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North America, United States, South Dakota, Black Hills

Black Hills, South Dakota. There are few more readily accessible rock climbing regions than the fantastic spires in the Black Hills. Probably only a half-mile from the Needles Highway are the jagged Cathedral Spires, many of whose summits have been climbed by Herb and Jan Conn. Our party, John Dudra, Herb Staley, Wes Grande, and I, had just completed the ascent of Wiessner’s Chimney on the Devil’s Tower. After such an arduous climb we felt ready to attempt several of the apparently more hostile spires. We found two isolated formations on a tree-covered ridge and spent a gruelling day in reaching their summits, two towers which we called “Diana” and “Andrew.” A long open chimney made the ascent possible in one case, but we had to rely on artificial aids and bolts to succeed on the other. A unique method of roping and lassoing enabled us to put a man atop Laureate Tower, in three stages of rope-throwing and pully technique.

Grande and Staley attempted a route on another spire that proved too lengthy in the remaining two days, but fortunately Dudra and I had a streak of luck. With Herb Conn we had climbed Kháyyám Spire, where we found the only evidence of a previous visit, apparently made by the Wiessner party in 1937. Dudra and I had our hearts set on scaling the 400-foot rock shaft just to its south, one we fittingly dubbed Rubáiyát Spire. The first lead, into a deep chimney some 120 feet above the grass, took all morning and half

the afternoon. Most of the time was spent standing in slings, placing pitons for aid. Two bolts were needed to bypass an overhang, and when a flawless stretch prevented further progress, we luckily managed to snag a rope lasso on a rock horn and prusik-knot our way to this point at the entrance of the chimney. The latter proved feasible enough, and only on the last 50 feet was it again necessary to use a piton, and this only for safety. It had been a thrilling climb and was to prove a slippery descent and rappel, for a sudden rainstorm broke just as we started down.

Fred Beckey