Frank is the owner of Devils Tower Climbing and is the most experienced Devils Tower climber on record. He has conquered Devils Tower in less than twenty minutes, climbed 22 hours straight, reached the top over a dozen times in one day and set the majority of courses climbers follow today.
During my initial meeting with Frank I was somehow roped into climbing the tower. If that’s not bad enough, I volunteered Jamie to join the fun.
I’ve been excited for this opportunity for a month now and when Frank asked me to show up at 7 a.m. the morning of July 5th I could hardly wait. We arrived at his place at 7 a.m. on the dot and I was raring to go. Jamie…not so much.
We were fitted with gear, warmed up on the training wall, and received our first lesson. The schoolhouse on Devils Tower would handle the next lesson. But for two hours as we trained on the climbing wall all I kept saying was, “Frank are we going to get to the top today?” Frank would consistently reply, “We’ll give it our best shot.”
As we continued our training Frank would say, “breathe.” “You can’t do pull ups all day” and other catch phrases that proved to be so true.
Guys tend to think big, work fast, measure success by winning, not learning, etc, etc and I didn’t show up to learn. I wanted to win. I wanted to stand on top of Devils Tower.
We loaded our gear and headed to what Frank calls the “schoolhouse.” It’s a column in Devils Tower that soars to the sky just like the other hundred columns but the schoolhouse has a moderate difficulty level and provides a perfect place for a second lesson.
Rock climbers measure difficulty using a scale of 5. - 5.14. According to the park service Devils Tower ranges from 5.7 -5.13. According to my experience the entire Tower is a 5.14!
Nonetheless, we hiked the walking path to the north end and trekked up the rocky base of the Tower. Along the way we passed many tourists and each one asked if we were headed to climb the tower. Jamie and I were nervous yet excited to say “Yes!” As we continued along the trail, Frank said “you know, everyone of those people is jealous of you.”
By this time it’s 9:30 a.m. and I’m as excited as a grown man in the Bass Pro Shop.
We unpacked our gear which basically included 250 feet of rope, climbing shoes, and a hard hat. Frank set the line and asked who wanted to be first. I’ll give you one guess who went first and a hint: it wasn’t Jamie.
As soon as I was tied in I set the tower on fire. Well, for at least ten feet. It was at that moment I knew what Frank meant when he said you can’t do pull ups all day.
As I struggled to get higher and higher my mind started to tell me something wasn’t right. I was working so hard and moving so slow.
I would yell down “You got me Frank?” about every ten feet until I got to the top of our first test run. When I stood on the small rock platform that was just big enough for two size 12 feet I had a feeling as if I was on top of Mount Everest.
Even at merely a quarter of the way to the top there was a sense of accomplishment as I was forced to stare down my fears. Rock climbing is a lot like bullfighting. They both involve fear and an opponent bigger than you.
For the next two hours Jamie and I would alternate climbing a run and rappelling down in an effort to get comfortable with the task at hand. Each course Frank set was harder and higher than the previous and truly tested my will to win as I inched closer to the set mark.
I didn’t stand on top of Devils Tower today but I didn’t back down from my fears either.
We are going back to the tower Aug 15th and I will climb for the top. I now have the knowledge to go with my determination.
Rock climbing gets a rap much like rodeo in that people say it’s crazy. But I encourage you to personally challenge that theory and put climbing Devils Tower on your bucket list.
I’ll wager to say you will learn rock climbing requires patience, endurance, confidence and perseverance - characteristics crazy people don’t have.
I certainly learned that much. But more importantly, Jamie and I made a lifelong friend.