Rock Road Trip: Part 1

Devils Tower

Got into Devils Tower around mid afternoon on the 28th and scoped our routes. Almost bought a town en route near Crow Buttes. We decided to spend our first day climbing some easier lines on the lower SW shoulder, just to get used to the rock type. The rock is a sort of igneous phonolite porphyry, which is surprisingly smoother than I had thought but offer lots of hand and gear placements on its fracture points. Linus hadn't been on rock in a while and it showed a bit. I led a few short trad pitches and then we jumped over to the Durrance approach pitch, which is pretty mellow. The idea was that this area would be a good place for Linus to lead, however after about 10 meters a climbing group above us decided to rappel onto our heads.

Some climbers on the 2nd pitch of Durrance

Practicing the finger lock


Thank god for crash pads

Right before rocks started falling on our head

Devils Tower brews

Overall I was really disappointed with the climbing community around devils tower, almost an elitist attitude. After the rappelers yelled "rock" a few times we decided to jet. As the evening approached a large black wall started edging in so we decided to set up camp. We had hoped to summit before June, when a voluntary climbing closure of the park takes effect in observance of Native American religious activities, but I guess there is always next time. Thinking on the subject of cultural impact now I realize how uncomfortable I would have felt after summiting. There is not much respect for first nations in the United States. It seems sort of conceited of us to think that the tower is for our use when these culture groups have been using it and watching it erode for centuries. Even the climbing book by Rachel Lynn and Zach Orenczak has the following quote:

"During the month of June, the Park Service encourages climber s to volunteer not to climb. This is apparently in respect of Native American wishes. If you truly have it in your heart to be respectful and helpful to these so-called underrepresented citizens, please call the Interdepartmental Council on Native American Affairs." (italics mine)

Now, being part Native American myself I find this a bit insulting. In hindsight I feel like I would have regretted climbing Devils Tower because of the native connection. It was sort of an "a  ha" moment for me. Being trained as an archaeologist and working in that field for so long you see large companies abusing the first nations, and to be part of that cultural insensitivity in anyway was what I always fought against. Without even thinking about it I had become part of the problem with my desire to climb.


Next stop on the tour was Spearfish Canyon. This area is mostly composed of sport climbing on limestone. Coming from Thailand I thought I had an idea of what the climbing here would be like, both limestone right?, no problem. Wrong. The limestone here is not as stable and is much less featured except for tons of pockets. Needless to say it took a few moderate climbs to feel comfortable on the harder stuff. Most of our time was spent on Skeletal Remains, Sunshine, and Black Betty walls, which we would later find out are some of the worst areas. Evidently the areas were bolted to keep "riff raft" out of the better climbing down canyon.

Spearfish Canyon


Ask a Swede to buy ice and he buys so much the food doesn't fit

Evidently this can be climbed in winter


Seeing how we were in the area I decided to show Linus a piece of the old wild west. Deadwood was the location of a large gold and silver industry before the Indian Territories became states. That being said the area was notorious for outlaws, gambling, and brothels. Today the town feels like a small Las Vegas but older, just a shell of its former glory. Everyone we met was old or foreign, or both. But before we left I handed Linus a 20 dollar bill to gamble with. He accidentally bet $5 and was upset until the damn machine started making all kinds of noise. That damn Swede won $30 bucks with one push of a button and cashed out, while I on the other hand lost it all. Beginners luck is all.

Downtown Deadwood

Just history

One button wonder

I lost, as usual


Our first day in the Black Hills was dedicated to showing Linus what 'mericas all about. We promptly visited Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, both of which are a rip off I might add. Don't stop, just drive by and take a picture. Driving down from Spearfish we noticed a striking difference in the rock type and local geology. The granite of the Black Hills is very distinct in its course nature and amount of quartz and other minerals in it. The area is called the "Needles" due to the specific visual representation of erosional processes.

Freedom costs a $1.05

Crazy Horse still in progress

 We decided to check out the area before we started climbing. Sylvan Lake is one of the main climbing areas in Custer State Park, so we started there with guide book in hand. It took a few hours to get used to the stone and orientate ourselves to the climbing locations. The night was spent at Poverty Gulch, a local NFS road that all the local dirt bags and climbing guides stay. Again, we were met with open hostility and a sort of condescending attitude of local climbers. I was not impressed with the local guides who regularly would recount stories of guiding hungover or worse. I understand being territorial about climbing locales, but to blatantly push other climbers away from an area is a bit stupid. The climbing on the other hand was superb. We focused on the Galaxy, McQ's Pinnacle, and The Fin areas. Mostly just doing sport and trad single pitch climbs. Again it took awhile to get used to the rock but after awhile it started feeling like home.

The spires



Storm brewin'