Image of rock climber on top of Devils Tower

Sylvan Rocks Blog

Its a great year to be a 4th grader

Daryl Stisser - Monday, May 02, 2016

You may have heard about the National Park Service Every Kid in a Park program granting free entrance passes to all 4th graders, and now the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks is getting on board with the new news of their Go Fourth program for South Dakota 4th graders.

 Both of these programs are geared towards building appreciation of the natural world and getting kids and families outdoors.  We perhaps all spend a little to much time on the sofa enjoying a screen.  And that is awesome, but hiking, fishing, rock climbing, and even getting caught outside in a thunder shower are all things worth doing and these 2 passes are perfect venues for enjoying some amazing places in South Dakota and across the USA.




New World Headquarters

Daryl Stisser - Thursday, December 25, 2014

Most of you know that since 2006 Sylvan Rocks has operated out of the SR trailer at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.  We will still be doing that, but the home office where all the behind the scenes organizational magic happens is going to be moving to a new location this spring.  For many years Cheryl and I have rented a beautiful home just north of Custer.  It was designed and built by the late Loretta Muehl, wife of Paul Muehl, who as many of you know...authored a 'few' routes in the Needles...esp. Middle Earth.  Since Lorettas untimely death, Cheryl and I have rented the place.  Its been an awesome home.  Cheryl rides her bike to work or walks every day and I have a great office to work from.  

In true Jan form, in June of 2013, Jan Conn stopped by to ask our full names and mailing address.  She was on her way to visit her lawyer and intended to gift 10 acres of land that her and Herb had bought back in the early 1950's to Cheryl and I.  It was as close as they could get to living next to the Cathedral Spires.  Jan said something like "you shouldn't have to wait for some old lady to die to be living out there."  And as simple as that, the adventure began.  To say that Cheryl and I were thankful, excited and overwhelmed would  be an understatement.  After a bit of a gut wrenching nightmare battle with the Forest Service for access to the parcel that went on way to long, we finally started building in earnest about mid Oct.  If you have ever built a home, you understand that its been a lot to learn in a short amount of time and the amount of work is fairly overwhelming.  All good "problems" though.  Jan comes over several times a week (esp. when the weather is good) for lunch and visits to check on the progress.  We have lots of good friends who have been out to help, and excellent guidance from our friend and project captain...Shep Vail.

We have discovered a few things that we'd do differently next time, but we hope that this place will be home to Cheryl and I as well as WORLD HEADQUARTERS to Sylvan Rocks Climbing School and Guide Service for many many years to come.  The Black Hills of South Dakota have been good to us, so I guess we will be staying as we are rooted here more then ever now.

The Pine Bark Beetles had killed most of the trees in the building site over the past few years, but we still had to tip over a few.  Amazing how fast a excavator works.

Jan was pretty impressed with the big machine and how well Matt operated it.  Because we had so much rock at the building site, we decided to build our home post frame style.....

The first poles rise out of the ground.

Happy to have had a nice warm October. 

The poo pipe goes in!

Unfortunately... Snow and cold moved rather then wait on concrete...we set trusses and closed the place in!  Being flexible and creative seems to be the key to progress this time of year.

FINALLY, the last truss....and a few weeks later....some concrete.

So many choices.

Feels good to have some indoor work and ready for the snow on Christmas Eve.  Happy happy Merry Merry  everyone!

Oldest rock climber to Summit Devils Tower

Daryl Stisser - Tuesday, June 03, 2014

We have had many interesting and awesome guest and I try not to spray about them, but it has been a few years now, and I've talked about it, but never blogged about it until now.  But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Sylvan Rocks guide Tony Schwatz had the pleasure of guiding the oldest free climber ever to the top of Devils Tower.   If I'm wrong and someone older has made the trip, please let me know.

In 2010, Amanda called me up and booked a trip for Siegfried since his english was not as good as hers.  I think she may have mentioned something about him being older, but it was a non-issue.  I didn't think much about it, as I knew Matt would handle whatever came his way.  So Matt Mieczkowski heads over to the Tower, and met up with this Austrian dude.  That was the year the Durrance Route was closed so they fired up El Cracko without problem.  Come to find out, Siegfried was 81years old and not afraid to perhaps pull on a piece of gear though the crux.   I thought that that was pretty darn cool.  I've seen guys young enough to be Siegfrieds great grand children get shut down by Devils Tower.  I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Rock climbing up Devils Tower is just pure work...there is no easy way climb up that darn Tower.  I wish there was, but if you wanna get to the summit and earn that view, you gotta really want to get there.

So, 2012 rolls around, Amanda calls back and booked several days of climbing in the Needles and another trip up the Tower.  Amanda...Siegfrieds younger wife at the tender age of 67 had started going to the climbing gym with him every week and she got in on the action when she joined Tony and her hubby for the 3 days spent climbing in the Needles, but on Sept 9, 2012 Siegfried chugged his way up the Durrance route.  In Tony's words..."he was a machine."  I'd like to think Tony's great guiding had something to do with it all, but truth be told, Tony just hung the rope for a very determined bundle of energy to blast his way up the route climbing in a controlled, steady, good climbing form.   How cool is that?  All the next 40 years of medicine can bring on...if Cheryl and I can goto the climbing gym once a week when I hit 80 and summit the Tower at 83... to say the least, I will be pretty psyched.

In talking to Siegfried, he said he climbed from age 30 to 50, then quit for 20 years, but at age 70...he decided that it was time to get back into rock climbing.  So, I guess that he is set up until 90 or so.  We will hope for another visit from Amanda and Siegfried.  Two of the sweetest, most humble guest I have met.

Just let it be known that while the great Frank Sanders is getting a little long in the tooth...he has another generation of climbing the Tower before he catches up to Siegfrieds age record.  I think the gauntlet has been thrown...lets salute 2 of my favorite athletes.  Amanda and Siegfried

When I hit 83...I wanna watch this shadow and capture this photo like Siegfried did.  A guy can dream.  Right?

Have you been inspired today?

Daryl Stisser - Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Its been many years now since we have adventured in Patagonia, yet in many ways, my heart is still there.  There in a way that the Black Hills were after my first visit here.  I knew I'd be back...I knew that I'd make these granite spires part of my life.  It is amazing how a place, a landscape can capture a persons heart and inspire them to act on dreams...obsessions...goals ...desires.  I have dreamt about a little cabin for Cheryl and I at the end of the world down there.  A simple life with the gauchos on the pompas.  Not sure I'll ever have the guts to leave all this behind, but I hold it up as an ideal and a fall back when things get hectic around here.  I know that being down in Argentina would come with its own set of issues, but in the dream can bring a smile on a rough day and that can be worth a lot.

I don't really know Rolando, but from the video shown here by Black Diamond, he seems like someone I'd enjoy sharing a cup of Mate with.  Sometimes you see a little glimps of something good and it makes you need to grow a little more.  Today, for was talking with a good friend on the phone and watching this video.  Salute....and thanks to those who make things happen for themselves and others by living a life that inspires us all. 

Click here or on the pic to watch the video and read about Rolo.

Have you been inspired today?

New Mountain Pro Edition

Daryl Stisser - Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The UK's E-zine Mountain Pro has a new edition out.  There are a few nice articles to check out.  Snow falling here for the past 3 day.  Should have done a time laps when it was really coming down this morning....or stayed in Moab instead of coming home!!!

Click on the pic and check out the magazine...grab a cuppa good coffee and enjoy.  Climbing season will be here soon enough.

Devils Tower Climbing Video - Jenn Flemming and Guide Anthony Schwartz

Daryl Stisser - Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Many of you have climbed and been guided by Anthony Schwartz.  He loves climbing as much as anyone I know.  He lives it...breathes it...and he is mighty good at it.

This video, put together by the National Park Service about climbing at Devils Tower National Monument, does a great job of not only describing what it is like to climb on the rock at Devils Tower, but captures a little bit of why rock climbing is such a great activity.  The images feed into the feeling of empowerment / respect for what surrounds a climber up on the stone, and the sheer joy that people experience when they slide fingers and toes into perfect holds and micro ledges.  Up on the wall with just a rope, gear and a partner or guide, life is simplified.   Life is good.

Pull, push, rest.....flow....enjoy the moment, embrace the challenge.  

These are things that make climbing so worthy and life worth living.  We all have to have something to motivate us beyond the normal day to day grind.  For many people, the adventure of rock climbing is that thing that takes life to the next level.

Tony was part of the team of pro climbers and videographers that put this great piece together.  He shared his knowledge of Devils Tower, his love for climbing and rope skills to help put that crew in position to get those inspiring shots.  

I hope you enjoy the video and descriptions Jenn Flemming shares about climbing in special places like "Devils Tower National Monument in beautiful northeast Wyoming"....  Anyone take a guess who I stole that line from?

Should you choose to hire Sylvan Rocks to guide you up the top of Devils Tower...I promise we will choose routes with appropriate challenges.  While there is no super easy way to the top of the Tower, there are many ways with much larger handholds and footholds then the routes that were shown in this video.  Climb on!

Jenn Flemming in Devils Tower:  National Parks Epic Challenge video.  Thanks to Camp 4 Collective for doing such a great job putting this video together for the National Park Foundation.

AMGA Survey Results

Daryl Stisser - Friday, September 27, 2013

Whats it like to be a rock climbing guide?  Best job in the world right?  Well most guides do enjoy a sweet office space, but it does help to enjoy living out of your backpack and being extremely tolerant of less then idea weather if you choose to pursue this career path.

The AMGA collected some data about guides and this is what they to shared.  Click to read more.  

Mount Rushmore Access Fund Trail Day July 27

Daryl Stisser - Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Access Fund Conservation Team is scheduled to arrive in the Black Hills in a few weeks to help the Black Hills Climbers Coalition with a trail project at The Mount Rushmore Climbing Area.   On Saturday July 27, plan to come and volunteer on the project.  Along with working on improving the climbers trail up towards Garfield Goes to Washington on the Emancipation Rock Formation...there will be other projects that we could use some help with.

 Be sure to keep watching the Sylvan Rocks and BHCC Facebook pages and calendars for more updated info as the event gets closer.

 Check out the video of the Access Fund Conservation Team working in Utah with the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance.  You might recognize a Black Hills local in the video moving a few stones.  


Happy Salathé Day. 25th anniversary of the FFA

Daryl Stisser - Sunday, June 16, 2013

I was emailing with Paul Piana yesterday, and he wished me a Happy Salathé Day!  25 years ago, he and Todd Skinner made history.  Here is how he described it in an interview with NPR  

"Mr. PIANA: Well, it made a big splash in the climbing world, actually. It was something that the climbing world hadn't considered as possible. And in some ways, parts of our minds didn't consider it possible either, but we believed it just enough to continue trying. And we tried and we tried and we tried. And most of those tries we failed. We only succeeded on one of the tries. And I can remember being a rope length from the summit with Todd, when we knew we really had it done, we'd succeeded, and how much fun that was. I can't imagine giving so much physical and mental effort to succeed on something as ridiculous as climbing a big rock wall with anybody but Todd."

Free climbing thousands of vertical feet like that.....I cannot imagine the giddy feeling these to men must have felt as they finished something so bold. 

The climbers of today continue to break records, climb new lines, and create rad new challenges for themselves, but without a doubt, Paul and Todd were an unforgeable team that opened the minds of many to what might be possible.   Thanks to both of them for dreaming big and going on to live out those dream!

If you are interested in seeing some great photos of that trip.  There is a collection of Bill Hatchers work on Todds website.  Click Here for the Link

Take Care of Your Rock Climbing Gear

Daryl Stisser - Saturday, June 15, 2013

During staff training, we talk about all kinds of things that concern how to best take care of ourselves and our guest while rock climbing.  How we take care of our rock climbing gear is on that list of topics.  While discussing this, Cheyenne brought up this Blog post from Black Diamond.


 Acid was the reason found for this harness failure.  Bottom line.  Watch what you do with your harness.  Word to the wise.  Do not lay your climbing gear down in a parking lot.  There can be bad things on the ground that you can accidentally pick up.  Your climbing gear is your life.  Take care of it.  Don't be afraid to replace it early and often.

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The Durrance Route is a classic no matter if you are climbing Devils Tower for the first time or the 10th time.

First put up by Jack Durrance and Harrison Butterworth in 1938, this route is one of the 50 classic climbs.  The climbing is unique in that there are a lot of wide cracks and full body movements in some wild positions.  Taking this route to the summit is no walk in the park.  On the summit you can see Wyoming, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and probably into Montana on a clear day. 

You can approach the route 2 ways.

 Approach #1)  The Durrance Approach.  From the Devils Tower Visitors Center, follow the loop trail counter clockwise and head up through the boulder field to the slabs towards the shoulder leading up the base of the leaning column.  The climb up is rather exposed, and many parties prefer to rope up on some of the terrain. There are some 5.2 moves for sure and plenty of exposed terrain.

devils tower durrance route 

 Approach #2)  The Bowling Alley.  Above the left shoulder of the guy in the photo.  If no one is climbing above you, another pitch can be added to the route.  From the Devils Tower Visitors Center, head around the loop trail to the right.  At the viewing point for the old stake ladder (perhaps the craziest climb on Devils Tower) head off to the left on a climbers trail.  Follow the switchbacks to the base of the Tower.  This is called the Bowling Alley because rocks that get pushed off the Tower from above end up bouncing down through this area.  NOT a good place to be if there are other parties on the Durrance or other routes in the area.  

Rope up and climb the path of least resistance via one of the many cracks.  When things flatten out, you can clip in to the rap bolts and belay there or traverse to the pine tree - one pitch or two.  The pine tree is the base of the leaning column and the Durrance.

Pitch 1)  The Leaning Column.  Start the fun by climbing up the face then get between the column and the main Devils Tower mass.   There are some fixed pins, but I like to keep all my climbing gear clipped to the main mass.  Don't push the column over.  When the column falls the tourists at Devils Tower will get to see an event that only happens every 10,000 years or so.  I just don't want to be the climber riding that big hunk of rock to ground.  (approx. 80 feet)

Pitch 2)  The Durrance Crack.  Throw yourself into the right crack while stemming out to make things more easier.  As with most routes on Devils Tower, stemming is your friend.  Use the stances to place gear and rest.  I like to have 2 large cams to use near the top where it gets wide.  Placing a #4 Black Diamond, and a  #5 Friend as your last 2 pieces of climbing gear will protect you as good as possible as you make the scary stem over to the anchors. (approx 70 feet)

Pitch 3)  Cussing Crack.  As soon as you jump into this thing you will understand the name.  It looks so easy, but on a hot sweaty day, pay plenty of attention to this pitch.  The gear is not all that comforting.  A small cam behind the flake on the left is about all you get.  Pulling your pack and any gear you don't need up this pitch will cut down on the cussing while climbing.  Once you reach the first ledge, traverse right and head up the wide crack to the ledge and anchors. (approx 40 feet)

Pitch 4)  Flake Crack.  Climb up and right above the anchors and ledge.  I'm always waiting for one of these pieces to come off in my hand.  Place your gear with caution. (approx 40 feet)

Pitch 5)  Chockstone Crack.  Take the chimney to the chockstone overhang near the top.  Jam a hand on either side of it, look for the foot holds behind you and climb over it.   (approx 40 feet)

Pitch 6)  There are two options at this point.

Take the Jump Traverse.  From the anchor head right and down a little to an exposed and exciting step or jump to right.  (This white guy don't jump!)  From there you take the Meadows "trail" to the summit.  If you are doing your first Devils Tower ascent, I'd take this way. Its fun and classic.  Don't be afraid to keep a rope on and place a few pieces of climbing gear, as falling to the base of Devils Tower from the exposed fourth class Meadows route is not a very glory filled way to go.

Baily Direct is a popular variation of the Durrance route.  It was first climbed in February of 1958.  From the anchors and belay ledge, head up and left.  The path of least resistance leads you back to the right and spits you out just under the summit.  You can break it up into 2 pitches if you need to or make it a nice 150 foot climb.  There is another set of anchors there which you can use for your first rap if no other climbing parties are below you.  If you have climbers following you, use the Meadows Rap to avoid dropping rocks through the Bowling Alley.

The Durrance is a great line, and my hat's off to the pioneers who put it up with climbing ropes and climbing gear that few of us would even climb on.  So when the sun and rock gets hot and your mouth is dry just be thankful for your sticky rubber, bomber climbing gear and sweet anchor bolts.  The summit of Devils Tower is a very special place.  Please be respectful.

Devils Tower is of cultural significance to many American Indian tribes. Out of respect for the Native American tribes, Sylvan Rocks encourages guest and all rock climbers to honor the voluntary June climbing closure and find other summits to enjoy during the month of June.  

Call 605-484-7585 to set up a guided trip on Devils Tower

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You start to smell success near the top of the Tower.Several rappells get you back to the base of Devils Tower.
We start in the early morning hours.Walking up to the Tower using headlamps.
Our goal is to make it up the Tower before the sun get to hot.In the summer the temps can be over 100, so we always try to start early.
Signing the summit log on Devils Tower is a sweet treat!Gotta love the nights sky around Devils Tower, WY.