Five years ago this spring.
My daughter (Amy) and I have shared some excellent adventures since she moved back to Helena several years ago, but one of the most exciting days we’ve spent together is the day we climbed Devil’s Tower in May of 2013.

Don’t make plans, make reservations. – Frank Sanders
My fascination with Devil’s Tower started in 1977 when I saw the classic Spielberg movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Too many years later (in 2010) I finally visited the Tower and walked the trail that circles its base. I was super-impressed by the huge columns of rock that seemed to rise up out of the ground, and even more awestruck by the sight of over dozen climbers scaling those columns. That afternoon I decided to look into the possibility of returning to climb it some day. Then, after day-dreaming about it from time to time over the next couple years (and reminding myself that I’m not getting any younger), one evening in January 2013 I finally emailed a couple guide services to find out if they could help a non-climber like me get to the top. Less than ten minutes later I got a call from Frank Sanders, proprietor of Devil’s Tower Lodge and legendary climbing guide. Frank assured me that he could spend a day teaching me some basic skills, and then the next day he would help me climb to the summit. I called Amy to see if she was interested. She said she was “in”, so I made reservations for May 12-13, 2013. (Photo Tour)

Showing us the ropes.
Frank delivered on his promise. Our training day was warm, so we spent it honing our skills on the shaded north side of the Tower. After climbing seven practice pitches we were exhausted! At the lodge that evening we enjoyed a family-style dinner around a long table as the Tower seemed to be watching us through a big window on the south end of the room. Summit day was even warmer so we didn’t start climbing until early afternoon, knowing shade would cover our route during the heat of the day. It took about six hours to reach the top – six of the most exhilarating and physically challenging hours of my life. The weather was calm and sunny, with temperatures in the mid-80s, so we spent almost an hour on top, listening to Frank tell stories, enjoying the views, and basking in the glory of our accomplishment. It only took 45 minutes to rappel down. The last two of our three rappels were done in darkness, reminiscent of the final scenes in Spielberg’s movie – frosting on the cake.

One of a kind.
Reaching the top was amazing, but getting to hang out with Frank Sanders for two days added a whole ‘nother level of fun to the experience. Sanders is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met – and I mean that in a good way. Born in Washington D.C., Frank fell under the spell of Devil’s Tower in 1972 and has lived there ever since. He’s climbed the Tower over 2,000 times, including 17 times in one day. Now in his late 60’s, he’s carved out a living by hosting visitors at his lodge and helping guys like me reach the top. To learn more about his unique life story, and to get a taste of what it’s like in Frank’s world, watch the award-winning 12-minute video below.

Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.