AIC Blog

Devils Lake First Annual Climbers Clean Up.

AI_climbing : March 23, 2015 2:48 pm : Climbing

Over the last few years we’ve seen an alarming rate of trash showing up at the lake. Over a few beers we came up with the idea for a “Climbers Clean Up”. AIC will provide materials and refreshments. Spread the word and let us know if you have any questions. Here’s a link where you can sign up.

https://www.facebook.com/events/560059514136036/

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Devil’s Lake and Beyond – Hiring a Guide

AI_climbing : May 13, 2014 12:51 pm : Climbing, Uncategorized

Located just minutes outside of one of America’s historic and well known summer vacation spots, the Wisconsin Dells, Devil’s Lake is a must see natural attraction if you’re in the area.  If you live anywhere in the Chicagoland area or Wisconsin it’s well worth the drive to come spend a weekend camping and take in the activities and natural splendor of the area.  There are two magnificent beaches, and miles of well maintained hiking trails that all offer stunning outlooks with breathtaking views of a pristine Ice Age formed valley and lake.

Our favorite thing to do at the lake though, is climb.  Devil’s Lake offers the Midwest’s absolute best rock climbing; and its rich history in climbing is proof of that.  Regular Devil’s lake climbers and guides often come across old pitons, and bolts that  range in age to a time period that goes back to before they were even born.  Devil’s lake carries a strong heritage in climbing, and it’s carried on by the guide companies that service the area.  The state park knows that it is a major attraction for this activity and will continue to encourage it so long as the community strives to keep climbing safely, maintain clean land, and help take care of the park while bringing in more visitors each year.  This is something it leans heavily on it’s fantastic climbing community and guide services to help take care of.

This can make it complicated for new climbers to pick out a guide service when so many are advertised right on the state park website.  This article isn’t to advertise Adventures in Climbing as the best.  This article is to educate climbers looking for a guide whether it is in Devil’s Lake, or Joshua Tree.  There are some key things to look for that can make all the difference in your trip.  One thing AIC prides itself on is the number of repeat clients that we receive, because of the level of service, fun, training, and experience we deliver to every single client; no matter if it is their first climb or their 50th.

Here are some things to look for when you’re hiring your guide:

Are they trained –Unfortunately many climbing areas don’t even require that a guide be trained.  A trained guide is better than someone just going out and claiming to be a guide, collecting your money, and taking you out for the day.  A trained guide has taken the time to learn best practices from an institute focused on climbing.  However, a trained guide means that a professional Institute like PCGI actually stands behind that guide and their skills.  That guide not only took the course but has been assessed and tested on their personality, safety, ability to perform in emergency situations, and setup the absolute best and safest systems by industry standards.  Is your guide trained, or just someone looking to make a few bucks while out climbing?  Make sure to ask that question.

Does your guide climb?  – This seems like a question one shouldn’t have to ask, but it’s an important one.  Many guides end up focused so much on guiding and making money that they lose site on their own climbing.  However their own climbing makes them better guides.  AIC actually mandates that our guides climb.  We make sure that all of our guides have adequate time off just to go climb for fun, advance their skills, and keep their personal passion alive.  That personal passion for climbing is what makes them a better guide.  It becomes infectious.  They can pass it down to their clients, and push them to levels they never expected to get to.  Most guide companies use social networking as a tool for marketing.  This will make it easy for you to look at their pictures.  They should have at least a few of their guides out climbing, and having a good time on the rock as well.  It keeps the guides sharp, it keeps their skills progressing, and it keeps them excited to work with their clients.  Every one of AIC’s guides is an advanced climber who is climbing when they are not guiding.  Often times, our guides will run back up and climb so more after a day of guiding; we enjoy it that much!

What options does the guide service offer – Can you get more out of your guide service than a standard day of top rope climbing?  When you call your guide service do they ask you about experience levels?  Do they suggest options like mock multi-pitch, following single pitch climbs, and do they get excited about other options that may be available to you?  Do they jump right to the price or do they discuss the options that are available to your group?  Outdoor climbing offers a plethora of amazing options.  Some of which you may have never even thought of, and my change your experience from something fun to do on a day in the Dells, to something life changing that encourages you to climb Devils Tower one day.  Ask lots of questions.  Find out what your options are.  At AIC, your options are nearly limitless.  We only hire guides with the ability to lead clients up some of largest most demanding climbs in the U.S.  If you can dream it, we can lead it.  We also teach courses to our advanced climbers, so that you can grow your own skills to one day lead your own climbs.

Our guides are all climbers, with a wealth of impressive summits and classic climbs under their belts.  Our training isn’t just to improve us as guides, but as climbers; something we look forward to passing on to you as a future client.  On behalf of our staff we look forward to sharing our passion with you this climbing season, and many after that.

-J Miller

Climbing Guide and Photographer

View from atop Devil's Doorway

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“But I’m too out of shape to climb” NONSENSE!

AI_climbing : March 31, 2014 2:12 pm : Climbing

 

Author:  J Miller

I talk about climbing a lot.  It’s my passion.  People also ask me about it a lot, because they see that passion.  If the topic of climbing comes up it can be almost guaranteed that I will begin talking entirely too much.  Luckily it’s a topic that actually interests people.  Most people at one point or another in the conversation will say “I really want to try that sometime.”  To which I always reply “Let’s go!”  I get amped up and turn into a cheerleader encouraging them to join me for a weekend on the rock or on a mountain.  I’m a climbing guide because I think climbing is amazing, and I want to share it with everyone who has ever even considered trying it.  It can be a life changing experience.  I know climbing has changed and molded my own life in many positive ways.  Unfortunately all too often my “Let’s go” is replied to with a “But…”  Sadly that “but” is someone worrying about personal physical attributes they worry might hold them back.  They see images of climbers, and they see these strong, lean, sinewy, athletes with amazing bodies, and slabs of lean muscle.  They assume that all of us are extraordinary athletes with 5% body fat and the grip strength of The Terminator.  Sure, the elite climbers out there are in incredible shape.  Climbing every day as a profession is going to make you strong and fit in ways most people can’t comprehend.  It’s strenuous, it’s great exercise, and it uses muscles most people didn’t know existed.

Luckily strength and fitness are not everything in climbing.  In fact, often times they are a minuscule factor.  The biggest factor in climbing is the mental game.  Without a doubt, mental state can propel you further than any amount of strength and fitness.  It’s like playing a chess game against gravity and your own natural fear of heights that lurks deep within every human being as some sort of safety mechanism.  The mental aspect of trusting your equipment, your fingertips, the fractions of inches of shoe rubber you have making contact with the rock, and your ability to take the next step upward are all a part of this exciting mental game we like to play as climbers.  The more difficult the climb, the more mental fortitude that “chess” game requires, and difficulty is all relative to your personal abilities.  A first time climber can experience the same thrill and play the same mental game on an easy scramble up a beginner climb that a high level climber can experience hanging from a single phalanges as they struggle to complete one of the world’s most difficult climbs.

This is what makes climbing so much fun, and such a great sport to introduce anyone to whether they are young, old, chubby, skinny, awkward, or agile, a world class athlete, or a professional couch potato.  There is a climb that everyone can conquer; and by conquering the climb that is within your physical abilities you are going to feel just as good as the professional climber who conquered the climb within his or hers.  This is also what makes climbing more of an art than a sport.  It’s all up to your individual interpretation to make it safely up the climb you or your guide has chosen for you.  Granted, there are some best practices that make any climb easier to summit, and at AIC we take our time to share them with all of our clients to give them the best experience possible.  We know the best feeling you can have is succeeding, so we will give you every tool we possibly can to help you succeed.  At the end of the day though, success in climbing is ultimately your decision.  For some people it’s reaching the summit of a long and sustained climb with a high difficulty rating.  For many others it is just as simple as getting their feet of f the ground and trying it.  So to those who tell me “Jason I’d really like to try that some time, but…”; I implore you to take the “but” out of your sentence and instead replace it with a time for us to go climb.  Your success is personal, and it is not up to me to decide.  As your guide, I’m here to give you the tools to succeed in your goals and do so safely.

Adventures in Climbing has had the honor of working with many types of clients.  Our clients range from the handicapped, to the experienced climbers looking to train for their next big epic adventure.  We understand the personal aspect of climbing, and getting outside, and trying something new.  We are climbers too, and once upon a time we had to start up a wall for our first time.  Our guides still measure their own personal levels of success and those levels are just that, personal.  You are not too out of shape to try climbing.  You might be too out of shape to conquer La Dura Dura (currently the hardest sport route in the world) with Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra, but I can guarantee you that regardless of your level of fitness AIC can find the climb that’s right for you.  At the end of the day, you will go home with a feeling of accomplishment, and quite possibly a brand new addiction.  Don’t worry, this one is perfectly healthy, and might even lead to you increasing those personal fitness levels that nearly worried you into not even trying.

Jason Proudly on the The Summit of Seneca Rocks over 30lbs heavier than he is now

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Why hire a guide?

AI_climbing : January 25, 2014 1:42 am : Climbing

Jason climbing in style!

This is a question that comes up quite frequently within the climbing community among beginners.  I can answer it quite simply by pointing you to a previous blog I wrote on the safety of climbing (http://aiclimbingguide.com/rock-climbing-safer-than-you-think) .  The answer is actually quite simple.  In climbing and in the wilderness in general experience alone can make all the difference between success and failure.  Unfortunately in climbing failure can sometimes lead to injury, especially in the face of inexperience.  As my previous posting pointed out the majority of failures are human error.  As a long time climber and guide I read a lot about climbing, rigging, rescue techniques, gear placements, and many other books and articles to help me continuously  build my wealth of knowledge.  As a climber you can never stop learning.  However, as a climber the best way to learn is through practice.  I often build mock anchors and rescue systems in my house for practice after seeing a new technique in a book.  This is a great way to make sure my knots are tied right, my hitches set tight, and everything is placed just perfectly.  That all changes once you’re outdoors though.  You won’t always have a perfect crack to place a piece of protection.  You won’t always have a perfect group of cracks or places to wrap a sling to build a text book anchor.  Your circumstances will actually more often than not be much less than perfect.  Mother nature can be a cruel beast in that regard.  Suddenly everything you’ve learned in that book becomes useless.  Useless that is unless you’ve acquired the experience it takes to see the options that are in front of you.  An experienced climber will look at that less than perfect situation in front of them, and find a way to turn it into something textbook and perfect.  Or as we call it in climbing “bomber”;  in reference to the fact that a bomb could hit it, and it would still keep us safe.

What I’m saying is that books are great.  Read books and watch instructional videos (from reputable sources).  There are a multitude of climbing “bibles” that every good climber will read, and go back to time and time again.  However, these are not replacements for practice.  That is where your guide comes in.  Your guide should be someone who climbs, and climbs a lot.  Your guide should go above and beyond reading books and getting certified.  Your guide should be a climber above and beyond just titling themselves so.  If you were to interview your guide, they should have a long list of climbs and summits both with and without clients.  They should be a person passionate about climbing, who is continuously learning through practice.  There is much more to guiding than setting up a couple ropes on beginner climbs and spending the day belaying your clients.  A good guide will explain to you the why, the how, and the “what if’s” of what they are doing.  They should be able to answer your questions about climbing, and about safety as you go through your day with them.  They should be teaching you along the way, and you should be able to feel the passion they have for climbing.  By the end of your first day climbing outdoors you should have at least a general knowledge of the systems in place to keep you safe, and you should feel that you were in fact safer on the rock than you were on your drive to get there.

People always ask what it takes to get into climbing.  My first answer before I even became a guide was “Get a guide”.   It’s a worthwhile investment for many reasons.  Whether you have your own gear or not, your Adventures in Climbing (AIC) guide will have everything you need to ensure that you are well equipped for the climbs of the day.  Whether you’ve spent weeks practicing knots, and techniques, or have never thought about climbing before that day, your AIC guide will be well equipped with all the knowledge you need to safely accomplish the climbs of the day.  If you are an avid gym climber with a wealth of climbing knowledge, but just haven’t taken it outdoors, your AIC guide will provide you with the tips you need to apply that knowledge to real rock.  Lastly, if you’re a beginner outdoor climber who just isn’t confident yet in their safety systems or techniques, your AIC guide will give you the advice and critiques you need to go off on your own confidently.

A guide is the easiest and best way to safely try out, or get involved in the rewarding activity of climbing.  If you want to try it once, because it’s on your bucket list, or if it’s a lifelong dream to become a climber, hiring a reputable guide is the absolute best way to get your feet off the ground for the first time.  Research your guide, and choose a guide who will fill you with the knowledge and the passion that they have.  At AIC we pride ourselves on climbing for our own recreation as often as possible.  Our guides are continuously furthering their climbing knowledge through training’s, reading, instructional video, and most importantly lots of practice.  We guide because we enjoy sharing our passion and our “elevated” view of the great outdoors with other people.  That’s a quality every guide should possess, and possibly a question you should ask your guide before hiring them.  “Why do you guide?”

-J Miller (AIC Climbing guide, blogger, photographer)

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Trip Report – Seneca Rocks, WV

AI_climbing : November 26, 2013 4:59 pm : Climbing

 

Group Photo

With the end of the rock climbing season approaching and a cold harsh Midwest winter on its way Matt, me, and a couple friends were clamoring for one last big Multi-Pitch outing to celebrate an amazing season of climbing in 2013.  We set our sights on Devils Tower as Matt and I hadn’t quite gotten our fill of it just yet.  Unfortunately the 2013 Government Shutdown sent us and many other climbers looking at other options outside of the National Parks and Monuments to go climbing.  Just a couple weeks before we were to set to begin our road trip, we had to come up with a backup plan.  Luckily our backup plan was a more than worthy destination in West Virginia known as Seneca Rocks.

Seneca is a breathtaking razorback ridge that erupts sharply from the hills below.  It rises over 900 feet above the Seneca Creek at its base.  It is considered the only “true peak” on the east coast, meaning that the summit is only accessible by technical rock climbing techniques.  The quartzite of Seneca Rocks is rich with climbing history dating back to the World War II era when the U.S. Army used it to train mountain troops in assault climbing.  Some of this history can still be seen on the wall.  One such area that still displays this history is the wall of 1000 pitons; where many of the old Army pitons are still in place.  The community is very supportive of and embraces its rich climbing culture.

With Seneca being 6 hours closer than Devils Tower we were able to structure our trip to allow for 2 full days of climbing and one day of Hiking and relaxing.  With fall weather always providing a question mark we decided to go straight for the summit on our first climb on day one.  To gain access to you have to first tackle the approach hike lovingly nicknamed the “thighmaster”.  It could rival nearly any leg or Stairmaster workout you could imagine doing.  I’d venture to guess that among the local climbers there aren’t many “chicken legs” to be found.  With the temperature on the shaded side that we were climbing down in the 40’s getting the blood pumping with this hike really wasn’t a bad thing.  The whole way up the hike I was touching the surrounding cliff walls getting more excited to climb.  The rock quality felt amazing.  The quartzite there is very hard, but actually has an amazing amount of friction due to being infused with sandstone.

Tired from the drive, and wanting to ensure that we reached the summit we chose an easy classic known as Conn’s West for our first climb.  This route starts at the base and goes straight up to the South Summit.  The climbing is easy and well protected.  It was probably the most fun I’d had climbing a route all year.   It may have even been the most fun I’ve had climbing a route in my whole life.  There is no better way to describe the route, it’s just fun.  We spent a few hours climbing and making the best of our freezing cold fingers and toes as we made our way up the West face of the South Summit.  Finally upon reaching the base of the summit ridge we were bathed in enough sunlight and warmth that we could lose our jackets.  Now it was just 20 more feet of easy scrambling to take the summit.  Upon reaching it there isn’t room for much more than a couple photos with everyone very close together, and a quick signature in the summit log.  The summit is only about 2 feet wide and looks straight down to the ground below on both sides quite stunningly.  The view of West Virginia’s beautiful fall colors is unobstructed for miles all the way around.  The combination of the exposure and the sights to be seen make Seneca’s summit on of the best I’ve experienced.

Day two was set aside for hiking, exploring, and relaxing.  After driving straight through and immediately climbing we were in need of a slower paced day.  We went hiking around nearby Nelson Rocks.  There was a relaxing hike up to a summit that provided us with spectacular views.  After that we made our way in the opposite direction of where we normally go, down.  We went 250 feet under the earth on a guided tour into the Stratosphere Cave.  The caves in Seneca are a great way to spend a rest day.  That evening we were lucky enough to have our trip coincide with the chili cook-off at the Gendarme, a local climbing shop.  Entrance was free, but you were encouraged to buy raffle tickets to support the local Seneca rescue services.  With more than 20 chili’s and kegs of local micro-brews it was sure to be a fun night.  We turned in a bit later than usual on a climbing trip, but it was well worth it.

The next morning (day 3) it was apparent that we weren’t the only ones who stayed up a little bit too late.  Climbing parties were slow and sluggish to get to the base of the climbs.  This allowed us to beat the crowds and get the start of one of the most popular routes at Seneca, Old Man’s Route.  While this route is given a very easy rating it does provide great climbing for anyone from the beginner to the most advanced.  I took lead on the climb and began my way up to get a good head start on any climbing parties that were coming up behind us on the approach path.  The first pitch can be done many different ways and is nothing but pure fun.  The second half of the first pitch brings you out onto a very airy and exposed section.  It is well protected and easy climbing, but you can’t help but look down and get a bit of a rush as the trees below begin to look like part of a model train set.  Once at a large ledge I could bring up the rest of my party and we could begin pitch two.  Pitch two is basically just a nice Sunday stroll down a ledge that traverses across the face of Seneca.  Reaching another ledge it is back to vertical climbing again.  The third pitch offers some great exposure as well.  Working my way up it I began to look at the crux portion and perceived it to be much more difficult than it would actually be.  I immediately plugged in an extra piece of protection just in case and went for it.  I found that the route stayed true to its 5.2 rating as I pulled right through the moves.  Upon pulling the crux you make your way through a narrow passage to the belay station.  Once you bring the rest of your party up there are multiple ways to the summit from there.  Having reached the summit on day one we decided instead to just do some more challenging climbing instead.  One of the climbs we did was one of the best sustained crack climbs I’ve personally completed, the Critter Crack.  This crack is up high on Seneca where every look you take back or below your feet provides an amazing view of the surrounding area.

That evening we had a big dinner and made our way to sit around the fire with some Yeungling which is the oldest American beer.  We told jokes, talked about the climbing we’d done, and talked about the climbing we’d do in the future.  It happened to be one of the warmest nights of the trip so we enjoyed ourselves until the last of our firewood was burned up.  Finally we retired to our bags to rest up for the 12 hour journey home the following day.  The whole way home all I could think about was when I’d be coming back again.  Seneca Rocks is a trad climbing leader’s dreams come true.  The rock quality is fantastic, most routes are very well protected, and the climbing comes in every varying type and difficulty you could ever ask for.  Whether you are a beginning trad leader, a seasoned veteran, or even someone hiring a guide for a weekend of climbing, Seneca is a very worthy destination, and we couldn’t have picked a better alternative to Devils Tower.

 

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Rock Climbing: Safer than you think

AI_climbing : August 16, 2013 6:54 pm : Climbing

devils lake climbing guide

Author: J Miller

It never fails that when I talk to someone about my climbing career that the questions about safety and even sometimes my sanity come into the conversation. To the layman climbing is an extreme and dangerous sport. It is in fact an extreme sport, and it does have some inherent dangers. However, working to the climbers’ advantage is an industry full of people obsessed with safety and gear engineered to handle far beyond what is actually necessary to protect the climbers. When done properly with good technique and use of appropriate safety standards a day of rock climbing will be safer than your daily commute to work.

Accidents do happen in climbing, and often the results are tragic. With every accident is a lesson, because somewhere a mistake was made. Recent media attention was given to a young climber who died in a fall. Upon analysis of the accident it was found that the gear intended to keep him safe was used improperly. The gear did not fail; the climber and his partners failed to use it as intended. The “quickdraws” that were in place in this recent accident have the ability to withstand 20 kilo-newtons of force applied to them, far more than any fall the climber could have taken would have provided. To put it quite simply, they could hold the weight of your family sedan. I wouldn’t go recommending that people use climbing equipment to start precariously suspending the family car for fun, however it’s a bit of insight into just how strong the equipment we climbers utilize in our trade.

 In addition to the gear is the fact that experienced climbers are actually quite aware of what is necessary to stay safe, and are quite competent at applying those principles. The principles used involve the utilization of redundant systems and an assumption that if something can go wrong or fail it will. When executed properly, every part of the system in place will have at least one element of back up, sometimes two, and will be double if not triple checked. Most climbers obsess over this system of redundancy, and will not take any risks that are not backed up properly. Standards for how to create anchors, tie knots, and place safety gear are in place and have continually improved throughout the history of climbing. Assuming each principle is applied properly the system will be made fail safe and affords everyone using it a fun safe day of climbing.

This is where the climbing guide comes into play. Everything described above leaves open an opportunity for failure due to human error. This error comes from inexperience or carelessness. A climbing guide is someone there to deliver experience as well as the care and attention to detail that closes the safety system. Good climbing guides obsess over best practices in safety even more than the recreational climber, because their job and more importantly others’ safety depends on it. There are training’s available to guides, like PCGI, that allow them to learn the absolute best practices and safety techniques. It also teaches them how to teach these techniques to others, how to handle the unexpected event that falls beyond their control, and even how to provide rescue were the unexpected to happen. By hiring a trained climbing guide even the most basic beginner can have themselves a fun and safe day of rock climbing. For the advanced climber looking to improve upon their own use of safe techniques a guide can be a great resource as a teacher as well. Climbing is a very safe sport when done right, safer than most other extreme sports, and a good climbing guide is your gateway to obtaining that level of safety.

 

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Guiding- Grand Ledge, MI

AI_climbing : August 8, 2013 5:17 pm : Climbing

I have to be honest, I didn’t expect much of Grand Ledges in Grand Ledge, Michigan as a climbing destination upon reading the guidebook in preparation to guide there.  Having been to world class climbing destinations I knew not to expect a whole lot.  Going in with that expectation led to me thoroughly enjoying what Grand Ledges had to offer.  It even evoked a bit of jealousy deep within me; jealousy that such a cool little crag could be hiding right in the back yard of this little town in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

 

Grand Ledges is not a world class crag, and it’s not one to add to your “must climb” list if you’re looking for a destination for a climbing road trip.  It is however a worthy crag if you’re a climber living in the Midwest.  There is no lead climbing  and the cliffs are short; with the highest one only reaching about 40 feet.  Top ropes are easily set up with easy access along the top.  The crag is maintained by a small group of local climbers and they are proud and protective of their local crag.  Erosion is an issue and it appears the locals take great care to do anything they can to take preserve this crag  The scenery is wonderful and the short approach from the parking lot is definitely a bonus.  Every climber we encountered was friendly and willing to share ropes/climbs and beta.  My closest crag is 3 hours away so to see a beautifully set sandstone crag literally in someone’s backyard made me pine for something like that of my own.  It must be a real treat to get off work and take a quick bike ride over to 40 foot cliffs of great sandstone climbs.  The routes are challenging and sporty, and often contain a boulder problem within them.  I wouldn’t hesitate to make the trip to guide there again, just to explore the crag a bit more.  It’s a fun place to climb whether you’re cutting your teeth on your fist climb or are a competent 5.12 sport climber.  Either way you’re in for a good time.  Just go there with modest expectations and you’re sure to be pleased with what Grand Ledges will offer you.

 

J Miller

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Trip Report – Devils Tower, WY

AI_climbing : July 16, 2013 7:35 pm : Climbing

There is a reason the aliens in “Close Encounters of The Third Kind” chose Devils Tower in Wyoming as their landing site to introduce themselves to the human race.  That is because even after flying from who know’s where across the galaxy Devils Tower is still an awe inspiring site to behold.  As the tower first comes into view driving into the area you can’t stop your heart from skipping a couple of beats; especially if you know that you’re headed there to climb it.  Coming from the flat-lands of Chicago it is breathtaking to see a rock that rivals many of our skyscrapers in size.  Rising over 1200 feet above the surrounding river valley Devils Tower is comparable to our hometown John Hancock Center.  What makes the tower such a sight to behold is the surrounding area.  It’s essentially flat which makes the tower that much more prominent as it seems to just rise up from out of nowhere.

Unlike the aliens we only had to drive 16 hours to get to the tower.  With three people sharing the drive and making only the most necessary stops we were able to leave early on a Thursday evening and arrive early on Friday afternoon.  Having slept in shifts we weren’t the most well rested, however the excitement was too much to contain and all we could think about was getting our hands on that rock.  Without even a thought at establishing our camp, or resting up we began racking up our gear within minutes of arriving at the Devils Tower parking lot.  After a quick meal of cliff bars and a cup of coffee we were registered at the rangers office and hiking up to the approach pitch.

After a short easy hike and a couple of tourist like photos we were standing at the approach pitch known as the Bowling Alley.  We fully intended on getting the feel of the rock by climbing a couple of pitches, and rappelling down to go set up camp and rest up for a full out assault on the summit the following day.  The sheer enormity of Devils Tower became very real standing in the Bowling Alley.  Each individual column rising steeply away from us appeared to be the size of a building just on its own.  We had perfect weather and the well known Durrance Route all to ourselves so we wasted no time in starting up the first approach pitch.  Half way up we retrieved a newly stuck rope (a common hazard on the tower), coiled it and continued to the actual base of the Durrance Route.  At the base, we met a gentlemen smoking a cigarette and looking for a rope he’d gotten stuck the evening before.  It turned out he and his partner had bailed from the route the previous evening after running out of water and daylight.  In their journey down one of their ropes got stuck, luckily on the final rappel down.  They were so exhausted they decided to leave it until morning.

After a short talk we ate a quick snack and began working our way up the first real pitch of the Durrance Route, the Leaning Column.  We had done the route a million times in our heads looking at pictures, and imagining the moves.  Pictures just can’t do the tower justice though.  Everything becomes so much larger once you’re actually there on the tower, which just makes it that much more fun and incredible.  We made our way up the first pitch pretty quickly though, and immediately prepared for the Durrance Crack, pitch two.  The Durrance Crack contains some of the most fun climbing on the route.  Especially the last 20 feet where the leader needs to commit to the large off-width crack on the route.  Having a big cam to place deep into this crack is recommended for the leader to confidently finish the pitch; which luckily for us Matt had one racked.  The Big belay ledge at the top of this pitch may as well have a big welcome mat on it, because we were all happy to exit onto it.

Pitch three was rightly named the Cussin’ Crack.  I imagine it’s because the person who named it chose the large off-width crack as their way up it.  It’s the shortest pitch on the route, but it’s a mean one.  If you wear high top climbing shoes you’ll be thankful, and if you don’t you’ll immediately go buy some for your next off-width excursion.  This is a pitch I was thankful to not be wearing any kind of pack for, because as it turns out, the best way to do it is to just stuff yourself in the crack and wiggle your way up.  The massive belay ledge at the end of this pitch provided a great place for us to snap a couple pictures, drink some water, and eat the cliff bars we had stashed in our pockets.  It was at this point we decided to go for the summit.  We were nearly half way, and making great time, so we figured why not.

The climbing was fun, so without any debate we continued onto the Flake Crack that makes up Pitch four.  After lots of jamming, and off width grunting this pitch is a great change of pace.  With lots of features on the face of the column, and “flakes” within the crack there are endless comfortable ways up this pitch.  The best part is that the pitch finishes with a few feet of off-width just in case you were beginning to miss stuffing entire arms and legs into the massive cracks of the tower.  Upon reaching the belay ledge we saw the first party of climbers we’d seen all day 100’s of feet below us playing in the bowling alley.  It’s rare to have an entire side of the Tower all to yourself on such a beautiful day for climbing.  It turned out the party we saw was the legendary Frank Sanders himself training some climbers that he would guide up the tower the next day.  We would later have the honor of talking to Frank and having him compliment us on our timeliness moving up the tower as he and his clients had been watching us since we started the route.

At this point in the climb the world below seems almost surreal.  The trees, rolling hills, people, and cars all just look like toys on a model train set.  The feeling of being “almost there” is overwhelming, even though there is still much climbing to do.  It’s the perfect boost to get you through pitch five, the Chockstone Crack.  You can easily chimney your way up most of this pitch, but as with every pitch on the tower a challenge will present itself.  On this pitch it’s the namesake chockstone near the top of the pitch.  This forces you out of the comfort of the chimney where some well placed hands will allow you to pull yourself past and onto another welcoming ledge.   From there you climb down a couple of feet onto another ledge where you will face one of the most fun parts about the Durrance Route, the Jump Traverse.

Pitch six, or the Jump Traverse is one of the scariest, and most fun climbing moves I’ve ever made.  It involves climbing, or jumping your way across a couple feet where there is nothing but 500 feet of air straight down to the base of the tower below you.  Most people choose to hang onto the single piton  hammered into the extremely thin crack that goes across the traverse.  Some, choose to jump across.  Our party opted to go the hard way, which skips the piton, and uses the thin crack and some very precarious foot holds.  Somewhere on youtube there is a short video clip of me using some choice words as I muster up the courage to make the move.  The jump traverse is something every person who climbs the tower should experience once.

From there you get to bring your heart rate back down with an easy walk through “The Meadows”, which is a long flat ledge area that traverses across the tower a ways.  When it dead ends it’s time to go up again, this time the next stop will be the summit.  At this point most parties will coil their ropes onto their backs and scramble up the easy barely 5th class climbing that leads to the summit.  The excitement of reaching the summit makes this last 100 feet seem to go on forever, but finally we reached the top with a little bit of daylight remaining.  Exhausted and out of water and cliff bars we snapped pictures and signed the summit log book which stays sealed up in a big steel pipe.  The football field sized summit plain is it’s own environment entirely.  It is home to plants, birds, and even some small animals that some how work their way up and down the tower.

We watched as the sun began to set which created some breathtaking panoramic pictures.  It was at that moment we had regretted leaving our headlamps in the car under the assumption we were just doing a warm-up run.  Luckily our party of three was very capable and was able to locate the rappel stations quickly and make our way down the tower just as it got too dark to see anything.  As I rappelled down the final pitch every bit of light left in the sky was squeezed out and we were left in pure blackness as we stuffed our ropes into our packs and prepared for the short hike back.  We slowly made our way down to the base to the paved trail that circles the tower.  Just as our feet hit the pavement the moon pulled a cruel joke on us and finally poked out from behind the tower lighting up the sky as if it were the sun.  We had a good laugh and vowed never to leave the car without our headlamps again.

From the parking lot the hunger and thirst struck quickly, and we frantically searched our phones for the nearest watering hole.  Our search led us to the only place open for 50 miles serving food and beer.  Rodeo Bar in Hulett, Wyoming beckoned us like a 5 star restaurant.  It was there that we downed two frozen Digiornio pizza’s and ice cold Coors; all served to us by a bartender who’s claim to fame is a grandfather who was a rancher in the town that had helped put up the famed ladder that made the first ascent up the tower.  We listened to his stories, told some of our own, and met a few locals before making our way to the sanctuary of the Devil’s Tower Lodge, where we wearily set up our tents and fell asleep as quickly as we could crawl into them.

The excitement of reaching the summit of Devil’s Tower lasted for weeks.  The moves all the way up the tower would play out in my head over and over, and I could describe them in detail every time a friend asked me about it.  There is a reason the Durrance Route is one of the 50 classic climbing routes in North America.  It’s a great climb, a fun climb, and well protected safe climb to bring even a beginner climber up.  Devil’s Tower is a place that I think everyone should see at least once in their life, even if they don’t go with the intention of climbing it.  I can’t wait to visit the tower again; and watch the sun set from the summit. This time I’ll be sure to have my headlamp secured to my helmet.

Jason Miller

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