Gear Junkie AWOL in Wyoming

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As America’s first National Monument—and a top destination for American climbers—the sheer-sided, 1,000-foot-high monolith of Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming is among the most stunning geologic displays in the West. It 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 climbers, Devils Tower stands among the most unique summits on the continent. The formation, which is the hard basalt core of an eons-old volcano, attracts thousands of rock climbers each year to shimmy up its skyscraper-proportion routes. All sides of the tower are sheer, making the summit unobtainable by hikers. But climbing routes as moderate as 5.6 (intermediate level) provide passage to the top.

The summit—a unique “island in the sky”—is an acre-size chunk of desert, flat with scrub brush and some wildlife, though rung with dizzying vertical drops hundreds of feet down all around its sequestered circumference.

This weekend I’m heading west to climb the Tower. A photographer and I will climb with local guide Frank Sanders, a veteran who has ascended the Tower hundreds of times.

Our climb will start late in the day in the parking lot, hiking in, roping up, then climbing cracks and corners, reaching and pulling on the ancient and strange rock for hours as we ascend into the sky. We plan to summit at sunset and rap off in the dark.

If all goes well, this will be my 10th time up the Tower. But it’s been several years since my last visit, and my forearms are not what they were.

I’ll be testing a full arsenal of new climbing equipment, including cams from Black Diamond, Scarpa shoes, a rope from Metolius, and an Arc’teryx harness—among several other pieces of equipment.

Watch for the full trip report—and gear dissection—upon my return late next week.



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