American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Wyoming, North Face of the Devils Tower

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1958

North Face of the Devils Tower. After a thorough reconnaissance, Jim McCarthy and I proposed to put a route through the only remaining unclimbed face of the tower, the north. The climb followed a single crack from the easy base slabs to within one pitch of the top; once committed to the climb, we had no real choice of route. The first pitch, largely 5th class, we found had been about three-fourths completed by an Army team, which, although it had turned back, had conveniently left its iron in place. Jim took the next lead, on which the angle increased considerably. At a bulge 15 feet above me an aid pi ton pulled out; fortunately the second piton held, stopping a 10-foot fall for Jim without serious physical damage. Jim continued ahead, using double-rope and stirrup techniques. Taking the lead I entered the high angle face of the tower, where we relied entirely on stirrups. At the next belay we made grateful use of a specially prepared aluminum platform, which allowed us a comfortable stance where otherwise we would have had an extremely inconvenient stirrup belay. Jim led through, proceeding up the increasingly severe crack and setting up a similar platform belay with the aid of a bolt. Unfortunately the crack had widened more than we expected; this, together with the friable nature of the rock, made virtually all pitons useless excepting two specially wide-angled ones. The next pitch, and the last on the sheer face of the tower, became the key to the climb. A small bush and a hidden crack allowed me to reach the first ledge in four moves. It offered space for but one foot. Jim led through, climbing free, up the rotten and difficult chimney which our erstwhile crack had become. Rapidly he reached a spacious and level ledge for an appreciated rest from the earlier tension and effort. The final pitch offered no problems other than a few steps on the face directly above the belay. We had completed 12 hours of exposed and extremely severe continuous climbing. A moonlight descent by the normal route we perhaps failed to enjoy to the full. We feel that our north face route was somewhat more severe than our 1955 west face route, but the absence of direct sun minimizes the heat problem.

John Rupley

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