That Time a Guy Parachuted Onto Devils Tower

Nathaniel H. Darton via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Nathaniel H. Darton via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Nathaniel H. Darton via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Devils Tower, the massive laccolith in northeastern Wyoming, stands tall at 867 feet. Roughly 4000 thrillseekers dare to ascend the landmark every year, but only one person has ever made it to the top without climbing there. Meet George Hopkins, the only man to ever parachute onto Devils Tower.

On October 1, 1941, Hopkins, a professional parachutist who held various world records for his daring jumps, floated his way onto the top of the Tower, which is roughly the size of a football field. Though he stuck the landing, the daredevil didn’t plan very well for the trip down.

Hopkins claimed that he had planned to descend using a rope, but the rope became hopelessly tangled in the jump, and later frozen. According to a historian for the National Park Service, however, the rope landed on the side of the Tower and out of Hopkins' reach. Whatever happened, the rope was clearly not an option, and officials decided they would have to find an alternative way to get him down. Offers to rescue Hopkins with the Goodyear Blimp or an experimental Navy helicopter rolled in, but officials decided to enlist the help of an experienced climber instead.

Jack Durrance, a student at Dartmouth, had been one of the first people to ever climb the Tower a few years before. (You can still climb the Durrance Route today, in fact.) The climber was more than willing to help, but unfortunately he had to take a train across the country due to bad weather. As a result, Hopkins ended up spending close to a week stranded on top before Durrance could arrive and assist him down. “I bet I counted the big boulders on that damned mountain peak a thousand times, and I gave ‘em all names you couldn’t print if I told you what they were,” Hopkins said. Once help arrived, however, the descent was easy and uneventful.

What possessed Hopkins to try such a stunt in the first place? In a word: Cash. A friend bet the parachutist $50 to do it. “I had my hand out fishin’ for the dough when I hit the ground,” Hopkins said. “Earl paid off.”