SPEARFISH | As dawn broke on October 20, two ambitious climbers began their first ascent of the day.
By sunset, Elliott Anderson, of Canton, and Kanyon Lalley, of Rapid City, had summited the highest routes in the three climbing regions of the Black Hills in a single day.
And they may be the first to do so.
The two took a route called El Cracko Diablo (a moderate grade 5.8 climb in spite of the devilish name) up Wyoming's Devil’s Tower in the early morning, then headed into Spearfish Canyon to climb Spearfish Spire (5.9). They ended the day on the top of Spire IV (5.7) in Custer State Park, watching the sun set over the Hills.
“The sun touched the horizon just as we touched the top,” said Anderson. “It was perfect timing.”
Both Anderson and Lalley are seniors at Black Hills State University, and they have been each other’s climbing partners for more than three years.
Anderson said they had devised the challenge for themselves — to climb the highest routes in the three regions of the Black Hills known for rock climbing: the igneous butte of Devil’s Tower, the limestone crags of Spearfish Canyon, and the granite spires of Custer State Park. They dubbed this trial the “Black Hills Triple Crown.”
The pair are not sure if anyone has attempted these summits in one day before.
“It’s not that the climbing is hard or intimidating — the routes are all pretty moderate — but we wanted to experience the three different kinds of climbing, the three different kinds of rock, in a single day,” Anderson said.
The inspiration for this challenge came from a landscape a bit more extreme than South Dakota’s. During the summers of 2017 and 2018, their ambition for the sport took them to the climbing capital of the world — Yosemite Valley in California. It was there that these two climbers experienced a new climbing culture.
“In Yosemite, the entire culture is fueled by rock climbing. The question is always,‘how can we push this to the next level, in any way, shape, or form?’” Anderson said.
Anderson and Lalley tested themselves, seeing how much climbing could be accomplished in short amounts of time, becoming more efficient in their climbing systems and fluidity.
Then, the two climbers devised a way to bring the Yosemite climbing culture to the routes they loved in the Black Hills.
“We started thinking, ‘What if we brought some of Yosemite back to Spearfish? What if we tried to do link-ups? How much could we do in a day?’” Anderson said.
Anderson described the Black Hills as a “hidden gem,” with beautiful routes and a solid climbing community. Although he had done these three routes before, it wasn’t until he attempted them in one day that he realized how unique each one was.
“Devil’s Tower is crack climbing on the most beautiful parallel and unwavering cracks you’ll see,” Anderson said. “Then we showed up to Spearfish Spire, which is limestone sport climbing, and we were pulling pockets and crimping on ledges. It was very demanding of forearms and grip strength. Ending in Custer was a challenge. There aren’t many sustained cracks, so the placements can be pretty few and far between. But it was amazing trad climbing.”
Their next goal is to accomplish a first ascent in the Black Hills area. “That would be wild,” Anderson said, “to just walk up to a wall, off the beaten path, and go for it.”
For now, these climbers are taking a moment to revel in this accomplishment. Looking back, Anderson says the defining moment of the day came when he was belaying Lalley on the first pitch of Devil’s Tower.
“I was keeping an eye on the first rays of sun, waiting for them to crest the horizon and light up the face of Devil’s Tower,” Anderson said. “I saw rays hit the top of the tower, and I could see them spreading as the sun rose. The light came racing down the wall as Kanyon was climbing up to meet it. It was surreal.”