Saturday, 25 July 1998. Estes Park, Colorado.
[ Warning: this message contains climbing geek speak. ]
I admit that I have a small thing for ticking off classic climbs. It comes from hanging out with Simon Carr :-) Included in 50 Classic Climbs of North America is a route on Devil's Tower called the Durrance Route. It was put up in 1938 by Jack Durrance and is the most popular climbing route, as well as being the easiest route.
All of this makes it popular and crowded. We got a late start, and when we arrived at the start, a party of three NOLS students and instructors was moving slowly off the second belay and a party of two from Wisconsin were ahead of us. We had passed on the trail a the father & two sons party. To say it was a trail was giving it a lot of credit. The approach is pretty interesting third class climbing. A better approach (learned later) is to continue around to below the rap route and head straight up. This adds an additional pitch of climbing, but looks faster and easier.
A NOLS guide had said the Durrance route was rated 5.6, was 5.7 and even had 5.8 moves. Dennis lead the second, crux pitch, but neither of us thought it was 5.8. Reasonable 5.7, even for a non-crack climber like myself. At the end of the second belay the Wisconsin party was struggling and allowed us to lead through. Dennis & I impressed them with a slam-dunk belay changeover. I strung the next two short pitches together, and would have added the third, but the NOLS party was already on it. When Dennis came up I suggested he lead a alternate chimney pitch, then continue up the Baily direct finish (5.5). As dennis was climbing, one of the NOLS students, Shana (attending Harvard) asked what route Dennis was on. I replied, "Something that looked interesting, so I sent Dennis up it." The direct finish was a nice quick way to the summit. We signed the register, hung out for a while, then headed back down.
It rained Wednesday night so we were in no hurry to start climbing Thursday morning. We killed time by going for a hike. Of course while on our hike, the weather started to clear. We returned to our campsite for lunch. As we were lathering on sunscreen, we noticed the impending dark clounds. When the lightning started we decided to cool our jets and stay put. Good thing we did because a few minutes later there was a powerful storm with a lot of lightning. Glad I wasn't on the summit!
The storm passed and the skies cleared, so we decided to climb Soler (5.9-). Dennis took the long, first pitch and lead it in good style. I sketched my way through the next pitch, trying to stem instead of committing to the jams. It seems I'd lost a lot since last November when I was at Indian Creek.
We wanted to do another route, so we got up early and jumped on New Wave (5.10a). I had asked Dennis to pick out a solid crack climb for me to follow and work on my technique. When we reached the base, Dennis said that this looked a lot more like my kind of climbing, than his. And it was with technical stem moves. So I racked up. The first "pitch" was pretty straight forward 5.9 steming. I reached a set of bolts, but we weren't sure if it was the belay (it was) or rap anchors. Dennis though I was about half way up, with about half the rope out, so I continued on. The crux was a very thin (the way I went) lay back above a bolt. I cheated by stepping on the bolt, but that was only one foot hold!
I was 20' from the top when Dennis said I had 5 feet. And this was w/ 60 meter ropes. So I clipped in an additional piece and had Dennis put on his shoes and climb the first easy 30'. The final 20' was a perfect fist crack. I looked at it and decided that jamming was what I was going to have to do and went for it. The jams were perfect, and I felt very comfortable.
That was the end of New Wave. We were linking up to Assembly Line (5.9) a looong hand crack. This was Dennis's pitch. The crack ate gear, and soon Dennis was running low of hand sized pieces. And he was tiring. Dennis hung, then move on. He was nearly at the end of the crux, when he hung again. In taking additional tension, he moved a little too high and his top nut pulled. Dennis took about a 20 footer, but was unharmed. I told him to put in a belay and I came up. I did ok with the jams, but I kept returning to stemming and eventually my feet would start to sketch. I'd return to jamming and get solid again. Good pratice. At the awkward hanging belay, Dennis re-racked and continued on. To the very end of our 60 meter rope, to reach the rapel anchors. Strenuous, but an awesome climb!
Hopefully the weather will improve in RMNP, since it is currently raining.