Frequently Asked Questions
How tall is Devils Tower? Devils Tower is 867 feet from its base to the summit. It stands 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River and is 5,112 feet above sea level.
How big is the summit of the Tower? It's approximately 1 1/2 acres, about 200 ft. by 400 ft ... or about the size of a football field. The summit is slightly dome shaped and rocky, with native grasses, cactus, and sagebrush. Chipmunks, mice, pack rats and the occasional snake are found on top.
How far is it around the Tower? The circumference of the base of the Tower is 1 mile. The Tower Trail is 1 3/10 mile.
Why is it called Devils Tower? Some Indians called it Mato Tipila, meaning Bear Lodge. Other American Indian names include Bear’s Tipi, Home of the Bear, Tree Rock and Great Gray Horn. In 1875, on an expedition led by Col. Dodge, it is believed his interpreter misinterpreted the name to mean Bad God's Tower, later shortened to Devils Tower.
Why is climbing allowed on the Tower? Devils Tower boasts a rich and colorful climbing history that dates back to the late 1800s when it was first climbed by two local ranchers using a wooden ladder. Climbers from all over the world consider Devils Tower to be a unique and premier climbing area. Currently, about 4000 visiting climbers come to Devils Tower each year. Although early rock climbing techniques have left an indelible (though slight) scar, contemporary rock climbers leave little trace of their ascent. Today, most climbers rely solely on their physical strength in order to make a climb. The modern technical equipment that is used for safety is designed to be efficient, removable, and non-damaging. Pitons, the steel “pegs” that were historically hammered into cracks, have almost exclusively been retired from use. The National Park Service considers rock climbing to be a legitimate recreational and historical activity at Devils Tower.
What is the June Voluntary Closure? American Indians have regarded the Tower as a sacred site long before climbers found their way to the area. American Indian people have expressed concerns over recreational climbing at Devils Tower. Some perceive climbing on the Tower as a desecration to their sacred site. It appears to many American Indians that climbers and hikers do not respect their culture by the very act of climbing on or near the Tower. A key element of the 1995 Climbing Management Plan and 2006 update is the June Voluntary Climbing Closure. The National Park Service has decided to advocate this closure in order to promote understanding and encourage respect for the culture of American Indian tribes who are closely affiliated with the Tower as a sacred site. June is a culturally significant time when many (not all) ceremonies traditionally occur. Although voluntary, this closure has been very successful - resulting in an 80% reduction in the number of climbers during June.
During June, the NPS asks climbers to voluntarily refrain from climbing on the Tower and hikers to voluntarily refrain from scrambling within the inside of the Tower Trail Loop. Please strongly consider the closure when planning a climbing trip to Devils Tower. Alternative climbing areas are located within 100 miles of Devils Tower National Monument. The Access Fund fully supports the voluntary closure and the Climbing Management Plan at Devils Tower.
How long does it take? Time of ascent depends on skill, route difficulty, and the number of climbers in the group. The average time for two climbers to climb the Durrance Route is between 4-6 hours. It takes about one to two hours to rappel down.
Has there ever been anyone killed? Yes, there have been five climbing fatalities since 1937. Three of these fatalities occurred while descending (rappelling) the Tower.
Do climbers spend the night on the tower? Not intentionally, park regulations prohibit camping on the tower.
Doesn’t climbing damage the rock? Although early rock climbing techniques have left an indelible (though slight) scar, contemporary rock climbers leave little trace of their ascent. Today, most climbers rely solely on their physical strength in order to make a climb. The modern technical equipment that is used for safety is designed to be efficient, removable, and non-damaging. Pitons, the steel “pegs” that were historically hammered into cracks, have almost exclusively been retired from use.
What’s the fastest the Tower has been climbed? In the 1980s, Todd Skinner – a Wyoming native - free-soled (climbed alone, without ropes or protection) the Walt Bailey route in 18 minutes.
How do they get their ropes up there? Climbers typically climb in pairs. The first person to climb – the lead climber – climbs upward using only their hands and feet. They periodically place protective equipment in the rock and clip their ropes through this gear. The second climber belays (securely manages the rope) the lead climber. When the lead climber arrives at a good stance, they secure themselves to the rock and belay the second up. The second will remove all the gear that was placed on lead. Nothing is left behind.
How do climbers get down? Climbers rappel to descend off the Tower. One rope is passed through permanently installed anchors (expansion bolts) in the rock and then tied to a second rope. Climbers place both ropes through a mechanical friction device (attached to their harness) and slide (rappel) down both strands of rope until they reach the next rappel stance and anchors. In order to retrieve their ropes for the next rappel, one of the ropes (the knotted side) is pulled down – pulling the other rope up and through the anchors. Eventually, all the rope is pulled through the anchors and the process is repeated (3 or 4 times) until the ground is reached.
Is Devils Tower an old volcano?- No. Geologists agree that Devils Tower is an igneous intrusion. Magma welled up into the surrounding sedimentary rock. There it cooled and hardened. The sedimentary rock has since eroded away to show the tower.
Is it hollow?- No! You could compare it to a bunch of pencils held together by gravity.
What kind of rock is it? - Phonolite porphyry, it is similar in composition to granite but lacks quartz. Phonolite refers to the ringing of the rock when a small slab is struck, and its ability to reflect sound. Porphyry refers to its texture, large crystals of feldspar embedded in a mass of smaller crystals.
How often do the columns fall?- There have been no major falls since we have a history of it (200 years).
Did You Know?
Eradication programs have reduced the black-tailed prairie dog’s range from thousands of square miles to a few scattered preserves like this one at Devils Tower National Monument. They now inhabit about 2% of the area they once occupied 200 years ago.