Monday, September 19, 2011

The Return to Smith Rock!

The Smith Rock Group
When we first learned to climb, Kristin and I would make the trip to Smith Rock just about every weekend, looking for little slices of adventure in different corners of the park.  We'd pack up the car on Friday night, drive up and over Mount Hood and then down into the High Desert, pulling into secret (or not so secret) camp spots in the dark.  Straight through the hottest months of the summer we'd spend every weekend in the desert heat, rotating around the towering cliffs opposite the sun in search of shade and friction.

Over the years, we've drifted off to other climbing objectives and haven't spent very much time in the park.  But we're lucky to live in Portland, so close to a world-class climbing destination, and in the back of my mind I always know we can hop in the car and make the same Friday night drive down to the land of nubbins and bolts.  

With a trip to Potrero Chico on the schedule and iffy Fall weather in Portland, this was the perfect weekend to return to Smith!  A bit later this fall, I'll hopefully be climbing crimpers and clipping bolts on Mexican limestone - might as well get in some training at Smith Rock.


A long absence from Smith helped us look on the climbing with fresh eyes, but we also had a little extra inspiration - Alan Watts' new climbing guide! The original was one of the best guidebooks ever written, from the incredible topos to the history of the climbing scene and the useful information for visiting climbers.  But the new guide is even better.  After 10 minutes thumbing through the glossy color photos, I already had a handful of new ideas and new areas to check out.

Unfortunately, I also had a swollen hand of misery from a nasty hornet sting two days earlier.  Check out those greasy mits!  Yeah, that should make crimpy face climbing real easy. 

Inflate-a-Hand - My new off-width technique
On Saturday, we climbed on the West Side to avoid the crowds and the sun.  Just after dropping over Asterisk Pass, we rounded the corner and located Benedictine Punk on the Christian Brothers.  Kristin led Punk and then redpointed Innocent Victim (.10b) after a try or two.  Well done!  She was stoked and ready to hand over the sharp end.

Checking the handy new guidebook, I noticed a long line of bolts leading straight up the vertical headwall above the anchors for Punk ... hmmm.  Holier Than Thou (.11b) - supposedly stellar climbing on steep jugs!  Sporty sport climbing - guess I have to get back into it at some point.

On my first go, I was too tentative at the crux, poking around with my toes, unsure that my feet would stick.  I lowered off, somewhat frustrated, but while I was belaying, that frustration turned into a mini-obsession.  My brain started playing back each move, stitching together hold after hold into a smooth sequence.  By the time Kristin was halfway up the pitch, I knew I had to climb it again.

After she lowered off, I pulled the rope and tied back in.  Above the lower angle slab, I paused before the steep headwall and listened as my heart beat slackened just a bit to a steady pace.  After a couple of centering breaths, I moved through that same sequence I had envisioned in my mind straight through to the anchors.  I clipped the bolts, sat back on the rope and looked around at Monkey Face teetering over the Crooked River, the Sisters in the distance, and little nubbins sticking out of the welded tuff 200 feet above the desert floor.  Woohoo!

After a few minutes, my perma grin started to wear off just a little bit, so we moved on in search of more climbing.  Walking past the base of Spider Man, we noticed that nobody was on the route.  We looked at each other, kind of shrugged our shoulders and thought that would be a great way to finish off the day.

Kristin led the first pitch and I swung through into the absolutely fantastic finger crack and then into the juggy, exhilarating roof moves to the top.  We enjoyed a few peaceful moments of solitude overlooking the river before making the 5 minute descent back to the packs where a group of climbers were laying siege to the route.  A nice end to a great day back at Smith!  

Kristin Lounging at the Belay on Spider Man

Sunday brought hotter, sunnier weather, but I wasn't so keen on going back over to the West Side, so we went to the Phoenix Wall hoping to catch some late morning shade.   After a quick warm up on Phoenix (.10a), always a crowd pleaser, I gave a go at License to Bolt (.11c).  Ouch!  Seriously - the crux crimpfest between the first and second bolt is a brutal sequence.  Boo!  Hiss!

After flailing on License, we walked down the wall and found Blackened (.11d), another newish climb profiled for the first time in the updated guidebook.  I had actually been on this climb once before a few years ago on a top rope.  I remembered the cruxy sequence over the roof but then forgot how to negotiate the face climbing on sharp pockets below the anchors.  I was also somewhat confused by the guidebook's recommendation to stay left after the 5th bolt, because every other person I've ever see climb this route has followed the right trending crack system until its end.  Strange.

In any event, I blew the first lead, lowered off and then gave it a go on TR to look at the left hand variation.  After that I felt smoked, so we packed up, walked back to the Phoenix Wall and climbed a couple of more pitches with a bunch of friendly folks who were all hanging out in the shade and sharing ropes.  After some fun climbing and socializing, we called it a day and made the evening commute back down along the Crooked River and up the desert hillside to the waiting car.

Ahhhh ... good times and sooo close to home.  I'm so thankful that we have a place like Smith Rock in our backyard.  The climbing is incredibly varied and challenging no matter what your focus is - you can always find something new or you can return to your old favorites and put it on cruise control.  I can't wait to go back!

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