Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Beyond Southern Oregon: Smith Rock

How many climbers does it take to screw in a light bulb?


You'd think climbing at Smith Rock would be similar... and, well, sometimes it is.

If you've ever been to Smith on a weekend or a holiday, you'll know what I'm talking about. People, dogs, babies, bikes, runners, hikers, old people, fast people, slow people, nubes, veterans, Germans, you name it, they'll be there. Sunday afternoon Smith Rock was the largest and probably, the most profitable climbing gym in Oregon! Fixed draws were hanging on all the classics, and so were all the people! (including me...) The queue on any route easier than 5.9 was longer than the line for the bathroom (probably because there weren't any rocks or bushes to hide behind). I'm surprised I didn't hear any techno music either. However, none of this is really news to most of you... I mean, I'm talking about Smith Rock, the origin of American sport climbing, on a weekend... Of course it's busy! It's always busy!

(How could this place go unclimbed?! Never. Photo by Jen)

We definitely added to the crowd on Sunday. Jen and I stayed with our friends Logan, Aura, and little Ukiah Carr, who all joined us at Smith. And our objective: to use all these brand new cams!     


 (8 shinny new Power and Master Cams! I like shinny things...)

You can probably guess what actually happened though. I mean, as I said earlier, we were at Smith. Sport climbing mecca... with trad gear? Well, let me show you what happened:


 (Hey, is that route bolted? Run-out on Latest Rage (5.12b) Photos by: Jen)

We began our day with the best intentions to use all the trad gear; however, we got suckered in! Smith is just too good! We were out of our element, out of Southern Oregon and on bigger, crazier sport routes. We just couldn't turn them down.

We began the day by warming up on a two-pitch route called Ancylostoma (5.9) that finished on a really fun and mellow second pitch, Bookworm (5.7). This was Jens' first "multi-pitch" route, which offered several good learning experiences.

 (Enjoying the nice summer breeze at the top of Bookworm. Photo by: Logan Carr)

The way down proved to be slightly difficult. From the top, it looked like our ropes were tossed perfectly. From the bottom (had any of us been down there), we would have noticed that the ropes didn't reach the ground, and were, in fact, jammed deeply into a crack, 30 feet off the deck. So we had to take a quick detour at the Anclyostoma anchors to suss out the situation and get our ropes untangled. Finally, back on the ground, as we were bombarded by the weekend warriors, we realized that we had left one of my draws on the route. So, we were now at the mercy of the German couple that was practically right on top of us, pushing us off the route as soon as we hit the ground to retrieve my forgotten draw.

Funny how things work. The Germans had some trouble descending the route as well. Trying to do what requires two ropes to rappel with only one rope; the ends were a bit shy. The German called down to the crowd, "Yas, how faar to ground!?"

The crowd yelled, "10 feet!" "15 feet!" These people were waiting to climb!

After a short pause, the German replied, "Umm... I do not ondurstaand... how faar is dis?"

"Like 10 feet short, Dude!"

The German shouted back, "How faar is dis.... ten feet? What das dat mean?"

I finally ondurstood! Us crazy Americans don't use the metric system. What a bunch of dummy Americans! I yelled, "3 meters!" We heard a laugh from above.

"Shiza!" and up the ropes went for the double rappel that took twice as long and made the crowd wait even longer.

I guess that's how things go when you're climbing at an international climbing destination. World class routes all over the place! Legendary routes and scary run-outs. History and abundance all wrapped in convenience. Ahh... history. Zebra striped spandex. Mustaches. Neon. Geometric shapes. Long hair (on dudes)...

I turned around: Chain Reaction! No queue. Draws hanging. Perfect weather. I was standing 10 feet from it (How faar is dis?!). Three meters. I knew where I was the whole time we were warming up and I knew I had to try Chain eventually. But I was scared. Not of falling or getting hurt or anything like that. I was scared to try because I told Olivier that I would climb it within three tries! Why the hell did I say that?! And once I start, the attempts add up quickly. Three tries...

I'm gonna make this story short. Try one: FAIL!

(Givin 'r gold on my first attempt! Chain Reaction (5.12c) Photo by: Jen)

(Whhaaa Hapin? Ukiah, curious about everything and fun to hang out with!)

Here's what hapin, Ukiah: I fell and Jen got rope burn.

I worked out the sequence and found my balance on the tricky arete. Bump after bump on pockets and pinches and smeary feet! Big move at the top (more on the "big move at the top" later) and I had pieced it together. First try, with a couple hangs, and I found myself at the top. I decided to save my next two attempts for the next day... 

(Good Job!)
(Hey... look at that pretty lady up there!)
I got distracted...

and we moseyed on.

(Moseying toward our trad route)

We made our way to the Cinnamon Slab (5.7), where I was going to put my cams to good use. And here's what happened: I began the route, used all my big pieces of gear at the bottom, I dropped a nut (literally... figuratively? I don't know...), ran out of gear, ran out of draws, and ran out the last 30 feet (9ish meters) to the anchors. What an amazing ascent! So stylish. The only thing that could have made it better would be if I had a mullet.

(Right about where I dropped my nut. Photo by: Jen)

We said our good-byes to the Carr family (Much thanks for your hospitality and the awesome day of climbing!) and we made our way to camp:

(Trippy! Photo by: Jen)

Every time I go camping while I'm sitting next to the fire, I day dream about climbing and bouldering and all the possibilities. I read guide books and visualize my last attempt on a route (or my next attempt). I eat what I think will help me climb better the next day (that includes beer). And I search for boulders, anything to climb, all around camp. And check out what we found!

(12 meters from the road at Skull Hollow camp ground! Photo by: Jen) 

(Look at this monster! Check out that line up the left side! Photo by: Jen)

Those look pretty sick, huh?!

Jen and I found these boulders while we were taking pictures by the fire. I peered up from the Smith Rock Guide, took a sip from my beer, a glanced down and left. I couldn't believe it! There, right next to me, the entire night, were these perfect boulders. The steepness and the angles were amazing! They have solid rock with perfect landings and awesome features! And they are right next to the road! I imagined that I had my shoes and crash pad with me. I sequenced all the moves and the top outs. Double under-cling start to a left hand pinch, big move, cut feet, heel-hook right, left hand to the sloper, match and mantle. I wanted to climb 'em right then!

It's too bad I'm not the size of a lego-man... cause these fire-pit rocks would be so rad! (I apologize for tricking any of you into thinking these were actual, life-sized boulders)

And that's what I do. I visualize myself climbing the rocks around the fire. I look at a tiny rock and I imagine that I am miniature. I sequence problems and climb them in my mind.

I realize this sounds funny; however, I think visualizing and "practicing" climbing like that is important.  Visualizing a climb keeps our climbing brains in tune with sequencing and reading routes. Whether you're actually climbing or just visualizing, our muscles can't tell the difference. They operate and start to twitch and function as if they are actually performing. Ever imagined a climb so vividly that your palms began to sweat? Try it. Pay attention to how your muscles feel. Then try it before you attempt your next project. See if it makes a difference.  

So, when you've sent your project over and over in your mind, it helps to find a new piece of rock to mix things up a little. And that rock can be as big, small, real, or fake as you'd like, as long as you climb it in your mind as accurately as you can. Or, just try it for fun!


(It's not a day dream anymore; it's Monday! Photo by: Jen)

Monday afternoon, the following day, perfect conditions, crisp, 65 degrees, no clouds in the sky, I counted 12 other cars in the parking lot! Where did everybody go? Don't people care about rock climbing?! How are we supposed to send hard when there isn't anyone to yell, "C'MON BRO!"?

Well the funny thing is, aside from Jen climbing her first outdoor lead ever, we didn't send hard... Jen led Five Gallon Buckets (5.8) flawlessly! Couldn't even tell it was her first lead. I fell on Chain Reaction three more times. In the same spot, at "the big move at the top." And when I say "the top," I literally mean the very last hard move. Right here:


(The top is just over that roof! Photo by: Jen)

Jen and I also struggled up Drilling Zona (5.11c) in some gnarly wind. I climbed some 5.8 trad route and found a lizard.

I think the hardest send of the day was Jen and I splitting three giant hamburgers at McMinamin's. I still don't know of anything better than a huge burger after a hard day of climbing.

Next stop, burgers in Bishop! (I'm sure we'll find plenty of "climber bros" down there to yell at us.



  1. The lightbulb joke is so true it's hilarious!

  2. great pic of the campsite just up the road from grasslands!