northeastern Wyoming goes by a few names. But all refer to this geologic masterpiece, a monolith of pillars and cracks and six-sided columns. As I wrote in the blog last week, Devils Tower was a waypoint for wagon trains heading west in the 1800s. It’s a sacred place to Native Americans. In pop culture the Tower has long been associated with the strange and the otherworldly, its vestige forever burned into the American consciousness via Steven Spielberg’s classic 1977 movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
For me, stretching back to the days when I edited Vertical Jones magazine (www.verticaljones.com) this has always been my favorite climbing area, with finger and fist cracks streaming hundreds of feet from the talus. I have climbed a dozen routes, up to 5.10 in difficulty. Once I took a 40-foot whipper here—my longest climbing fall so far (and hopefully ever).
This past weekend, I returned to the Tower with photographer TC Worley (www.studiobluempls.com) for one day. We climbed just one route, as we were on a time crunch and had another assignment in the Black Hills. But “El Cracko Diablo”—as the climb is called—was a good line to get me to jump back into the saddle.
The climb, which goes at 5.8, involves an approach pitch, two long fist-crack pitches, then a couple hundred feet of fourth class to the top. The main climbing involves sink-your-hands-in-and-pull cracks, just gorgeous and safe expressway routes into the sky.
We climbed with Frank Sanders, owner of Devils Tower Lodge (www.devilstowerlodge.com) and head guide of his eponymous business. I am rusty right now in the climbing department, so Frank led the two meaty pitches on El Cracko. He led with just two or three placements of gear on each pitch. Basically, he’d climb 40 to 50 feet between cam placements, solid and calm. (He’s free-soloed the route several times.)
We climbed on Monday evening, leaving the trail around 5:30 p.m. It was a sunset cruise, and night fell right as we made the top. We watched the last rays from the “island in the sky” summit and then rappelled off in the dark, a halo of LED glow our only illumination on the moonless night.
Here are a few pics of the ascent as well as a couple close-ups of the Tower. Watch for gear reviews on the equipment employed during the climb in the coming weeks as well as a full narrative on the ascent later this year. . .