Smith Rock is a pretty amazing place. I didn’t know what to expect. Sure I had seen pictures and heard about the hard sport climbing but that didn’t quite prepare me for my first outing.
My buddy Clark and I had a couple of free days and decided to head to Smith Rock because the forecast said it would be sunny and warm. The weatherman lied to say the least. The first day we got rained on, hailed on, snowed on, and had to brace ourselves during the gusts as we crossed Asterisk Pass. Not quite sunny and warm but even with the crummy weather we had a blast.
We first hopped on Cinnamon Slab (5.6) to get a feel for the rock. I am very glad we did because climbing tuff was unlike anything I had ever climbed on. It took a bit of time but my “vision” for the best hands and feet eventually came around and it was a very enjoyable climb.
We wanted to hit the classic moderates during our brief two day trip. First on our tick list was Spiderman (5.7 – 2 pitches) so we scrambled through Astrick Pass and over to Spiderman. It was slightly drizzling and neither one of us was super-thrilled to lead but Clark sacked up and lead both pitches of Spiderman with numb fingers on damp rock. Even in those manky conditions it was easy to tell that this was a classic climb. The route eats up gear and moving around the daunting roof is airy but super secure if you have the right size hands to jam.
At the base of Spiderman someone had written in chalk that their rope had got stuck. We had heard that this was not uncommon so we opted to scramble down. With the gusty winds it took us a bit to find the right trail down but even with dealing with the wind the scramble was faster and more secure than rapping the route. Plus on the scramble there was a knotted rope to lower yourself into a mini-cave: how cool is that.
The sun came out as we were scrambling down and it was a much need blast of warmth to rejuvenate our spirits. With the sun shining we moved over to Out of Harms Way (5.8), which is a half-trad half-sport route. I lead this and had a surprisingly difficult time jamming up the flake. It looked like it would be a couple of jams and I would be up but I managed to make it super awkward. Once I got to the top of the flake I was in for a treat. I had never pinched dime sized crystals to make upward progress but that was what was called for. There were bolts every five feet so even with nubbins for hands and feet I felt good.
We basically called it a day after that and went to Bend, OR to get beers and burgers at Deschutes Brewery. There is nothing quite like a cold beer after a good day of climbing.
Our main objective on the second day was to climb Wherever I May Roam (5.9 – 5 pitches) which is on the backside of the mountain. Since it was a balmy 33 degrees we decided to wait ’til the afternoon with the hope of climbing in the sun.
We started the day with Five Gallon Buckets (5.8). Climbing the huecos was pretty amazing. It was a first for me and I enjoyed it so much I climbed it twice.
With the sun shining we moved to the backside and started Wherever I May Roam (5.9). The cool thing about the route is that it is five pitches of sport climbing. I typically think of sport climbs as one-pitchers but I guess not. I took the first pitch (5.8) to get on top of the pillar. The only thing special about the first pitch was how sharp the rock was on my freezing hands. We had totally blown the timing and the sun hadn’t even touched this side of the rock yet.
Clark took the second pitch (5.9) which starts with a big step over an airy gap as you move from the pillar to the main face. At this point the wind was blowing something fierce and my puffy jacket did little to keep me warm.
I took the third pitch (5.9) and in many ways this was the crux pitch. If you have read anything about Wherever I May Roam you’ve probably read how people get “lost” on the face by following the wrong bolts. I had read that also and I thought there was no way I was going to get lost. Yup, I was wrong and got totally lost on the face. Even looking back I can’t figure out exactly where I went wrong. The problem is there are bolts every-which-way and there is not a clear path of least resistance. Plus you can’t see the anchors until you are basically on top of them. The best advice I can give for this pitch is to remember that the anchors are all the way around in the dihedral and to keep moving up and over.
Clark took the fourth pitch (5.9) and while I was belaying him snow was blowing up on me as I hung in my shaded belay. I haven’t shivered that hard in ages and let me say that it was not even type II fun. When I joined Clark at the fourth belay I was in full body convulsions mode and was not in the most pleasant mood, but in an effort to just keep moving I lead the mostly unimpressive fifth pitch (5.8).
Getting down was straight forward. We rapped off the backside into a sandy gully. The second rap was from a set of chains on the west side of the gully which drops you at the anchors for the third/fourth belay. I can imagine the tiny belay ledge gets pretty crowded on a nice day. After that there were two more rappels from obvious anchors. Normally something goes wonky while I am rapping but this one went surprisingly smooth.
Once we were down, and out of the wind, it really hit me how great the route was. If the whether had been nicer I think that this route would be in my top five favorite routes. I would highly recommend it… on a nice sunny day.
All in all Smith Rock deserves its reputation as a world class climbing destination. I can’t wait to get back there.