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My Vertical Journey

Riley Butler

Devil's Tower, the tallest volcanic column in the world, stands at 867 ft and emerged around 50 million years ago. Its formation remains a mystery, with theories ranging from igneous intrusion to eroded remnants of a laccolith.

860 ft of column rock stood above me as I looked up at the mass that is Devil’s Tower. I recalled the many things I know about the rock. The theories of how it formed, the grand appearance on “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, the sacred meanings to Native Americans, and, of course, at the back of my head, I see the faces of the many tourists watching my family and I’s ascent.

Devil’s Tower stands at 867 ft from its base and emerged around 50 million years ago. The base is made up of the many boulders which are subject to erosion. The tower was named the first National Monument in America and the tallest volcanic column (according to Guinness World Record). It is a truly extraordinary rock whose formation is still a mystery.


In the 1800s, Geologists Carpenter and Russel claimed the rock as an igneous intrusion. In other words, the rock was formed from forced magma entry across other (sedimentary) rock layers. Scientists Darton and O’Hara said it was an eroded remnant of a laccolith. This is a complicated term that explains the shape and large size of the rock. Many other theories, for example, the maar-diatreme volcano theory have surfaced in more recent days, but these theories come with a lot of uncertainties.


Nevertheless, many Native American’s believe the land is sacred and should be taken care of. Frank Sanders, who takes care of the lodge and frequently ascends the rock, does this rock great justice and, I believe, has done well to preserve its sacred meanings to Native American culture.

Personally, Devil’s Tower has been my biggest rock-climbing achievement. I scrambled up the rock at only 9 years old and since then strive to do the same on rocks alike. From Devil’s Tower to El Capital, these rocks are ultimately made to climb. So, what is rock-climbing? And why is it such an emerging sport?

Rock-climbing, in simple terms, is “the sport or activity of climbing rock faces, especially with the aid of ropes and special equipment.” As the name suggests you are climbing rocks. The sport itself, however, is much more complicated than that.

Firstly, rock climbing comes in many different forms. Trad or traditional climbing is a style of climbing where you place your own safety points along a rock. This kind of climbing doesn’t involve any previous establishments such as bolts or anchors though it is often considered more dangerous than other forms. Lead climbing follows similar aspects of trad climbing but involves set safety points (anchors and bolts). Lead climbing does mean you are setting a rope on a wall.


Lastly, toprope is a kind of climbing where the rope is already set and safety points are established. In all of these ways, a rope and gear such as a harness, quickdraws/cams, ATCs/Grigris are all required. Rock-climbing without a rope is also very common. Bouldering, for example, is a type of rock-climbing in which lower rocks are climbed with a soft “crash pad” instead of a rope. Other forms of this type of climbing include highballing (climbing dangerously high boulders with a crash pad).

Famously, Alex Honnold has introduced free soloing to the public. This form of rock-climbing means climbing tall climbs with no safety (with the exception of taking a parachute). Speed climbing is another common form of rock-climbing and is done with an international speed climb made for competitions.

In recent days, rock-climbing has seen great improvements when it comes to popularity.

This includes indoor rock-climbing gyms made for training outdoors but now used as a form of exercise or, most commonly used for climbing competitions. These are done both regionally as well as globally and include most of the styles of climbing included above (excluding trade climbing, highballing, and free soloing).

Although competitions have become a part of most climber’s lives, rock-climbing has much more to offer. The sheer variety allows for a never endless outlet of fun, physical, and intellectual challenges. From bouldering to lead climbing, from the gym to outdoors, or competitive to casual, climbing fits everyone’s preferences.

Furthermore, each route/problem allows those to focus on different types of holds and moves. Gym climbing has allowed every level to try the sport out.


Not to mention, climbing is a great full-body workout for those looking to get in shape. It not only builds a lean figure but also makes working out fun. Climbing brings people together in a light-hearted, social atmosphere and challenges problem-solving techniques to train your brain too.

So many professional athletes and climbers have spoken about the wonders of the sport including Ashima Shiraishi, Jason Momoa, and Chris Sharma. So, find a local climbing gym and explore the wonders of climbing for yourself.

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