North American Classic Climbs

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Devil's Tower

Durrance Route

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Travel to the far northeastern corner of Wyoming comprises seemingly endless stretches of flat terrain with infinite horizons, broken only by views of antelope and the occasional ranch. Then, in the far distance, the eye picks up one of the unique geologic features of North America - the Devil's Tower. In native American mythology, it was formed by a giant bear scraping its claws against the sides in an attempt to reach people on top. Modern rational inquiry yielded the more prosaic explanation that the tower is the heart of an ancient volcano, the slowly crystallized stone core that, due to the crystalline nature of the cooling magma, formed four- to six-sided columns of phonolite porphyry, a very hard and erosion-resistant rock that has remained as the surrounding landscape eroded away. It is the cracks and chimneys associated with the columns that provide such excellent climbing on the tower.

Although it was first climbed by using wooden stakes driven into cracks near the end of the 19th century, the first free ascent waited until 1937, in a brilliant climb led by Fritz Weissner, perhaps the preeminent mountaineer of the day, and two partners. Weissner used but a single protection piton in leading this route, now rated 5.6. The next summer after the Weissner party ascent, the now popular Durrance route was established by Jack Durrance and Harrison Butterworth.

Although one of the least serious undertakings in this collection, the Durrance route is a lot of fun, and takes you to the top of a unique and fascinating feature. The rating for this climb has been popularized as 5.6, but the Durrance Crack is clearly 5.7 by modern standards, and the only way to avoid a move of 5.8 on the "Jump Traverse" is to grab the fixed piton. You may not find that just this climb warrants travel to the corner of Wyoming, but the tower offers hundreds of other excellent routes, including some of the purest crack and dihedral climbs on the planet (see El Matador in this collection.) There is currently a "voluntary" climbing ban during the entire month of June in deference to native american religious beliefs.


Lowland Rock (crag)




Devil's Tower Nat'l Park, Wyoming (NE), USA



G8, I1, I2


II, 5.8 or 5.6,A0


Route Descriptions & Maps:

Route diagram

First Ascent:

J. Durrance & H. Butterworth, September 1938


Trip Reports:

Peterson 8/94
Teissier 5/01