After grading finals all weekend, my wife and I headed five hours west to meet up with friends JK and SK in Bend and then head out to Smith Rock. We had climbed there once before, but I never felt like I got to know Smith and experience its charm as I did last week.
On the drive out I wasn't sure what to expect. I remembered loose rock and strangely slick holds. But since our last trip to Smith my wife and I have developed into a pretty solid climbing team and we were eager to see what the place was all about.
After a few beers and pizza in Bend (at highly recommended 10 Barrel Brewing Company), we left our friends and headed out to Skull Hollow Campground about seven miles from the crag. The other camping option is in the park (called the Bivi) but they donít allow fires...an easy choice if live in Idaho. We like our fires in Idaho.
Day 1: We started the day with a few warm ups at the famous Dihedrals area. We quickly climbed Easy Reader and Lichen It. At first the rock felt very insecure, but our training on the Basalt Crags in Boise seemed to transfer well and we both sent Lichen It in good style.
After a brief lunch by the river, we met up with JK (from Bend) to climb the five pitch classic Wherever I May Roam (5.9 Sport). With awe inspiring views of 14 snowcapped peaks and the Deschutes River winding through farmland, Wherever I May Roam weaves its way up a steep intimidating wall. Halfway through the knobby leftward traversing third pitch I realized that I had done this climb before, only that it was in Tuolumne Meadows and went by the name Blown Away. The similarities between these two routes are uncanny. Both have airy traverses on knobs leading to crux overhang pitches. The crux fourth pitch traverses the lip of huge dihedral on a slab with cool small feet on the edge.
Day 2: Needing some trad, but too scared to actually fall on any gear, we settled on the Red Wall which has two classic 5.6 climbs, Moscow and Super Slab. Super Slab is a highly recommended three pitch crack. The third pitch is the money with reddish black rock and a perfect finger crack in a slabby corner.
Still not willing to fall on Trad we decided that which many have decided before us...Smith is best experienced with bolts. We finished the day with Phone Call from Satan and Purple Headed Warrior.
Day 3: On top of the 500-700 foot overhanging in its entirety picnic lunch wall is a beautiful slabby arete known as Voyage of the Cow Dog. After a long approach up a protected canyon, an unexposed 90 foot pitch up the backside of Picnic Lunch Wall places one at the base of the aforementioned arete, above dizzying exposure. The wall falls away beneath you as you work your way up the bolted on lead slabby arete. The crux, a 5.9 mantle, comes at the very last move where you have to commit to the standing on the very edge of the arete above 500-700 feet of air. The holds are good and the bolts are plentiful and big, but you could literally spit on passersby on the main trail 600 feet below. I was reminded, in no less than 90 feet, of being on El Cap.
Day 4: I love single pitch sport climbing with friends, especially when the rock is basically pressed volcanic ash. After climbing the excellent Time to Shower we again visited the Smith Rock Group meeting up with JK and SK to climb Chalk Therapy, Chalk Wave, Butter Knife Arete, and Sunset Slab all of which were very good and somewhat obscure.
We left Skull Hollow for Bend and a night of dancing and drinking. The Liquid Lounge in Bend provided decent, but not great, dance beats and overpriced drinks...but hey itís Bend. After climbing all day, we danced till two AM.
Day 5: After a movie we went bouldering in Bend, experiencing some of the best rock of the trip. Bend has great bouldering and I fully sapped all energy that was left. We went to dinner at Brother Jon's, another highly recommended pub.
Iíve come to the conclusion that Smith Rock volcanic tuft sport climbing is full value adventure sport climbing that trad climbers can enjoy. First, since its development gained steam in the eighties, the bolts arenít that close together and you feel like you are actually leading. Secondly, the walls are big and sheer like the Valley, giving the crag a trad like feel. Lastly, Smith has tons of history. Itís hard not to feel nostalgic knowing that the greats have spent ample time there.