Various Stranded Climbers, Wyoming, Devils Tower National Monument, Devils Tower

Publication Year: 2011.


Wyoming, Devils Tower National Monument, Devils Tower

On October 30th, rangers received a phone call from Crook County dispatch regarding a group of climbers who were stuck on the south side of Devils Tower with a rope caught in a crack. They had no headlamps or proper cold weather clothing and had only a little food and water with them.

The five climbers, all from Iowa, were on a single-day climb to the summit via the Durrance Route when the incident occurred. Two of them reached the summit around 4:00 p.m. The climbers then descended to The Meadows, a relatively flat section on the south side of Devils Tower about 120 feet from the summit. One of them rappelled to a point about 140 feet below The Meadows.

The plan was for the remaining four to pull the rope back up, for three of them to be lowered, and for the fifth and final person to rappel down and join them. The rope, however, got stuck. The first climber then called for assistance.

Rangers Drew Gilmour, Tim Raaf and Joe Stiver responded and enlisted three local climbers—Keith Noback, Dave Schrall, and Chris Engle—in the rescue operation. Noback and Schrall started climbing the Durrance Route at 10 p.m., reaching the stranded climbers at 4:00 a.m. Noback, a local doctor, completed a brief medical assessment of the climbers, with particular attention to the possibility of hypothermia.

All five climbers were cold and tired, but able to complete the rappel down. Engle, waiting at the bottom of the Durrance Route, sent the climbers down the last 120 foot rappel to awaiting rangers and local fire and EMS personnel. All climbers returned safely, with only minor signs of hypothermia.

The temperature at 3:30 a.m. was 33 degrees, with light snow falling and winds blowing from 25 to 30 mph and gusting to 45 mph. (Source: Tim Raaf, Seasonal Ranger)

(Editor’s Note: In April, two stranded climbers (in their 20s) were aided by rangers as a result of their rappel rope getting jammed in a crack. In July, four stranded climbers (again, all in 20s) were also rescued. Two of them were stuck near the top and the other two, friends who had ascended to help them, became stranded as well. The geology of DTNM often results in ropes jamming in the cracks. It used to be boots as well, back in the days when boots were worn.)