re-sized devils-tower-in-wyoming

Climbing in the Black Hills of Dakota

Black Hills: Devils Tower in Wyoming

I love it when you get your teeth into a subject and then discover the myriad of other things that can be done in the same area.

It’s not just adventure racing in the Black Hills (Black Hills of South Dakota), look at this rock for example, The Devils Tower. This is actually in Wyoming but the Black Hills stretch into that state.

The geology of the Black Hills is complex. A Tertiary mountain-building episode is responsible for the uplift and current topography of the Black Hills region. This uplift was marked by volcanic activity in the northern Black Hills. The southern Black Hills are characterized by Precambrian granite, pegmatite, and metamorphic rocks that comprise the core of the entire Black Hills uplift. This core is rimmed by Paleozoic (sedimentary rock, the oldest of which lies on top of the metamorphic layers at a much more shallow angle), Mesozoic (mostly a red shale with beds of gypsum), and Cenozoic sedimentary rocks. The Hills are laid out in an oval dome with different rock types dipping away from the center.

In 1961, John Gill climbed a route on the Thimble (Needles). It was an unrehearsed and unroped 30-foot 5.12a free-solo climb (or V4 or V5 highball), and is considered one of the great classics of modern climbing.

The Needles are an area of fantastically eroded granite pillars, towers and spires which are very popular to rock climbers. The Cathedral Spires and Limber Pine Natural Area are a portion of the Needles containing six ridges of pillars as well as a disjunct stand of limber pine. It was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1976.

Needles Highway: Alpine View

And then of course there’s The Devil’s Tower – it was designated America’s first national monument in 1906 – and is very popular with climbers… in recent years about 1% of the Monument’s 400,000 annual visitors climb Devils Tower, mostly through trad climbing techniques.

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Geologists agree that Devils Tower was formed by the intrusion of igneous material. It did not visibly stick out of the landscape until the overlying sedimentary rocks eroded away. The elements wore down the softer sandstones and shales leaving the more resistant igneous rock which makes up the Tower. As a result, the gray columns of Devils Tower began to appear as an isolated mass above the landscape.

This incredibly photographic Tower has been climbed for centuries although the first recorded ascent by any method occurred on July 4, 1893, and is accredited to William Rogers and Willard Ripley, local ranchers in the area. They completed this first ascent after constructing a ladder of wooden pegs driven into cracks in the rock face. Some of these pegs are still visible on the Tower.

The man most famous for climbing the tower is Fritz Wiessner who summited with William House and Lawrence Coveney in 1937. This was the first ascent using modern climbing techniques. Wiessner led the entire climb free, placing only a single piece of fixed gear (a piton) which he later regretted, deeming it unnecessary.

Today there are many established and documented climbing routes covering every side of the tower, ascending the various vertical cracks and columns of the rock. The difficulty of these routes vary greatly, ranging from relatively easy to some of the hardest in the world.

I would also like you to take note of the fact, and don’t forget it, that the Tower is sacred to several Native American Plains tribes, including the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne and Kiowa. For this reason they requested a voluntary climbing ban during the month of June when the tribes are conducting ceremonies around the monument. Climbers are asked, but not required, to stay off the Tower in June.

It would be courteous to stay away – would it not?

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