Travel Blog

Rock Climbing at Smith Rocks State Park

4/25/18 – 4/26/18 and 5/11/18 – 5/14/18

I was in Prineville, Oregon towards the end of April for a week-long AIM (Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring) training with other crews from Washington and Oregon. A couple of the evenings I had the opportunity to climb with some of  them at Smith Rocks State Park, as it was only about 30 minutes away from our hotel.

Smith Rocks is a haven for outdoor sports. The park boasts about 2,000 climbing routes and the trails are very well maintained, making access to the walls easy. Thanks to everyone pooling gear together, a handful of us were able to climb by swapping shoes, carabiners, ropes, etc.

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This was my first time climbing outdoors in about two years and I burned out my forearms pretty fast, but was able to get up some 5.7’s and 5.8’s. One of my climbs was during dusk with a headlamp as the bats started to come out.

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Impressive trail system

Rock climbing is a phenomenal way to establish a personal connection with a new natural area. A lot of time is spent analyzing the shape, feel, and progression of the rock to figure out how to shimmy up it. The names the routes are given are usually descriptive and humorous. On some of the routes, the volcanic rock sounded and felt particularly hollow, as though you might rip it off on accident. Some of the rock felt pretty sharp on the fingertips too. It was interesting to compare the feel of this rock to the sandstone and limestone that I’m more used to climbing in the Midwest in Arkansas and Illinois.

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After the couple nights of semi-rushed climbing during our training week, a bunch of us decided to come back in May during our set of 5 days off. Thanks to Kendall and Ryan for doing most of the planning. They sent us GPS coordinates of where to meet up for free camping on some BLM land. I was happily surprised when I arrived to see that our site overlooked the Deschutes River. I was also thrilled to finally use my giant 11-person tent again, as 6 of us slept in it that week. That evening we climbed at the Peanut Wall and a marmot was my audience for part of my climb up a 5.9.

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Deschutes River from camp site
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Home for the week
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Semi-judgmental marmot

On the first day, Josh and I went to Green Plow Coffee in Redmond, OR for him to take a final exam online. He didn’t get to take the test due to an error in how it was set up, but we did manage to discover a cool little bookstore next door, called Herringbone Books.

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Smith Rock

We went back to Smith Rocks and tried to find our friends on the wall, but after searching for a while with no luck we ended up doing a 3-ish mile hike around the park instead. Rounding the corner of the Smith Rock, we hiked along the Crooked River, enjoying the lush vegetation. Eventually, we came into sight of one of the most famous routes there, called Monkey Face.

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Crooked River

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Equisetum spp.

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Jacob’s Ladder?
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Climbers on Monkey Face

We continued up Misery Ridge Trail, which was aptly named, considering the course of steep switchbacks. This took us around to the other side of the park and back to the main trail, and we found our friends on the Shiprock West Riverface wall. Josh borrowed some gear and did his first outdoor climb while I belayed him.

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When we got back to camp, we spoiled ourselves with a huge group dinner consisting of 4 boxes of mac & cheese, veggies, my failed cornbread dish, and best of all, radishes and bread with creamy morels that Kate and Rae had foraged that day. We ended the night by playing a few rounds of the word game Connection around the fire pit on the cliff.

The next day Josh was off to Reno to fly out to Orlando for his friend’s wedding and I was off to the crag. We climbed on the free-standing rock across the river called Rope-De-Dope. There was a lead-climbing class going on there too, so I was able to overhear some advice from the instructor. I climbed a couple 5.8’s and a 5.7. When we got back to camp we scrambled our way down to the river (the climbing never ends!) to rinse off. The water was cool and it felt refreshing to wash off the dust and grime of the week. We perched on a rock and watched the sun set over the flowing water and patches of cattails.

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Rope-De-Dope Rock

We spent the rest of the night practicing acro yoga with Paul, who is an excellent instructor and base partner. Thanks to him I was able to do an upside-down Buddha position and to base Jaileen for a few moments. Acro yoga is a really fun way to connect with other people as you both have to find flexibility, stability, and communication with yourself and each other to accomplish poses.

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Thanks Paul! Photo credit: Jaileen
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Finding some balance. Photo credit: Jaileen

We did a bit of a hike to get to the Pleasure Palace wall on the last day of climbing. We went back up Misery Ridge to climb a 5.7 and I attempted a 5.10 that was fun, but I couldn’t complete. Ryan and Kendall then taught us how to rappel ourselves down the wall. Getting over the first ledge was the hardest part because my brain did not agree with me walking off a cliff, but it was smooth sailing after that.

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Checking out the wall
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Cairn Community. Not for the tryptophobic!
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Kate learning to rappel!

We then hiked through the Asterisk Pass, a shortcut to the other side of the mountain and over to Morning Glory wall. I did a 5.8 called 5-Gallon Buckets, a route that had holes in the face that were big enough to perch in and some even had bird nests in them.

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Asterisk Pass
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Descending Asterisk Pass

Throughout the week we met a bunch of other climbers who had come from all over the country. Many of them were at Smith as part of a several-month long climbing tour and lived in converted vans, cars, trailers and campsites. We frequented the Redpoint Climber’s Supply store to fill waters and I was impressed by the lineup of dirtbag rigs in the parking lot. The drive and charisma of the climber community creates an extremely positive environment to be in. The social aspect and personal gratification of setting and achieving personal goals while your friends belay you and cheer you on is a huge reason why I enjoy climbing. Although I’m not as dedicated to it as most of the other people there, it’s still a great way to spend a week and see gorgeous parts of the country.

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Kendall lead climbing with Kate belaying him

 

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Redpoint Climber’s Supply knows what’s important in life

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Thank you to my GBI buddies for an energizing week at Smith Rocks! Climb on!

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