Why You Shouldn’t Climb Devils Tower in June

Despite the fact that Devils Tower National Monument recently announced that they recorded 28% fewer climbers on Devils Tower during the 2017 June voluntary closure compared to last year, recent press has highlighted instances of climbers not complying with the June closure. And some members of the Native American community have been expressing frustration that climbers are still on the tower in June.

Photo: © Jon Glassberg

We're happy to see that more climbers are complying with this short-term closure, which not only shows respect for Native American traditions but also helps ensure that climbing will continue to be allowed at Devils Tower.

The tower, composed hexagonal basalt columns, is a must-climb destination for crack climbing enthusiasts—and it’s sacred to at least six Plains tribes, including the Crow, Arapaho, Lakota, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Shoshone.

Although it’s a much shorter history than the Native Americans’, the climbing community’s relationship with Devils Tower reaches back to the first recorded technical ascent in 1937. As the decades have passed and the sport of climbing has exploded, the popularity of climbing at Devils Tower has boomed.

In 1995, the National Park Service—after extensive collaboration with the tribes and climbers—instituted a voluntary climbing closure of Devils Tower during the month of June, the most sacred month for native ceremonies. The NPS did consider banning climbing entirely, but this voluntary closure was a compromise that balanced the needs of the Native American and climbing communities. The closure is endorsed by Access Fund and is institutionalized in the Climbing Management Plan for the national monument.

We recognize that not all climbers agree with the closure, and we’ve heard many opinions that it violates the First Amendment Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” In 2007, Access Fund made the same argument when the US Forest Service banned climbing at Cave Rock, which is considered a sacred site by the Washo tribe. The judge ruled against the argument, and we lost in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. You can read more about the decision here. Access Fund believes that supporting the voluntary closure is the best strategy to ensure continued climbing access for Devil's Tower. The alternative could be no access, as it was at Cave Rock.

The Monument Superintendent at Devil’s Tower has recently expressed the need to revise the 20-year old Climbing Management Plan. Access Fund asks that climbers refrain from climbing Devils Tower during the month of June. Doing so will show respect to the Native American community and ensure that the next version of the Climbing Management Plan continues to allow climbing.

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