Sport Climbing at Devil's Lake? Unfortunately Not.

Unknown climber top-ropes Prime Rib (5.9+) at Devil's Lake State Park.
Unknown climber top-ropes Prime Rib (5.9+) at Devil's Lake State Park.

Every week during the climbing season, I get a call or email from someone wondering if there are sport climbing routes at Devil’s Lake. Though I love answering questions, I usually disappoint the inquiring party because they really want to go sport climbing outside. They usually ask the same question a few different ways, just to make sure I understand what they are talking about. My favorite exchange this week was via email, from a Swiss woman on a cross-country road trip:

Sport Seeker: My friend and I are traveling through the USA and we are wondering if we can go climbing at Devils Lake by our own?

Me: Yes! If you have the gear and the skills, you can certainly climb there. Just keep in mind it is a bolt-less area; you need to either lead with traditional gear or set up top-rope anchors. There are no bolts for sport climbing. Have fun! If you have more questions, just let me know.

Sport Seeker: Thank you for answering! So do I understand this correctly...when you say there are no bolts...that means (sorry language barrier) that we need to climb with friends? Could you suggest any good areas around or in Wisconsin to climb? Where we don’t need friends? Where "climbing routes" are set up? Not top rope but with bolts?

Nick: “No bolts" means you have to have a traditional climbing rack to climb here... you cannot simply clip bolts with quickdraws and a rope. If you are looking for sport climbing areas, check these out: (see list below)

Of course (and I am biased here), Devil's Lake is probably the best climbing area in the Midwest, so you may want to find a way to climb here. You might try posting a comment on Mountain Project and see if you can hook up with some local climbers to show you around?

Sport Seeker: Just to clear things up again... so at your place is actually nothing but the rock?? So these kind of things which a picture of it is attached to the e-mail are not put up on the rock? (picture of a bolt attached) Sorry for asking so many question :-/

Unfortunately for Sport Seeker and anyone else who wants to clip bolts at the Lake, there are no sport climbing routes (bolted climbs) at Devil’s Lake State Park.

Why Doesn’t Devil’s Lake Have Sport Climbing Routes?

Devil’s Lake lacks sport climbing because it’s unnecessary here. Because climbers can access the tops of most routes via hiking or scrambling, they can set top rope anchors on nearly every route in the Park without defacing the rock with bolts. Not all the routes at Devil’s Lake are sane leads with ample opportunity for protection, but most routes offer enough protect, and have been led using tradition means for long enough, that local climbing culture forbids bolting.

So What’s a Sport Climber to Do?

1. Learn how to place gear and build anchors. With a couple hundred dollars of gear and a little know-how, you can build your own top-rope anchors or start traditional leading. You can take a climbing anchors course with a guide service, or you may be able to find tenured climbers who will take you under their wings and show you the ropes.

2. Drive a little (or a lot) further to find a sport climbing crag. If you don’t want to spend money or time on anchors equipment/skills, just go elsewhere to climb. There are some great options, including:

None of these places are "similar" to Devil's Lake... but that's what's great about them! Exploring different climbing areas, especially small or out-of-the-way ones, has led me to more great adventures than I can count. So take your carabiners on the road and get 'er done. And the next time a friend invites you to climb at Devil's Lake, take the opportunity and learn how you can start climbing there on your own too.