One of the most iconic climbing spots in the US is the Devil’s Tower. This national monument is composed of huge hexagonal columns and towers 400 feet (roughly 120m) above the Wyoming wilderness. Crack-climbing enthusiasts flock from all over the world with their trad rack and camping gear to grace the surface of this stunning piece of geology.
History of Devil’s Tower
Where Is Devil’s Tower
The Devil’s Tower is located in the North East of Wyoming, USA. You will find this unique hunk of rock close to Highway 24, inside the Bear Lodge Ranger District of the Black Hills, close to the Belle Fourche River. You can spot the rock from a fair distance away. It is the very first United States national monument, established in 1906 by Roosevelt.
How Tall Is Devil’s Tower National Monument
The rock itself is roughly 400 feet from the base to the top, which is roughly 120 meters for those who prefer the metric system.
Is the Devil’s Tower protected by The National Park Service?
The Devil’s Tower is a national monument protected by The National Park Service. Other areas under protection from the NPS in Wyoming are The Grand Teton National Park and The National Elk Refuge, for example.
Tribes and Natives of Devil’s Tower
“The Devil’s Tower” was first penned by Richard Irving Dodge during an expedition in 1875. Before that, the Native Americans instead referred to the rock as “Bear’s House” or “Bear’s Lodge”. The Kiowa and Lakota tribes believe the rock offered refuge for some girls trying to escape some bears, hence the name. The giant columns up the side of the rock are supposedly left behind as damage from the claws of the bears who attempted to climb the rock to get to the girls.
The Cheyenne tribe are also active in the area who tell the story slightly differently, although the bear-claw created columns are consistent across both tales. They instead believe that the bear was lured to the rock by some survivors of a bear attack as a trap.
Rock Climbing at Devil’s Tower
The Devil’s Tower is most popular amongst crack-climbing enthusiasts. The huge monolith is brimming with big aesthetic lines that are begging to be sent. The rock itself is made of porphyritic phonolite and it is generally believed it was created by an igneous intrusion, making it a very unique surface to climb on.
While there are some permanent anchors on The Devil’s Tower, it is best to approach the climb with your trad rack full rack of cams and plenty of trad climbing safety options. There are well over 200 climbing routes on The Devil’s Tower, and roughly 90% of these are free, multi-pitch trad routes, many of which exceed 325 feet (100 meters).
Most of the routes on The Devil’s Tower exceed a single pitch, most ranging between 2 and 7 pitches. Durrance, probably the most famous route on the whole of the rock, has either 6 or 7 pitches depending on if you count “Pitch 0”, a scramble up to the beginning of the first pitch. The multi-pitch routes consist mostly of trad climbing, not sport climbing, so ensure that you know how to make a secure anchor from your own protection gear that you are comfortable belaying upwards or downwards from.
Big Wall Climbing
Big Wall climbing is very established in USA, especially in places like Yosemite National Park. The Devil’s Tower is certainly one of the other very iconics ones, however, most climbers tend to agree that the sport of big wall climbing involves climbing routes that take multiple days to complete. For this reason, most people would consider climbing on The Devil’s Tower as a multi-pitch trad climb. This is further cemented by the fact that camping on the rock is prohibited.
Climbing Grades at Devil’s Tower
Most of the climbing routes at The Devil’s Tower are either 5.10 or 5.11 multi-pitch trad routes. Durrance is considered one of the rock’s easiest ascent and is rated a 5.6, although some would argue it is a 5.7 or 5.8. There are also routes which exceed 5.12 for those who want to try something truly challenging.
Best Climbing Routes on Devil’s Tower
- Durrance Route (5.6) – one of the 50 classic climbs of North America
- Walt Bailey (5.9) – considered the “test piece” of the rock. It is believed that if you can lead this, you should be able to climb most 5.10s.
- Assembly Line (5.9) – most of the routes do not attempt to climb past the blocky section at the top, which is often unsafe or difficult climbing. As a result, most routes that summit the rock go around the meadow section on the back of the rock, however, Assembly line is a clean route that summits the rock while avoiding the meadow.
- Brokedown Palace (5.12a) – one of the hardest climbs on the rock!
Free Solo at Devil’s Tower
While free soloing is always possible, base jumping from the rock is prohibited, and so if you fall from the rock, you have no option to save your own life. Also, there is no hiking trail up and down the monument, so if you manage to successfully free solo to the top, you are then stuck on top of the rock. In a nutshell, this is not advised.
Best time of the year to climb at Devil’s Tower
Most people climb the tower between August and March due to the best season of the year for climbing. However, do check the weather conditions before starting your climb.
The west of the tower is closed between mid-March and late July due to nesting falcons. The local Native Indian communities also conduct ceremonies in June and have been doing so since long before this was a climbing destination. Hence, there is a voluntary closure of the rock during this time to respect that.
How do I get to Devil’s Tower by Car?
The Devil’s Tower is close to Highway 24 in Wyoming. There is a car park at the visitor centre as well as a picnic area at the Joyner Ridge Trailhead. If you need more details, check out the parking guide on the NPS website as well as detailed driving directions to the monument.
Types of Accommodation near Devil’s Tower
There are several campsites, lodges and motor hotels close to and around the national monument. The Belle Fourche Campsite is recommended by the NPS, close enough to see the tower, and complete with all the amenities you would expect from an NPS-endorsed campsite. Another one recommended by Sharon Stolbeg is DevilsTower Lodge, which is owned by the one and only Frank Sanders.
What else to do around Devil’s Tower
One popular thing to do in the area is a 1.3 mile (roughly 2 kilometres) paved hike around the rock that starts at the visitor centre called “The Tower Trail”. There are alternative hikes, such as the Joyner Ridge and Red Beds trail with multiple viewpoints of the rock, as well as picnic areas to support those walkers in the area.
Here are some commonly asked questions about climbing on The Devil’s Tower.
Is there a trail to the top of Devil’s Tower?
There is no hiking trail to the top of the Devil’s Tower. There are, however, plenty of hiking trails around the national monument.
How much does it cost to climb Devil’s Tower?
There are fees to visit The Devil’s Tower, and a full rundown of the cost can be found on the NPS website. You may also need to factor in the price of a climbing guide to help you climb if you are inexperienced, which can be anything from $300 a day upwards. You will also have to register in the kiosk, climbing office or visitor centre before rock climbing, although this is actually free.
Was there a Devil’s Tower Climbing Movie
The Devil’s Tower does feature in the Hollywood movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, however, there was no multi-million dollar climbing movie shot at this location. That being said, there is plenty of footage on YouTube of climbers on the rock, including Catherine Destivelle in 1992 and the more recent ‘Frank and the Tower’.
How many have died climbing Devil’s Tower?
Since 1937 there have been six climbing related fatalities, including three while rappelling. This is a strong reminder that climbing is a dangerous sport, and you have to take care to be thorough with your safety, especially when coming back down.