Posts Tagged ‘smith rock’

Smith Rocks State Park is a wonderful, beautiful, amazing, astounding, awe-inspiring, brilliant, excellent, enjoyable, incredible, outstanding, stupendous, tremendous place to climb rocks. Having been restricted to indoor climbing for the past 6 months, it was prime time to get outside and cut my teeth on the mudpile-that-is-somehow-climbable that exists in the dearth of landscape that is central Oregon. Thanks to final exams finishing for me on Monday morning, my double-length spring break became a week-long trip to Terrebonne with quite a few adventures.

Smith Rocks in the Snow

I believe that the field of meteorology was created for the sole purpose of ruining any prospective climbing plans. 60% chance of rain/snow was scheduled for the day AFTER I was planning to finish my trip, but the predicted precipitation steadily creeped closer and closer. When I left Olympia on Tuesday morning, it was pouring down rain but my psych was still high. Pulling into the park around 11am, it was cold and chilly with a hint of snow in the air. The campsite was relatively empty, these central Oregonians are too spoiled with their consistently nice weather. In western Washington, we climb until thunder and lightning hits; there was nothing that could keep me from getting on the rock.

Nick and I haven’t climbed together for almost two years now, he was back in the Pacific Northwest for his spring break. We started out the day by heading into Cocaine Gully, where I had my ego handed to me in a paper bag, being spit off Vomit Launch – 5.11b with pumped forearms. I forgot how difficult rock climbing is. I didn’t send anything hard, the day was more exploratory in nature for me. Nick gave good burns on Churning in the Wake – 5.13a while I took a look at Heinous Cling – 5.12a and Cool Ranch Flavor Finish – 5.12a, not getting on either.

Single pitch sport is super fun, but definitely isn’t all that Smith has to offer. Zebra to Zion – 5.10a, 4 pitches follows an amazing and exposed dihedral up from Morning Glory Wall, with splitter cracks and well-protected flakes all the way. I like to pretend I can plug gear, so cruising up the second .10a pitch definitely inflated my ego a bit after the exercise in humility that was the day before.

Zebra to Zion
Nick and I, top of pitch 2

Having made plans to rappel off the route after reaching the summit, we were a bit surprised to find two bolts with no rap-rings at the top. Oh well, I thought, we’ll just rap through the hangers instead, something that is frowned upon but isn’t life-endangering by any means. Reaching the lower anchors (top of pitch 3), I was struck with a moment of panic when we tried to pull the rope. It wouldn’t budge. Not even a single centimeter. Fourth class choss greeted us around the corner as an alternative path back up to the summit, but I was wary to tackle the free-solo over the exposed gully with crumbling holds. I took a deep breath, said a prayer, and forayed into the mix of mud and boulders. Reaching the summit for the second time, I clipped in a leaver-biner to the anchor, and rapped back down to meet Nick again at the lower anchors. Trying to pull the rope for the second time, it was STILL STUCK. This time, both of us scrambled up the choss together, and prepared for the long hike down Misery Ridge. Having planned to rappel, I had no hiking shoes and did not want to ruin my 5.10 Anasazis. If anyone saw a tired looking climber walking barefoot down Misery Ridge, that was me.

Still trying to pretend to be a trad climber, I spent the next morning on Wartley’s Revenge – 5.11a, a splitter crack renowned as once being “Smith’s most sought after test piece”. Pumped silly and scared out the bum-bum, I took my first medium-large leader fall on gear, which thankfully held. Black Diamond, your C4 cams now hold a special place in my heart.

Wartley’s Revenge – 5.11a

Later in the day, I made a second-go send of Middle Aged Vandals – 5.11c; I was happy to finally find some success with my first “hard” climb of the trip. It really should have been a flash, I called for a take just before pulling to the finish jug. Typical Andrew wuss-out attempt, those who belay in the future have permission to make me take the leader fall.

Dom was the first person to take me out on a real climbing trip, it’s been great to seem him get continued success. With a quick burn just to suss-out the beta, he pulled through for a second-go send of The Quickening – 5.12c, his strongest send at Smith to date. I was afraid I had short roped him on the belay, only to learn that his screaming had been because he was so pumped he couldn’t even hold on to jugs. When I first started climbing, I remember very distinctly Dom telling me that he enjoys routes more than I do, because he doesn’t get pumped. Let it be known that I untied his knot for him.

The Quickening – 5.12c

Dom pulling into the first crux

I was psyched to find some success myself this trip, pulling together a send of Cool Ranch Flavor Finish – 5.12a the day before I left. This was only the second .12a I have sent, it was really gratifying to know that I was able to maintain my fitness over a dearth of outdoor climbing during the winter. Giving it 3 days of effort, I sent on the 3rd go of the day (7th total), barely expecting to pull through the crimpy crux at the top. Apologies to whoever’s blood I may have curdled with my screams when falling off on earlier attempts.

Smith has a lot of really strong people, 5.14 climbers seem to be around every corner. Being a relatively new climber, I still get pretty star-struck when around those who pull two to three grades higher than I do. The cool thing about the locals here is that they’re all really down to earth, and treated me as a friend rather than as a gumby. Ryan Palo, the strong-boy who sent To Bolt or Not To Be – 5.14a just the month before, gave me beta on Cool Ranch Flavor, just as psyched for me to send as himself. Paige Claassen also came into town, although I didn’t build up the courage to ask for a picture, it was inspiring to watch her climb. I hope both of them send their respective projects soon.

To Bolt or Not To Be – 5.14a

I wish I didn’t have to leave Smith so soon. This little slice of heaven is my favorite climbing destination in the world, and I can’t wait to make it back. For now, I’ll be hitting the gym, pretending to get strong enough to cut my teeth on all the projects I left behind.

Bivouac Area


Way back in February, I was more than stoked to head out to Little Si and hit the ropes. It was a bright, sunny day, with temperatures well into the mid 60’s. I on-sighted Violent Phlegms (5.11b), and was sure that this was an exciting beginning to a very long summer climbing season.

And then, Washington decided that it was instead a nice time for winter to catch up.

The following months just saw weekend after weekend of rain and poor weather. In between February and mid-June, I was able to get outside a total of two more times. Adding to the chronic pain was the constant build-up of school and research, including the preparation of a poster for a national conference in Anaheim, California. With all the needs and responsibilities of the world surrounding me, even my climbing gym sessions totaled less than ten times. However, all of this was rectified as of last week by this:

Smith Rock State Park

Jessica, Kevin, and I trucked the five hours down to Terrebonne, Oregon last Monday, staying until Friday afternoon. A fourth was to join us on Tuesday afternoon, but unfortunately was unable to make it. Regardless, we had a great time. After some mild adventure on the way down (including McDonald’s breakfast and falling asleep at the wheel) we pulled into the parking lot of Smith Rock State Park right around noon. The camping facilities there are amazing compared to most camping/climbing locations. Running water, hot showers, and clean bathrooms were all readily available within 100 yards of the tent sites. Town was a mere 3 miles from camp, so a grocery store and restaurants were also minutes away. With the responsibilities of the world behind me, I was more than ready to kick back and enjoy five solid days of beautiful climbing.

After some quick sandwiches, we headed down into the gorge to see how much skin we could lose on the first day. Armed with the 1992 first edition of the Smith Rock guidebook and asking lots of directions (shhh…insider beta: GET THE NEW EDITION), we found ourselves at the base of the most popular route in Smith: Five Gallon Buckets (5.8). Surprisingly, only one other party occupied the popular Morning Glory Wall with us, and we were able to hop right onto the route. Thanks to our mid-week climbing trip, we actually didn’t have to wait for any routes at all for the entire week. After getting over the hollow rock (it’s solid, I swear) and figuring out the technical high-step nature of the volcanic tuff, I found myself warmed up and ready to try harder things.

Jessica at the top of Five Gallon Buckets (5.8)

Some fun, intermediate .10’s later, I found myself at the base of Zebra Direct, a super classic 5.11a right up the middle of Morning Glory Wall. Appearing to be more featured than the rest of the face, I was quickly surprised and pumped at the super delicate crimps and side-pulls required to ascend the route. A lower crux with the first bolt at about 15 feet up was not very helpful either. After pitching just above the second bolt, I made it up to the chains with the beta figured out, ready to give it another go. Kevin, the local wunderkind that’s been seriously climbing for less than 9 months, gave it his all and came out with a cool flash of .11a on his first day sport climbing outside ever. Awesome, yet disgusting at the same time. His send got the train started, and I hopped on right behind for the second-go. A beautiful line, that everyone should definitely try.

Zebra Direct (5.11a)

The top half of the route exits through some fun, easy bucket climbing. On the last bolt just before the anchors, I was reminded why even on such high trafficked rock, you must always be prepared for the possibility of disaster. With just a light tap of the foot, I shifted and dislodged a block of stone that easily weighed 10 pounds. Fortunately, it stayed put and didn’t fall. Quickly warning everyone to back far away from the wall, I finished the route (not about to give up my red-point) and set up my rappel. Fearing that someone would attempt to pull on the block, I brought it down with me back to the ground, looking as if I was bringing the Ten Commandments down from the mountainside.

The next few days continued similarly, with many beautiful 5.10’s, a few easy but super fun trad lines, and some more difficult 5.11’s. Smith is surprisingly skin-friendly, with the soft rock allowing hours and hours of climbing every day without turning the fingertips raw. I managed a tricky on-sight of More Sandy Than Kevin (5.11a), which got me super excited. Kevin came super close to flashing as well, sticking the crux moves before pumping out at the very end. Regardless, super fun climbing and great company was plentiful. It was also great to gain perspective on climbing ability at the same time. While I was on Nine Gallon Buckets (5.10c to the third anchors), Matt Spohn of Mad Rock Climbing was just 100 feet to the right of me, running laps on Churning in the Wake (5.13a). Yet we were all just having a great time, pushing personal boundaries rather than chasing numbers. That little number is a fun way to quantify my improvement while climbing, yet as long as I’m having a great time, I’d rather climb 5.8’s and .9’s all day outside than to be stuck inside a cubicle.

Kevin pulling hard on a near flash of More Sandy Than Kevin (5.11a)

Blue Light Special (5.11b), the one that got away

In an effort to get stronger, Kevin and I spent some time throwing ourselves on Latin Lover (5.12a), and getting spat off super hard in return. Great movement was consistent throughout the route, but the small crimps, side-pulls, and pebble-pinches continued to get smaller and smaller until I felt as if I was pulling on the edge of an envelope. Even though we both eventually made it to the chains, we agreed that Smith is a very difficult place to push grades, and that Latin Lover would have to wait for another day when our skin was fresh and our fingers were strong.

Latin Lover (5.12a) not lovin’ back

Wednesday met us with some light but consistent rain throughout the day, so we headed into town to find some entertainment. A climbing store, two grocery stores, a post office, a hardware shop, a hair salon, and a quilting supply shop later, we found ourselves having happy hour food at the Terrebonne Depot. Between the hours of 3-6 pm, all climbers in the area should definitely make the the Depot a regular destination. Since we’re known as phenomenally cheap people, a $5 pizza satiates both the stomach and the wallet. And it was just the right amount of energy to get us back on the wall in the evening as the skies finally opened up.

On Friday, I hooked up with a friend Matt whom I had met in the campsite to head up the ol’ Pioneer Route (5.7 A1) of Monkey Face. A 350 foot spire of rock with a simian appearance on the peak, Monkey Face is a classic multi-pitch not to be missed. I led my first bolt ladder that day, while also seconding on probably the most mind blowing traverse I have ever done, a 5.9 thin and hairy move out and towards the summit, with nothing but air underneath you. A short but sweet climb, we finished the 3 pitches in around an hour and forty minutes of climbing. The local dirt-bag who lives in the campsite just recently set the free-solo speed record of the Pioneer Route, finishing the same climb we did in a mere 7 minutes and 43 seconds. Graciously, he left the fixed rope he used to get down for others to rappel off the top, allowing us to do a 300 foot free hanging rappel all the way to the base of the Monkey.

The top of the first pitch

Leading the A1 bolt ladder

Matt following into the mouth of the Monkey

Rappelling off the summit

Five days later, and I found myself back in Olympia, more psyched than ever. Smith is a little slice of heaven nestled away right in our corner of the country, and I hope to find myself there again and again. More pleasant company couldn’t have been had, and such good climbing is found in places few and far in between.

Notice that I am in a surprising amount of photos that I have posted, a rarity for climbers who normally end up photographing others. For this, I cannot thank Jessica enough, who spent the majority of the trip taking over a thousand photographs of me, Kevin, other climbers, rocks, lizards, and llamas.