31-July-2015 through 02-Aug-2015
This weekend was going to be a little bit crazy.
See… I’d posted on Mountain project, looking for someone to climb with. Specifically, I’d replied to a post asking if anyone in the area was into climbing Trad, and was willing to climb low while they learned placements and got used to the whole idea of Trad.
Well, the person I replied to never got back to me. But a woman named Sarah did – she introduced herself as a mountaineer who was hoping to spend the summer learning Trad, and getting better at technical climbing as a way to boost her alpine skillset. Since I was looking to boost my alpine skillset, I figured this would be an ideal trade.
So we chatted, and made vague plans to meet up at Smith Rock sometime in the late summer / early fall.
But then I mentioned that I was going to be in Portland the last weekend of July / first weekend of August, to watch the Flugtag and just bike around the city. Then she mentioned that she needed a dog sitter for the weekend… and that I’d be more than welcome to crash at her place while I explored the city, in trade for taking the dog for walks and giving him his food twice a day.
A good trade; we planned on meeting Friday night, the evening of the 31st of July. What I’d later remember as the only Blue Moon of 2015…
I got into Portland a lot later than I’d planned. In all honesty, I could have probably made it in on time, if I’d really pushed myself and rushed the post-work process. But I’d promised myself, when I first moved to Oregon, that I’d be leaving my stressful New England life behind me. I wouldn’t beat myself up over being a little lazy, or a little late.
So… I got into Portland about an hour after I planned on. In retrospect, I definitely regret it, since Sarah has places to go and people to see… but life works out, and everything was fine in the long run. We met, chatted, broke the ice, and she headed on her way; while I headed into town in search of dinner and exploration.
I found both at a small brewery. I’d initially intended on finding the local climbing gym, and spending an hour or so bouldering. But I got a little lost along the way… partially intentionally, if we’re being honest. See… I didn’t want to rush or worry, so instead of mapping out a specific route to the gym, I just memorized a basic biking plan. Which turned out to be not nearly enough of a plan to get me where I wanted to go.
So I got semi-lost.
But instead of getting angsty, I just found a brewery and sat myself down with a red ale and some chicken Caesar salad.
Then I biked back, took Jasper (Sarah’s old, beautiful, arthritic and alzheimery Wolf-Hound) on a short walk.
Then I passed out in a stranger’s bed. A stranger who I’d met on a rock climbing website. Who I talked with for like 20min…
I was partially convinced that I was going to be murdered in my sleep, I’ll admit. But I had gotten a good vibe from her and her roommates, so I wasn’t super concerned.
And to be honest, I slept like a log that night.
Saturday, 01-August, 2015
I woke up to a text message from Sarah. Her trip had been canceled, or at least her part in it. Turns out, the mountaineering expedition that she was helping to lead had an… well, let’s say that one of the members of the expedition wasn’t a pleasant character.
So instead of just being unhappy and dealing with him, she threw in the towel, took her bags, and went home.
So the text I received, at 6:30 in the morning, was “Hey. I’m staying in this weekend. Let’s go climbing. I’m downstairs making coffee. Come on down when you’re ready”.
Once I got downstairs, we planned out our adventures over coffee. It was honestly perfect – I’d explore the Flugtag (more on that later) during the day while she was looking at rescue dogs with her roommate. Then we’d meet up and hit the climbing gym in the afternoon, before doing a BBQ for dinner. So basically all of my goals for the weekend would be fulfilled, but I’d also get to hang out with some cool Portlanders, and get some climbing in.
The first stop was breakfast – a stop in at Blue Star donuts was the perfect solution for that issue. Everyone talks about Voodoo donuts, but from what I learned from Sarah and her roommate they’re not the best donuts in town. They’re just the best penis-shaped donuts in town. Blue Star is where the good stuff is… and after having breakfast there, I have to agree that it’s definitely tasty. A maple and bacon donut, dipped in cold press coffee, was just what I needed.
Then, the Flugtag!
The Flugtag is a yearly event held by Red Bull, where teams compete to see who can build and fly the best home-made glider. They launch off a specialty-built pier into the harbor below; I’d heard of it before, but this was the first time that I was really interested in going. Partially because I needed an excuse to explore Portland, but mostly because it was a chance to see some more aerospace designs in action. I’m really trying to focus myself deeper into the aero side of mechanical engineering, and meeting these folks would be a good way to do that.
Or….. so I thought.
After seeing a few launches, I realized my mistake. I’d assumed that the competition would be stiff – people designing gliders and vehicles that could glide for impressive distances. Instead, I just saw a lot of silly looking thing fall into the water less than 20ft from the 40ft tall pier.
But it was fun, and I got to sit out in the sun for a while, so I can’t really complain. And the bike ride was very pleasant – Portland is definitely a bike-friendly city. Even past the bike lanes and generous number of bike racks (the Flugtag actually had a free bike valet service!), the cars are pleasant to ride next to. People are more careful and courteous… which actually took me a while to get used to, if we’re being honest.
I mean, I’m used to New England drivers, who generally try to run you off the road no matter whether you’re in a car, on a bike, walking, or anything. So when Portland drivers regularly allowed me to merge, and didn’t cut me off? It’s a nice change.
So I left the Flugtag at about 3:00 – an hour or so before it was over, but early enough to give me time to get a good lunch (a burger shop I’d noticed next door to Blue Star) and pick up a bottle of wine as a “thank you” to Sarah and her roommates. Then Sarah and I linked up at her house, and headed out in time for her to give me a tour of Portland Rock Gym – my first indoor climbing adventure in Portland!
And… it was definitely a gym. Past that, I can’t really say too much – it had good routes, but was fairly small in comparison to the ones I was used to in Boston. We did some bouldering, and then graduated on to some top rope work, but none of the routes really stood out to me, if we’re being honest. One of them was kind of annoying, since it was just a “do you have enough reach? No? Then stinks to be you!” sort of climb.
Then we headed over to Base Camp brewery for a quick beer: it’s one of Sarah’s favorite places, I guess – and I can definitely see why. The whole bar / brewery is based around mountaineering; I didn’t have much of a beer, since I hadn’t had too much to eat yet, but it was still a good time, and a good chance to get to chat about plans and mountains that we wanted to climb.
And we kept the conversation going through dinner – a vegan BBQ put on by Sarah’s roommate Megan – and into the late evening. It was a really good night, my first real time hanging out in Portland since I’d moved here. And the food was delicious; Sarah did save my evening by pulling out a pair of Salmon burgers though… no offence to Vegan BBQs, but they’re not nearly as excellent as a Salmon burger paired with excellent grilled veggies. And Sarah and I were able to plan out our Sunday climbing plan at the same time, and even put together a tentative plan for the next weekend; a chance for me to finally explore the legendary Smith Rock…
Rooster Rock was the name of the game. It’s a small state park about a third of the way from Portland to Hood River, known for a large spire of rock that looks more than vaguely phallic… it was originally named something other than “Rooster” in honor of that rock, but had the name changed to something a bit more family friendly when it was incorporated as a state park.
The spire was what we were interested in – we had a few options of routes to get up to the top, but the one that we chose hit both our skillsets; a sport lead, followed by a traditional lead on gear.
Pitch 1 – “Just shy of the tip” – 5.6 sport – Sarah started out on the sharp end, but ended up descending off due to an impressively dirty and dusty section. Ben finished it out.
Pitch 2 – “Classic Route” – 5.4 trad – Ben lead this one out, which was a really fun scramble. And very pleasantly clean, after the dirt and grime of Pitch 1
After finishing up the route, posing for a few excellent pictures, and rappelling down (we finished before sundown! Eat your heart out, Daniel!) we trucked ourselves back into Portland. I’d left my stuff at Sarah’s place, and I think maybe we had dinner along the way? In all honesty, I’m not completely clear on it – it had been an amazing weekend, and my head was filled with thoughts of climbing adventures to come as I drove back down the gorge to my home in Hood River.