AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Devils Tower National Monument: A Climber's Guide

Devils Tower National Monument: A Climber’s Guide. Steve Gardiner and Dick Guilmette. The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1986. 136 pages, black and white photographs. $6.95 (paper).

Devils Tower is a fantastic volcanic plug that erupts hundreds of feet into the sky above the gently rolling hills of northeast Wyoming. Its remarkable vertical columns provide climbers with classic comers and cracks that cannot be matched for purity of form anywhere else in the world.

Being somewhat off the beaten track, the Tower has been out of the mainstream of climbing until recently, but in the last ten years its superb quality has finally been recognized and the number of visiting climbers and new routes have risen dramatically. To meet the red-hot demand for information, Steve Gardiner and Dick Guilmette have put together an extremely attractive guidebook that has been carefully researched and well designed, and which conveys the mystique of the area.

The first thing that strikes you is the bold cover: a sunlit view of Devils Tower surrounded by molten red. The second thing is its colorful historical anecdotes, starting with the old Indian legend about the great bear clawing the flanks of the Tower. This is followed by the bizarre and entertaining account of William Rogers and Willard Ripley’s 1893 ascent of the Tower via a 350-foot wooden ladder. Next comes the inspiring tale of the first ascent using modem rock-climbing techniques by Fritz Wiessner, William House, and Lawrence Coveney in 1937. And finally comes Charles Hopkins’ epic 1941 parachute jump onto the summit and his ensuing rescue. One thing that was not mentioned, to the credit of the authors, is the commercialism surrounding the filming of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which I think is best forgotten.

The heart of the book, of course, is the 145 separately described routes and variations. All have been depicted on photographs that are appropriately spaced through the text, adjacent to the route descriptions. In addition the photos and descriptions are cross-referenced with a numbering system that totally eliminates any chance for confusion. Another nice feature in each description is the suggested list of equipment. This is always helpful on long routes when what is needed cannot be readily discerned from the ground.

Only a couple of minor problems are apparent in the book, both easily correctable in the next edition: the photo on page fifty-six is a bit too dark, and Lawrence Coveney’s last name has mysteriously lost the second “e” whenever it appears. Other than these, my only other criticisms are subjective in nature. Two different grading systems have been mixed rather incongruously together. If and are used in the lower grades, why not in the upper as well? Also, I find it objectionable that certain climbers have arrogantly renamed aid routes they have purportedly freed. The routes haven’t changed, only the manner in which they were climbed. Does this mean, then, that someone doing an even “purer” ascent (i.e., an unroped solo) has the “right” to change the name again? Although the authors are not to blame for this situation, they still must bear part of the responsibility for perpetuating it. At least they have made a conscientious effort to record the old names so they are not lost to future generations.

One suggestion for the future would be to include a 0–3 star quality rating system. To a limited extent, this has been done in the Note sections, but many two- and three-star routes such as “Mr. Clean,” “Soler,” and “Tulgey Wood” were not mentioned in this respect.

On an overall basis, Devils Tower National Monument: A Climber’s Guide is highly recommended. Not only does it serve its purpose exceedingly well, but at $6.95 it has to be one of the greatest bargains ever.

Ken Nichols