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Open-File Report 2006-1130

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Stability of Leaning Column at Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

By Edwin L. Harp and Charles R. Lindsay

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In response to reports from climbers that an 8-meter section (referred to as the leaning column) of the most popular climbing route on Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming is now moving when being climbed, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey inspected the site to determine the stability of the column and the underlying column that serves as a support pedestal. Evidence of a recent tensile spalling failure was observed on the pedestal surface immediately beneath the contact with the overlying leaning column. The spalling of a flake-shaped piece of the pedestal, probably due to the high stress concentration exerted by the weight of the leaning column along a linear contact with the pedestal, is likely causing the present movement of the leaning column. Although it is unlikely that climbers will dislodge the leaning column by their weight alone, the possibility exists that additional spalling failures may occur from the pedestal surface and further reduce the stability of the leaning column and result in its toppling. To facilitate detection of further spalling failures from the pedestal, its surface has been coated with a layer of paint. Any new failures from the pedestal could result in the leaning column toppling onto the climbing route or onto the section of the Tower trail below.

Version 1.0

Posted July 2006

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