Devil's Lake Wisconsin Climbing History


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Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 12, 2009 - 12:33am PT
To start things off, an overview of Devil's Lake climbing by Dana Lawrence from Climbing July/ August 1981. Lots of climbing history for a relatively small and isolated area, the best of the midwest.


Social climber
Dec 12, 2009 - 11:32am PT
I want to hear stories of the impure, debauchery, bold leads on 5.8, top roped 5.10
Who was that guy who soloed SuperPin by default? Pete Skinner? Skin Peter?

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Dec 12, 2009 - 11:37am PT
Cool, that's where I taught myself to climb. Thanks Steve, brings back a lot of memories.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Dec 12, 2009 - 11:39am PT
Nice Steve! I basically learned to climb at Devil's lake.
Swami Jr.

Trad climber
Bath, NY
Dec 12, 2009 - 12:36pm PT
Devil's lake was my Chicago's Yosemite.

Trad climber
Dec 12, 2009 - 12:41pm PT
I basically learned to climb at Devil's lake.

I got yr number now, Jaybro. You're another one of those Madison radicals.


Sometime Crack is one of my all time favorites. I'd really love to get back there.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 12, 2009 - 12:42pm PT
Pete Cleveland is the name you are looking for HD.

Dec 12, 2009 - 12:55pm PT
Too bad not even this article could lure Billy to the campfire.

Mountain climber
Monrovia, CA
Dec 12, 2009 - 01:00pm PT
I tied on with the Sierra Clubbers there in '67. They didn't coddle us. The second or third climb was up some pinnacle. Standing upon the top which was about 2' x 2' you had to let yourself fall across the void until your hands hit the other side and you could make the step. Pretty heady stuff for noobs in Keds!
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Dec 12, 2009 - 01:02pm PT
I remember that article, had it in my magazine.

I lived in LaCrosse, Wisconsin for the first half of 1983, and climbed at Devil's Lake a bunch. Man, those climb ratings were harrrrrrrrrrrd. Really sandbag, like Seneca Rocks. I wonder if they have increased any of the ratings? Are they still F9 in the guidebook, or changed to 5.9 which usually means 5.10? Man, I got my ass spanked there lots of times.

You almost never saw anybody [else] leading there. Guys would show up with tons and tons of webbing to set up topropes. Quite often, you'd be standing at the base racking up, and someone would walk by and whisper in amazement, "Ooooooh, he's leading...."

Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Dec 12, 2009 - 02:19pm PT
Lori and I have visited Devil's Lake twice. The climbing on the pink quartzite is excellent. The ratings are the stiffest anywhere, at least two grades.

Trad climber
New Durham, NH
Dec 12, 2009 - 02:24pm PT
I have an old "On Belay" mag somewhere around here that had an article about some 60 year old Devils Lake climber entitled something like "So & So, the Doyen of the 5.10 Climb."

Something like that, anyways, but I can't find it at the moment.

Never climbed there, personally.

Dec 12, 2009 - 08:45pm PT
A charming climbing garden. I visited Devil's Lake several times during fall of 1958 and spring of 1959, usually in the company of my friend Michael Fain (of the novelist "Judith Michael" fame) and several others. fellow members of the University of Chicago Mountaineering Club. I brought the use of chalk to the slippery quartzite, and had my first experience of mild disillusionment regarding the value of muscle in rock climbing: I took to the Lake a young gymnast from the University - a slim but powerful high bar performer - along with a skinny Israeli in his late twenties who had no athletic background except an occasional game of tennis. Guess which one of these novices excelled? (Gave me pause to reconsider my perception of climbing as an athletic pursuit, but not so much it discouraged me from continuing my gymnastics and subsequent bodyweight exercises. Both were important, and I decided I'd rather maintain proficiency in each even if it meant relinquishing a bit on the climbing side.) I also had the privilege of meeting Joe Stettner and other luminaries of the Chicago Mountaineering Club. Several years later Pete Cleveland made his appearance there, and although I never was with him at the Lake, we bouldered and did a little climbing together in the Tetons and Black Hills in the mid 1960s. He was a wonderfully focused competitor, and a scholar as well, earning both a PhD in chemistry and later an MD. Good memories . . . thanks for initiating this thread!
Scared Silly

Trad climber
Dec 12, 2009 - 08:58pm PT
I have had the opportunity to visit the Lake once. Got lucky and was able to hang with some locals one day. That was a hoot as they got me on some the classics. I remember one route I lead, thought I was going to peel by the time I finished it. It was a nice little 5.11-. I thought cool especially because it was a Gill route. Then they told me he did the FA as a solo. Then I felt small. a couple of years later I got to hang out with Gill and told him the story - he laughed. Then we talk math and physics.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 12, 2009 - 11:35pm PT
To start things off, an overview of Devil's Lake climbing by Dana Lawrence from Climbing July/ August 1981.

'81? Pretty late in the game for DL.

...the best of the midwest.

Those of us from SoIll would tend to take that statement as ignorant in the extreme.

Davis, CA
Dec 13, 2009 - 12:14am PT
bah, southern illinois is more south than midwest.

I've spent a bunch of time at devils lake, but never climbed there, it was before my intro to the sport. Watching people climb there is kind of like watching people boulder, it seems trivial until you try it. doesn't really inspire people to learn to climb.

Anyways, it is a pretty place and i look forward to climbing there to relieve my sorrow at being stuck in wisconsin again for whatever reason.

(I love wisconsin in some ways, but it is tough to be too outdoorsy there)

Trad climber
Dec 13, 2009 - 12:31am PT
I've climbed there a few times, and thought the ratings were overall pretty dang stiff.

jogill - I hopped on some stuff you FA'd there, and my already hearty respect for your abilities grew! So ahead of your time!

Devil's Lake is a great place. Great rock, Cool CCC-built trails, Wisconsin scuba-diving, and something about Ringling Bros nearby in Baraboo.

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Dec 13, 2009 - 01:01am PT
Not to quibble, Steve, but Dana's article has no history as far as I can tell, just an enumeration of climbs.

Here are some Devil's Lake photo's from BITD, early to mid-sixties. We had no guidebook, just did climbs, and so seem to have been part of the pre-history of the area. From what I can surmise, many climbs that we did have since been renamed, so the fact that I can't remember our names for a number of the shots below shouldn't matter too much. Maybe someone familiar with the current scene can ID them?

Steve Sharnoff on Birch Tree Crack:

The climbing shoes are Solda's

Roger's Roof:

Steve Derenzo on Flyfoot Slab:


Two shots of two Pines Var.:

Steve Derenzo on ????

Sewing Machine?

Two shots of Steve Derenzo on Brinton's Crack:

Ray D'Arcy on D'Arcy's Wall:

The justly fabled Dave Slinger on ????

Steve Derenzo on Peter's Project?


Dec 13, 2009 - 01:45am PT
I had a lot of great times at Devil's Lake from '73-'79 but can't quite see them as history. I enjoyed the hospitality of Dave Slinger and Pete Cleveland thanks to a friendship with Bill Dietrich of the University of Chicago.

On one visit Pete offered me a top-rope on his latest send. I innocently walked up and hurt a finger on the opening moves of Bagatelle. From Bill Dietrich I heard that Pete had been inspired to free it by a recent Steve Wunsch effort on it.

I'd like to see and hear more from others.

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 13, 2009 - 01:45am PT
Rgold- I post articles as I find them and hope for the best with respect to history until I find something else to add. The OP is definitely written from a guidebook writer's perspective and not from a historian's.
Not very many articles about Devil's Lake come to mind but there is plenty of history worth discussing. If you recall anything of better quality please let me know or post it up. Thanks for posting some of your pictures and recollections.

Here is one of John Gill from the second version of Pat Ament's Master of Rock, 1992.

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