Summiting Devils Tower
My family’s rock climbing adventure and fun camping experience at Devils Tower KOA
We fell in love with the KOA campsite before we had even finished unpacking the car. It was a cool Wyoming morning and the Devils Tower was a neighboring sentinel, reaching skyward. Our plan for this trip, and the source of our enthusiasm, was to rock climb the tower the next day, but as we explored the KOA, it was revealed that its proximity to world-class climbing was just one of the perks.
Matt and Mason asked if we could join the group playing soccer in the campground’s grass-covered field. My husband, Jack, and I were as enthusiastic about some impromptu exercise with the twins, so we followed our 13-year-old boys to the nearby field. Laughter filled the air as we divided into teams, soon running up and down the pitch.
Soaking it in
When the game was over, Matt and Jack pretended to be disappointed as Mason and I exercised our hard-won bragging rights. When Jack suggested a swim in the heated pool, I realized I had married a genius.
We grabbed our suits and headed toward the sounds of splashing. Here, too, the twins found camaraderie with the other kids who were making the most of the lingering sunshine. Jack and I reveled in the warm water and struck up a conversation with a couple who had completed a Devils Tower climb earlier that day. Joe and Mary said that though they were novice climbers, they had never had such a good time. Their guide had even shared some local lore about the tower’s inception. The legend said that two little girls escaped a bear by climbing up the tower, that the tower itself stretched up to the sky in order to protect them, and that the lines down the side of the tower were the markers of the bear’s failed attempts to claw its way to the top. Hearing the story and Joe and Mary’s experience on the climb, made us even more excited to tackle the tower the next day.
Rising to the occasion
Nothing compares to a campsite morning when the smokiness of last night’s fire makes way for the smell of pancakes on the griddle and percolator-prepared coffee. We enjoyed our breakfast, but there seemed to be an excited urgency pulsing underneath our morning preparations. Jack reminded the boys that the tower wasn’t going anywhere, but that didn’t slow them down much, and soon we had our gear packed and were on our way toward the base of the tower. The tower itself was beautiful, with long vertical crevices lining the face and seeming to push your attention up—up, to the summit, over 1,200 feet high.
Our gear clanked as we walked, the cams and carabiners smacking metal on metal with our movements. We made our way through Cottonwoods and increasingly rocky terrain until we got through the boulder field. There are several great climbs, but we chose El Cracko Diablo, because it is a moderate 5.8 in difficulty, and less busy than the most popular climb, Durance. There are so many trails here, even visitors who’ve ascended dozens of times have yet to tackle them all.
In order to get to the base of El Cracko, we moved sideways from the main trail, around the tower through an airy traverse. We had to watch our footing, but it was a good transition from the carelessness of everyday walking to the focus needed for climbing.
Once I was climbing, bringing up the rear behind my boys, I became absorbed in the task at hand. As I got to the business of climbing, testing rounds and ledges in the mottled gray stone for the next good handhold, I was focused only on ascending to the next belay. The crack itself provided many places for jamming my chalk-covered hands and pulling myself closer to the top. The first pitch is about 120 feet long, and before I knew it, I was on the semi-hanging belay, preparing to follow my family up the second pitch.
The second pitch is about 30 feet longer than the first, and is a little more difficult, but this gradual increase in difficulty tested our ability one step at a time. When we got to the top of the tower, I asked Matt and Mason if they were having a good time. The grins on their faces answered my question before their breathless nods could. As the adrenaline began to dissipate, we looked out at the world around us. On the cloudless morning, it seemed like we could see forever from the summit.
The view alone was worth every scraped knuckle and strained muscle, but the climb was what put a smile on my face. Jack loved the challenge as much as I did, and proudly recorded our family’s climb in the summit post’s log. We soaked in the moment, our family, feeling on top of the world, but the day was really just beginning. Rappelling to the ground was hands-down my sons’ favorite part of the climb; Mason had once described the smooth descent down the side as a feeling that was “part insect, part super-hero,” and I could hear Matt’s laughter all the way down. Back on earth, far from feeling like their day was done, Jack and the boys were wondering aloud if they could get another soccer game going, and making plans to watch the daily showing of Close Encounters on the campground’s outdoor screen that night (parts of the movie were filmed here). It seemed conquering the tower was just the beginning.
Discover more Devils Tower activities.