The Durrance Route is a classic no matter if you are climbing Devils Tower for the first time or the 10th time.
First put up by Jack Durrance and Harrison Butterworth in 1938, this route is one of the 50 classic climbs. The climbing is unique in that there are a lot of wide cracks and full body movements in some wild positions. Taking this route to the summit is no walk in the park. On the summit you can see Wyoming, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and probably into Montana on a clear day.
You can approach the route 2 ways.
Approach #1) The Durrance Approach. From the Devils Tower Visitors Center, follow the loop trail counter clockwise and head up through the boulder field to the slabs towards the shoulder leading up the base of the leaning column. The climb up is rather exposed, and many parties prefer to rope up on some of the terrain. There are some 5.2 moves for sure and plenty of exposed terrain.
Approach #2) The Bowling Alley. Above the left shoulder of the guy in the photo. If no one is climbing above you, another pitch can be added to the route. From the Devils Tower Visitors Center, head around the loop trail to the right. At the viewing point for the old stake ladder (perhaps the craziest climb on Devils Tower) head off to the left on a climbers trail. Follow the switchbacks to the base of the Tower. This is called the Bowling Alley because rocks that get pushed off the Tower from above end up bouncing down through this area. NOT a good place to be if there are other parties on the Durrance or other routes in the area.
Rope up and climb the path of least resistance via one of the many cracks. When things flatten out, you can clip in to the rap bolts and belay there or traverse to the pine tree – one pitch or two. The pine tree is the base of the leaning column and the Durrance.
Pitch 1) The Leaning Column. Start the fun by climbing up the face then get between the column and the main Devils Tower mass. There are some fixed pins, but I like to keep all my climbing gear clipped to the main mass. Don’t push the column over. When the column falls the tourists at Devils Tower will get to see an event that only happens every 10,000 years or so. I just don’t want to be the climber riding that big hunk of rock to ground. (approx. 80 feet)
Pitch 2) The Durrance Crack. Throw yourself into the right crack while stemming out to make things more easier. As with most routes on Devils Tower, stemming is your friend. Use the stances to place gear and rest. I like to have 2 large cams to use near the top where it gets wide. Placing a #4 Black Diamond, and a #5 Friend as your last 2 pieces of climbing gear will protect you as good as possible as you make the scary stem over to the anchors. (approx 70 feet)
Pitch 3) Cussing Crack. As soon as you jump into this thing you will understand the name. It looks so easy, but on a hot sweaty day, pay plenty of attention to this pitch. The gear is not all that comforting. A small cam behind the flake on the left is about all you get. Pulling your pack and any gear you don’t need up this pitch will cut down on the cussing while climbing. Once you reach the first ledge, traverse right and head up the wide crack to the ledge and anchors. (approx 40 feet)
Pitch 4) Flake Crack. Climb up and right above the anchors and ledge. I’m always waiting for one of these pieces to come off in my hand. Place your gear with caution. (approx 40 feet)
Pitch 5) Chockstone Crack. Take the chimney to the chockstone overhang near the top. Jam a hand on either side of it, look for the foot holds behind you and climb over it. (approx 40 feet)
Pitch 6) There are two options at this point.
Take the Jump Traverse. From the anchor head right and down a little to an exposed and exciting step or jump to right. (This white guy don’t jump!) From there you take the Meadows “trail” to the summit. If you are doing your first Devils Tower ascent, I’d take this way. Its fun and classic. Don’t be afraid to keep a rope on and place a few pieces of climbing gear, as falling to the base of Devils Tower from the exposed fourth class Meadows route is not a very glory filled way to go.
Baily Direct is a popular variation of the Durrance route. It was first climbed in February of 1958. From the anchors and belay ledge, head up and left. The path of least resistance leads you back to the right and spits you out just under the summit. You can break it up into 2 pitches if you need to or make it a nice 150 foot climb. There is another set of anchors there which you can use for your first rap if no other climbing parties are below you. If you have climbers following you, use the Meadows Rap to avoid dropping rocks through the Bowling Alley.
The Durrance is a great line, and my hat’s off to the pioneers who put it up with climbing ropes and climbing gear that few of us would even climb on. So when the sun and rock gets hot and your mouth is dry just be thankful for your sticky rubber, bomber climbing gear and sweet anchor bolts. The summit of Devils Tower is a very special place. Please be respectful.
Devils Tower is of cultural significance to many American Indian tribes. Out of respect for the Native American tribes, Sylvan Rocks encourages guest and all rock climbers to honor the voluntary June climbing closure and find other summits to enjoy during the month of June.