A First Climbing Trip . . . Devil's Lake, 1959 . . .                                                                                                              John Stannard
By John Stannard

In order to get out of Chicago's southside I went to Devils Lake once in 1959 with a trip run by one of the University of Chicago staff. When I reached the top of my first top rope problem I found the leader sitting at the cliff face with the rope going twenty feet back from the face, running around the top of a small dead five foot tall bush, thence back to the cliff face and me. On that small face I could not have accepted the sudden addition of forty feet of slack. My experience with the use of ropes during haying and some elementary vector analysis led me to take up caving instead of climbing. Six years later I was back to climbing however.

I didn't have a car in Chicago so about all I could do was ride the EL down to the loop or walk over to the Museum of Natural History at the Lake. That was a great museum! I forget how I found out about the outing to Devil's Lake but jumped at the chance to get out of the city. We got up there after dark and  just threw our bags out where we found ourselves. Some time in the early morning hours I woke up when the ground began to shake. As whatever it was got closer I was even more interested to hear the screeching of steel sliding over steel. We had bedded down a few feet from the outside of a turn in the railroad tracks. All of those loaded cars were shifting on the tracks - in our direction. More than forty years later I remember it well.

I have no idea what we did that weekend and I remember nothing special about the rope. It might have been hemp but I doubt it.  Immediately as I first saw the rock I was struck by how hard and compact it was. I don't remember it having any crystalline structure like you find in most quartzite. At the time I imagined it would ring if struck while cold.  Obviously we were put on easy routes. I do remember a short steep face with a hold about a centimeter deep. Who would have thought such a hold would one day be considered a belay ledge.  The day was glorious, the air was clear, and the exercise welcome. Unforgettable.

[Comment:  John Stannard and I were at UC at about the same time. Too bad we didn't meet then! The portrait is by Pat Ament]