CASPER, Wyo — On Monday, June 28, 1937, Fritz Weissner, Lawrence Coveney and William P. House became the first climbers to make a technical ascent of Devil’s Tower. Previous summits had been accomplished with a rope ladder pounded into the rock face with stakes.
Weissner was born in Germany and climbed extensively in Europe before coming to America in 1929 to study chemistry and climb in the Grand Tetons. While returning from the Black Hills, he and a group of friends stopped at Devil’s Tower and Weissner got the idea to climb it. He returned with permission from the National Parks Service to make the ascent.
According to a report filed by then-custodian of the Devils Tower National Monument, the hardest part was a 200-foot ascent up a crack or chimney, which Wiessner lead using “an over and over movement something like the crawl of a caterpillar… up the narrow perpendicular seam.” Wiessner placed the ascent’s sole piton after this section but later declared it unnecessary.
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“Wiessner led us up in as magnificent a piece of mountain climbing as I have ever seen,” said Coveney in Joyner’s report. All three called it a difficult climb, and Wiessner said there were few places in the Alps as difficult as the eighty-foot chimney traverse on Devil’s Tower.
It took four hours and 48 minutes to make the ascent, according to the report. The party spent 30 minutes at the top. House was forester and collected sagebrush, cactus, ferns, rock samples, and a Mormon cricket. The party observes that top of Devil’s tower is dome-shaped, approximately 15 feet higher at the center than the edge. After leaving their names and empty can of grapefruit juice, they descended by the same route, which took an hour and 48 minutes. The area today known as “Bowling Alley” contains the Weissner Route.
Joyner said only a handful of people greeted them at the bottom because climbing ethic forbade publicizing the climb.
“I wouldn’t recommend that any one except an experienced mountain climber attempt the trip we made,” Wiessner said in the report. “It is an extremely difficult climb for 200 feet and [a] serious accident would be very likely to result. There is only one pitch on the north face of the Grand Teton in Wyoming which is as difficult in its way, as this crack is on the Devils Tower.”
Today about 5,000 people climb the tower annually, according to the National Parks Service. There have been 6 recorded deaths.