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[TR] Devils Tower WY - Durrance w/Bailey Direct 4/18/2008

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Trip: Devils Tower WY - Durrance w/Bailey Direct

 

Date: 4/18/2008

 

Trip Report:

Brian F. and I teamed up for yet another great trip. We headed out after work on Wendesday and before we knew it we were looking at the vague silhouette of Devils Tower at 4 am on Thursday morning. The park campground was closed and the KOA at the park entrance didn’t leave out any night registration forms. Too tired to move, we found a spot at the KAO and slumbered for a few hours. Turns out the KOA was closed for renovation too so on our first day we were left without a patch of dirt to call home. Since it was still early we decided to head into the park to grab a hike. We started out with the fairly short Tower Trail, which circles the entire tower fairly close to the base. The trail was paved the entire way. Along the way we say colorful prayer bags (sacks?) hanging from the trees, which were placed there by one of the several Native American tribes that believe the tower is sacred ground. We also saw the remnants of huge columns that had tumbled from the face probably hundreds of years ago. Spring still hadn’t sprung here any more than it had in Spokane. We saw just a few small flowers, the grasses were all brown and the deer were all really skinny. The little hike gave us a great opportunity to scope out our intended route for the following day.

 

Back at the parking area we met a few rangers and asked about camping options. They recommended a FS campground some 23 miles away. A guy at the KOA told us about another place a mile away. We chose the closer one even though access to the restroom meant having to navigate through the diner. We set up camp then headed back to the park to hike the Red Beds trail.

 

The Red Beds trail wraps around Devils Tower like the Tower Trail but from a further distance, proving some good photo ops. The main feature of the trail is the large red clay cliffs that are visible from the park entrance. The clay was soggy and stuck to our shoes like cement. Having been awake since the previous morning at 5 am, the heavy shoes made for a tiring hike. There were lots of neat rock features and plants along the trail and I’d highly recommend it. Contrary to the trails name, the red cliffs encompass just a small part of the hike. By the time we reached the car, we were beat so headed back to the campground for a short nap. Afterwards, I left Brian to his book while I went to stare at the prairie dogs and hike part of the Joyner Ridge trail. I also spent some time at the visitors center watching a team climb what looked like a vertical crack that extended to…. infinity and beyond. I enjoyed listening to their conversations (even though they were far enough away to look like specks on the face) and the clanking of their gear and could hardly wait to start our climb the next day.

 

Back at camp we set up the laptop in the car with the screen looking like we were at a drive-in theater then popped Close Encounters of the Third Kind into the DVD player. It got as far as the opening credits then went into hibernate mode – I gotta figure that danged thing out. I brought along the new 15-degree stretchy bag and even though the temp was really low at night, I slept well. It’s nice to have the extra room for stuffing in a parka and blanket.

 

We were both up after sunrise and I took the time after breakfast to head over to the diner for a cup of real coffee. No sense heading up to the rock too early or we’d just freeze our butts off. We got to the trailhead about 9, loaded ourselves up with gear then headed out on the grueling 15-minute approach to the route. At the sight tubes we took a left up the obvious switchbacks and arrived at the base of the optional Bowling Alley approach pitch to the sound of another team up above. They hadn’t started up the Leaning Column pitch yet (pitch one) and we hoped they weren’t too slow on the route. Brian grabbed the rack and made decent time to the belay then hauled me up. The other team was working on the Durrance crack (pronounced Durrince according to the ranger) (pitch two) so I started up the Leaning Column. The crack kept me somewhat off-balance and I found it kinda slippery to get to the section where the upper half of the column was broken away from the main wall. I did an inelegant mantle-like grovel over the top then squeezed into the narrow chimney behind the leaning section. This area was barely wide enough to turn around in. I hung out here for a bit waiting for the other team to clear off the belay above. Turns out they were already off and just hadn’t pulled their trail line up. Time wasted. The squeeze to the top of the pitch required hips and shoulders and nose and so on. It was easy to protect via a small crack in the main wall. Brian made it look easier by staying mostly out of the crack and stemming up. Even so, his arrival at the broken section wasn’t ballerina-like either. Brian led the second pitch (Durrance Crack), which was supposed to be the crux but we both found the moves pretty easy. Even the move into the right hand off-width near the top was simpler than expected. The crack was polished and feet seemed tenuous at times. Brian took the third pitch (Cussing Crack) also. He clipped the anchor then “forgot” to place anything else – I was glad he had at least clipped the anchor. No cussing was heard. The pitch required some goofy contortions, which felt much stiffer than the 5.5 advertised. I took the next two pitches (Flake Crack and Chockstone crack) and ran them together in one long pitch. Flake Crack took pro easily and other than an awkward lean to the left, it was a fun pitch. Chockstone Crack was also fun but I was unable to locate the slot mentioned in the guidebook that would have protected the move over the top of the chockstone so I just reached high and found a bomber positive hold and pulled over to the anchor. At this point we had finally caught up to the other team and I chatted while she (didn’t catch her name) finished belaying her partner to the top. We elected to finish the route with the Bailey Direct finish rather than the Jump Traverse pitch because it looked much more fun. I think it was the best pitch on the route but that might be because I was getting sick of all the off-widths. We enjoyed the summit for a bit then rapped down the route. Actually the first rap took us to the anchors at the top of pitch 5. From there, 3 more double-rope rappels took us climbers-right of the main route and ended up at the packs at the base of the Bowling Alley. The route took 2 hours to climb and 1:45 to rap. I hear it takes much longer in the summer.

 

We stopped at the Battle of the Little Big Horn memorial on the flight back.

 

Guide books call the route 5.6+ to 5.8. Was stiffer than 5.6 for sure.

 

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Gear Notes:

Took a medium rack with doubles in .75, 1, 2 and 4. Rap requires two ropes – we trailed a 8mm and tied it to the 9.7. All anchors are bolted (no chains). Used both 4s but could have gotten away with 1.

 

Approach Notes:

Paved trail to the sight tubes (10 minutes) then short section of switchbacks to the Bowling Alley approach pitch (5 minutes), which runs 5.6ish if you're leading and 5.14d if you're following...

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Yeah - I can't believe I drove so far for a few hours of off-width :) It was nice to get in some trad and get away from the lingering Spokane winter though.

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We headed out after work on Wendesday and before we knew it we were looking at the vague silhouette of Devils Tower at 4 am on Thursday morning

 

Love those adventures that include a ton of driving. Good read & nice photos. 2 years ago did a Friday-after-work to Monday-before-work drive down to Moab from PDX to climb 2 small towers in Arches....well worth it in middle of wet PNW winter.

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Nice, Tim, glad you and your bud got out there and after it. Welcome back to Spokane and winter: it's snowing hard outside as I type this.

 

Per your previous thread, what rope system did you end up using? Packs? Any hauling? Must not have been too much sniveling and groveling or I think you'd have written about it.

 

Cheers, Steve :tup::brew:

 

 

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We led on a 9.7 and the leader hauled up a new 8 that I borrowed from Toby. For the rap, we tied the two together with an EDK with 1.5'ends - no slippage or rolling of the knot.

 

I brought an ultralight summit pack that we didn't really need and which was probably a bad choice given the nature of the grovel and the delicate material of the pack. Thought we'd need it to stow layers but the temp was perfect for sweatshirts. Guess it came in handy for stowing the rack and such on the rap. For water we both brought a half liter nalgene and that was about right. If there were more teams ahead of us though, I think we'd have been parched.

 

Wasn't much wimpering other than the occasional slick spot and bitchin because we kept racking on the wrong side for the route :) Most sniveling was due to being done with the climbing and heading west towards the snowy roads.

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Great climb! Haven't done that route since 1997. We didn't start up until a little after 2:30pm due to rain but since we drove so far to get there, we didn't want to turn around and head back. Two parties a head of us so slow going. We ended up climbing the upper third, beginning with the traverse using headlamps. Hung out on the summit under a full moon - only ones on the tower - and smoked some blessed tobacco an Indian gave us and rapped off. Only to get our ropes stuck at the last belay station. Thought we were going to spend the night on the ledge! Finally got down at midnight and drove back 8 hours to start work Sunday morning. Cool place for sure.

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Thanks for sharing! It brought back some good memories! We climbed the Durrance route on a whim in '95 while driving by; a week earlier we had climbed the Durrance route on Symmetry spire. Got to the gate at 3am so we slept in the ditch next to the gate till a ranger kicked us awake at 7am! A beautiful and special place to visit!

 

 

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