Last weekend I was given the most amazing opportunity to travel down to Smith Rock and do some climbing. A friend had mentioned a few weeks ago that he and our regular climbing group were planning on heading down to adventure in Oregon. After much deliberation—it is a long drive from Tacoma and David and I have pretty much scheduled out our weekends until September—we decided to go for it.
Thank goodness we did, even though it meant a 5 hour drive and sleeping in the back of the Jeep for a night. The splendor of Smith Rock is overwhelming. I’d seen pictures before, of course, and spent the week prior looking up beta for all the climbing that we were going to be doing. My excitement level was a 10. It was going to be a killer weekend. Needless to say, we did not end up climbing the routes as planned, but will definitely be going back in the (hopefully) near future.
Smith Rock itself is beautiful. There are more than 1,500 routes in the park, including many multi-pitch routes (which are on our list to do), several incredible features that are distinguishable from afar (check out the Monkey Face), and an amazing landscape to top it all off.
David and I showed up to the Bivouac campground around 9 and caught up with our friends who had arrived on Friday night. The campground was amazing and now I am kicking myself for not taking more pictures (although you can read about it and check out some pictures at (smithrock.com)). There was…wait for it… a working bathroom which, almost every climber will tell you, is like a little piece of heaven on Earth. There are also paid showers available for $2 and a huge camping area with a view of Asterisk Pass and the Phoenix and Llama Walls.
Because of the insane amount of people flocking to Smith Rock per year, they have separate designated camping and cooking areas and campfires are not allowed, which means there is no danger of stepping on coal, cooking remains, or being burdened with trash littered in your sleeping area. There are also trash cans provided to keep this from happening in the cooking areas as well.
There are also several fabricated boulders that can be climbed on throughout the park, so people or children who are not specifically interested in climbing on real rock can have a thrill of their own. There is also a Visitor Center located in a yurt near the main road, which had two wonderful volunteers and an array of educational materials, including Smith Rock Climbing guides for reference.
The Crooked River is another amazing feature that cuts through the park. It is a great spot to take a dip after you’ve been hiking, running, or climbing on a 90 degree day. From what I saw, it’s decently shallow in most areas and the current isn’t anything crazy. There is really easy access if you don’t want to hike back to the campground and you have a water filter handy.
I can’t say much about the climbing at Smith Rock because, in all honesty, we didn’t end up climbing a whole lot. The few routes we did do were amazing, challenging, and had a little bit of everything. Pulling up on tiny knobs on the first pitch of Teddy Bear’s Picnic was frightening but confidence-building, and flying up Honey Pot so that I could clean it for another group of climbers to lead was incredible, and probably the most fun climbing I’d had that day.
Sunday we tried out the boulders, which are abundant and have an excellent range. Mountain Project doesn’t have much in the way of education on Smith Rock boulders, so we headed to the Picnic Lunch Boulders because we knew where they were and that there were established routes. The official Smith Rock site has a list of the boulder problems by area at Smith Rock; I found it best to find the problem that I thought it was and then Google that itself.
What Worked Well:
- Going to Smith Rock.
- Choosing to sleep Friday somewhere in Mt. Hood National Forest instead of driving 5 hrs after a full day of work in one go.
- Hammock Camping, something I’ve never done before, was also a great decision, as there were plenty of trees around. I also got to fall asleep after staring at the stars.
What to do Differently:
- Go for more than a weekend, or at least for a long weekend. There were plenty of amenities that could have sustained us and so many routes that were begging to be climbed. We drove ~10 hrs round trip to climb for basically half of two days; kind of a bummer.We also met a party of climbers who had moved from Wisconsin specifically for sport climbing; one of them told us he lived in his van nearby and used the showers at the Bivouac, would work a short day and then climb after. It gave me a little bit of van envy, but I’m not sure I could ever make that jump.
- Wear shorts. I was in long spandex pants for the weekend because I didn’t want to have to apply sunscreen to my legs. I also didn’t want to blind everyone with my pastiness. The last thing I’d want is for someone climbing to fall off the wall because I exposed a portion of my skin…I need to get out in the sun more.
I will definitely be going back. Smith Rock is known as the birthplace of sport climbing, although they have trad and incredible bouldering as well. I had the time of my life over the weekend with great friends. I got to sleep under the stars and—literally—rock myself to sleep. Yeah, like a little baby.
I climbed, though not as hard as I should have, took some falls off a boulder that taught me a few lessons about trusting my spotters and not being a dumbass, and hiked to the top of a cliff to take pictures of nearby Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters.
If you haven’t been climbing in Smith Rock… go here. You won’t regret it. (Though you may regret individual decisions while you are here :))