Oregon Gym Climbing
Before hitting the road to Smith Rocks, KC and I planned our first outdoor rock climbing session of the trip at Broughton Buff just outside of Portland, Oregon, the day after our Portland beer tour. However, we woke up that morning to pouring rain and weather reports that predicted rain for the rest of the day. Bummed, but not defeated, we looked up climbing gyms near Portland and ended up climbing at the Circuit Climbing Gym. Thus, our first rock climbing experience of the trip was in a Portland climbing gym.
While we had fun bouldering,
And working on pullups,
We wanted to get back on the road to Smith Rocks.
As we began to approach the Smith Rocks State Park and I could better make out the rock features, my excitement started to grow. The rock looked like fun to climb and the scenery was beautiful. When we arrived to the park, KC and I made a quick lunch and looked over a climbing guidebook to find a place to climb. What I found out about Smith Rocks from the guidebook is that some consider it the birthplace of sport climbing (a type of rock climbing with permanent bolts where a climber can place protective gear while climbing). At the time, sport climbing was controversial among “old school” trad (“traditional”) climbers. Old-school climbers discouraged use of bolts in sport climbing and often don’t consider it true to the sport (more information on Smith Rock’s history). Knowing that we were climbing in a place with historical significance to the sport of rock climbing made me even more excited to climb at Smith Rocks. As we flipped through the pages, we decided that the “Rope da Dope” section would be a good place to start.
I remember a rock-climbing friend once telling me that the first bolts in Oregon tend to be twenty feet or more off the ground (typically, in local California sport climbing, bolts tend to be ten to fifteen feet off the ground), which proved true in Smith Rocks. Taking the easy way out, I set up top rope at the Rope da Dope block and we started climbing.
After talking with some other climbers and looking around, we soon discovered that our guidebook was over twenty years old and new routes have been added since then. With a few hours of climbing behind us, we decided to hike around the relatively small (in area) park to scout out other climbing areas. We decided to take the Misery Ridge and River trails that would take us past the Picnic Lunch Wall, Red Wall, Monkey Head, through Asterisk Pass, Christian Brothers Wall, and Morning Glory Wall. Along the way, we caught some awesome views,
Saw a couple people on the Monkey Head Pinnacle,
Saw a couple people walking a slack-line a few hundred feet in the air.
And traversed the Asterisk Pass, which is an interesting and slightly scary scramble.
By the time we made a full circuit, the sun was setting and our stomachs were grumbling, so we set up camp and cooked dinner.
The next day we got up to find the temperature dropped low enough to freeze our olive oil. Once the sun rose, however, the temperature rose to the high 50s (Fahrenheit) and we went off for a morning climbing session before hitting the road again. Due to its proximity and learning that there were some 5.10s to 5.11s available to top rope, we decided to go back to the “Rope da Dope” block.
A team of climbers from a local rock climbing school (a business that takes clients out to rocks and teaches them how to rock climb) was setting up a few climbs on top rope. One of their new employees, a 18 year old college student, was sitting at the entrance to the top of the block, where you go to set up top rope, crying. I climbed up and asked her why she was crying. “I’m afraid to climb down this rope ladder, but I don’t know how to rappel from the other ropes and I don’t want my new boss to know that I’m afraid,” she said. “I’ll show you how to rappel off my rope, if you want,” I offered. “That would be great!” she said and I could see the relief in her eyes. I set up top rope and did a quick rappel tutorial. KC stood at the bottom of the rope and gave her a fireman’s belay (he holds the rope in tension so if she lets go of the rope, she won’t fall). As she was setting up for the belay, I told her that especially with climbing, it’s more important that she ask for help and does something safely, then worrying about looking weak or like a fool. She nodded, but I could tell she didn’t place much value on that piece of advice. Once she was ready, she rappelled and made it safely to the ground.
When we finished a few climbs, KC reminded me that we had a long drive to Idaho that day and I reluctantly packed up our gear. As with most places on this trip, I wished we had more time to climb and explore, but was grateful that we got to see and climb at Smith Rocks. I was eager and excited to see our next big climbing spot: the City of Rocks, Idaho.
You can find more photos of Smith Rocks from our Trip on our Eastern Oregon and Idaho Photo Journal Page