August, '01


Devil's Tower

with Lisa, Jennifer and Guillaume



      Friday evening found the four of us driving north in Guillaume and Jennifer's overloaded outback. Five hours later we were pulling into the Black Hills National forest where we passed the evening over a bottle of Merlot. 

      In the morning we drove to the Tower and registered for a $12/night campsite.  After setting camp, we grabbed our racks and ropes and headed up to our first route on the Tower; a 5.7 called TAD. The heat was oppressive from the beginning. We climbed on the East face hoping to be in the shade by noon. Unfortunately, our route was in direct sunlight. Guillaume and Jennifer started ahead of us and we planned to meet on the summit. Lisa, my intrepid partner, stepped right up and lead the first pitch of the day. The temperature on the rock was approaching 100 degrees and my eyes stung with sweat, but the climbing was terrific.     

      TAD must be one of the steepest 5.7s I have ever climbed. Bomber hand jams punctuated with numerous face holds. The second pitch was slightly more sustained and the heat made me nauseous. Happily, the leader did have to climb with a pack. By the time I topped out I was feeling genuinely bad. Lisa followed wearing the pack and suffered extensively for it. Ten meters below the belay, in obvious pain, Lisa asked me to take tension on the rope because she thought she might get sick. She hung there for a moment while we debated the ethics of puking on the route and then relayed that her peripheral vision was somewhat "gray". I realized that she was suffering from heat exhaustion and asked her to climb up to the belay if she could. When she joined me at the belay I poured half  of a Nalgene over her head while she drank from another bottle. We rested a few minutes but Lisa was not herself. Her speech was a little slowed and she was still nauseous. We needed to get down off the rock and in the shade. Fortunately, there was a rappel anchor only 10 meters away and Guillaume and Jennifer already had it equipped with their ropes for us to use on rappel. Lisa went first with a safety backup and I met her, Guillaume and Jennifer at the next rap station. One more rappel put us on a ledge system close to the ground. At this point, Lisa was still a little slow to respond so we traversed the 3rd class ledges with a running belay until we were back on terra firma. On the ground (and in the shade), Lisa began feeling better almost immediately!  :)   

      Back at the campsite, Guillaume and Jennifer prepared a delicious salmon diner and we decided to climb on the north side of the Tower in the morning so that we could have some shade. After diner, Guillaume took some night shots of the Tower in the light of a full moon. It was a great day.  

      We got lost on the approach on Sunday morning. I think we were confused by the concrete walkway that should have taken us to the north side of the Tower. It was a tag team effort by Guillaume and me if you must know. The heat from the day before must have affected me because I decided that the boulderfield looked like a good way to get to the north side.. Everyone followed, perhaps assuming that I knew what the hell I was doing. After traversing the boulderfield up to the base of the NW side, Guillaume started climbing up the 4th class buttress. Everyone followed, perhaps assuming that Guillaume knew what the hell he was doing.  An hour later, we were at the base of the north side of the Tower. Guillaume and Jennifer headed off to climb Assembly Line 5.9 and Lisa and I started on Mystic and the Mulchers 5.8-. Mystic was a fun 1-pitch route up the initial section of the north face. The crux was protected by a bolt that I was exceedingly happy to clip. Total fun. Lisa came up and we rapped off to regroup. After a short discussion, Lisa led Mystic in fine style.  

      Next on the agenda was the first pitch of McCarthy North Face 5.8+. This is one of the best pitches of 5.8 I have ever climbed. A full 60+ meters of interesting crack climbing with a sporty crux that took great protection. Lisa followed with no problems and we rapped  back to the base where Guillaume and Jennifer were top roping a 5.10b called Broken Tree. When they were finished, they left to go to the grocery while Lisa and I took a turn on Broken Tree.   

      Another wonderful diner and some great climbing stories and it was already our last day at the Tower. We all wanted to climb something harder on our last day. Lisa and I settled on Soler 5.9- and Guillaume and Jennifer pushed right into the HARD climbing realm by attempting El Matador 5.11a. El Matador is perhaps the Tower's most classic line. We parted ways on the concrete path and Lisa and I headed over to Soler.  

      After we waited for another party to rap off in front of us, we were alone on the route. I set off on the 5.8+ first pitch with a strong desire to free climb the route with no rests. It was quite sustained. I grabbed one piece on the first pitch but did fairly well. There was something wrong with  my shoe though. Lisa made it look easy as she climbed up to the belay. As I organized for the next pitch, I noticed what was wrong with my shoe. The re-sole was peeling off under the ball of my foot! I pressed it down and hoped it would stay in place until I finished the day. 12 meters above the belay, I was having real trouble and was forced to stop and hang from a cam while I used my knife to cut the bottom of my rock shoe off!! I was not happy camper. Disgruntled, I aided my way to the top of the pitch and built an anchor. Lisa again made the climbing look easy even though she claimed to be in danger of falling once. I think she does that to help my ego. :)   

      Since Lisa and I had not been to the top of the Tower yet, we continued, unroped, up the 4th class terrain to the summit. It was a little exciting in a few places but not too difficult. We signed the summit register and looked over the edge for Guillaume and Jennifer but could not see them. A non-eventful descent (always the best kind) put us back at the parking lot and we hitched a ride back to our campsite with an older couple who Lisa had spoken with earlier.   

      Guillaume and Jennifer rolled into camp shortly after us and we knew by the big grin Guillaume was sporting that they had climbed El Matador. Click here to see the pictures and hear the story from their climb. What a great place!

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Devil's Tower from the southwest.

Devils Tower rises 1,267 feet above the meandering Belle Fourche River. The Tower hosts over 220 climbing routes and was proclaimed our countries first National Monument on September 24, 1906 by  President Theodore Roosevelt.

A shot of Lisa stepping up and leading the fist pitch of the trip. This is the first pitch of TAD. By then end of this climb, we were both feeling the effects of the heat. 

Soler, the route we climbed on the last day, is the large right facing dihedral on the left that is in the shade..

A shot of Jenny, who was toproping on the rappel station while she and Guillaume waited for Lisa and I to finish our route.
This is me leading Mystic and the Mulchers. I really enjoyed this pitch as did Lisa when she led it. The climb starts out fairly flat and just keeps getting steeper. Notice I am stopping for my Kodak moment in the shade!
Looking up at the columns as we hiked back to the car at the end of the second day. 
Lisa hanging out below Soler while we waited for another party to rappel from the top of the first pitch.
We'll be back!!!
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