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North America, United States, Wyoming, Rocky Mountains, A New Route on Devils Tower

A New Route on Devils Tower, Wyoming. Since the first ascent of the “long column” by F. Wiessner in 1937, all successful activity on Devils Tower has been concentrated on the adjacent “leaning column,” the route pioneered by J. Durrance in 1938. The register indicates that 13 parties have ascended the Durrance route. With thoughts that it was high time to look for a possible new route, a party from the Mountaineering Committee of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, of Washington, D.C., met at the Tower in late August 1951. The party of four included Herb Conn, Art Lembeck (A.A.C.), Ray Moore and Tony Soler.

Moore and Soler explored numerous frustrating leads on Aug. 29th and left a rope dangling through karabiners in several pitons and an expansion bolt N. of the Big Ledge (the easy traverse portion of the standard routes) and far below it. By unanimous consent, this 40-ft. start was abandoned in favor of a less impossible crack on the E. face of the Tower, beneath the N. end of the Big Ledge. The crack is about 150 yds. E. and N. (right) of the Wiessner route and out of sight of it. Broken sections at the base of the Tower allowed easy scrambling to the height of the leaning block. The climb was third-class for 30 ft., then fifth-class. A wide crack in the left side column begins working, 55 ft. up, toward the angle-piton crack between the columns. Another 70 ft. up, the left-hand crack becomes the piton crack, and the right-hand crack widens out. This is the situation for 40 ft. A short, bulging overhang was passed by means of a layback. The same technique was used for most of the next 40 ft. In this section pitons had to be inserted while the climber was in a semi-layback position, holding on with one hand. This exhausting procedure resulted in one fall. The leader dropped from 12 to 15 ft. above his upper piton, but was stopped, suffering only slight scratches on his arms, by the dynamic belay of his second. In use at the time were 7/16-in. nylon rope, an old U. S. Army angle piton and an Army surplus aluminum karabiner. Above this point the slope became slightly less, and the two cracks again became useful.

Since layback piton-pounding proved too difficult, Soler drove in six pitons for direct aid, skillfully edging on top of the one he had just placed in order to drive the next one. This maneuver whereby each piton was used first as a handhold, then as a foothold, without a rope sling, was a beautiful example of balance climbing. The 23rd piton, placed in a horizontal side crack in the left-hand overhanging column, permitted a short traverse and retablissement to its sloping, splintered top—the first belay point on the climb. After the other climbers had “prusiked” up to this platform, three more pitons were used before the party reached the big ledge at the N. end, from which an easy scramble led to the summit. During the 9½-hour climb, 26 pitons (24 of them angle pitons) had been used. The first pitch of what is now officially known as the Soler Route was belayed through pitons from the bottom during a 240-ft. lead!

A. C. Lembeck