How long has it been since I’ve climbed at Smith? Let’s see…
According to my photo record, It’s… been a really long time. We’re leaving it at that.
Jess and I left Bend early-ish… and by “early-ish” I mean “not even remotely early”. The dawn had broken over a solidly single-digit temperature, with thick snow and ice covering both the truck and the world around us. We slept in, relaxed, and took our time showering and getting packed up.
It wasn’t like the world would thaw before noon, anyways.
A quick breakfast in Terrebonne helped us rally and energize, and gave the world a little bit more time to dethaw and start warming up to more bearable temperatures. By the time we left the truck behind and began our descent into the gorge it was a (relatively) balmy 18 Deg.F by our thermometer.
The rock, of course, helped reflect the heat of the sun back into us. By the time we’d roped up and I’d started climbing, the rock face was legitimately warm – literally warm to the touch. I didn’t feel the need for a jacket, despite the cold, and even ended up rolling up my pant legs to help vent some of the heat that climbing generated.
What did we climb? Five Gallon Buckets, 5.8, Sport, Lead then top rope.
Yep, just the one…
We got two runs of the climb in when we realized the danger – While the Sun wasn’t hitting the horizon for another two and a half hours, it didn’t need to hit the horizon. The Smith Rock cluster was in the path of the sun, and the shade was creeping up on us surprisingly quickly. There were only two other teams nearby, and of them only one was climbing… and that climbing team was rapidly packing up to avoid being plunged into darkness and cold.
(As a quick interesting note – there were three teams climbing this Sunday at Smith. Ourselves, climbing a 5.8. A team to the East, climbing a 5.12c and a 5.13a. And a third team of 12, re-bolting a handful of routes. Yep – we hang with super cool folks!)
With the shade fast approaching, I took a quick final run of the route to clean the anchors. We had warm gear with us, of course, but nothing that I’d be comfortable leading in… so instead of continuing the climbing, we started into the exploring. We hikes around, checked out Asterisk’s Pass, and got the chance to appreciate the sun dropping down lower.
We packed up our gear, and headed out. The desert passed, the trees grew, and we stopped to take pictures of a beautiful sunset.
We dined at a small restaurant in Rhododendron, and continued our way home. The snow gave way, then the trees followed suit. The city grew up in their place, and soon enough we were unpacking the truck once again after a very good weekend!
When I confirmed my flights, I quickly reached out to Daniel. I miss climbing outdoors, as does he, and late-August is definitely a good time to get onto the wall. It’s hot, true, but also minorly less likely to be rainy… so I’ll take it.
After deliberation, we locked into a destination – Hanging Mountain, a new crag recently opened to the public. I’d first heard about it last November, when flying out for Dillon’s bachelor party, but honestly didn’t know much about it, aside from that it was in Western Mass. We dove into some research, locked in the details, and headed out early on Sunday morning.
Well… early-ish. I mean, it’s Daniel, right? And me. We do mornings… but not really.
As far as new crags go, it was amazing. As far as established crags go, it was also amazing. The rock was solid, the trails well cut, and the belay areas tolerably sized. The areas were beautifully close together, and it was basically abandoned on the Sunday that found us scaling the heights.
So what did we climb, you may ask? Well. We climbed all the things!
Acorn Face / Squirrel Wall: – Lost and Found, 5.7, Sport lead – Radiant Sky, 5.10d top rope, one cheat move… I admit.
Progressive Buttress: – Green New Deal, 5.7+, Sport lead – Nevertheless, 5.8-, Sport lead – She Persists, 5.8, Sport lead – Feel the Bern, 5.10, Top rope
I mean, okay. I started our with a poorly informed decision, but then I made a good decision at the time! That’s got to count for something, right?
I was walking in the desert, it was 106 Deg.F out, and there was no shade. I’d stopped sweating earlier, even though I’d been drinking quite a bit of water… which was worrying me a bit as I walked back to the car. I’d also worn synthetic fabrics, which isn’t quite the optimal choice for desert conditions… but soaking it in some of my water did absolutely help with keeping me cool.
I’d turned around a bit ago, realizing that the uphill portion of my exploration wasn’t a good idea, so I wasn’t particularly worried. I wasn’t light headed, I was well fed, and I had more than enough water in my pack to keep me for the mile or so that I had left.
Back to the beginning.
I left Bend in the morning. Not crazy early, obviously, because I’m me. But still early enough that the sun hadn’t risen too high in the sky. It was hot, but… not hot hot. In the 90s, probably.
I skipped breakfast and coffee, opting instead to make coffee and the rental and have some of the snacks that I’d packed for myself. Keep it simple, quick, and mobile… ya know? Thanks to that, I was parked at Smith within an hour or so of leaving, and started picking my way toward my first goal of the day.
I’d taken Monday off from work. That meant I didn’t have to drive home super late after the concert, but also gave me a chance to do some exploring that I hadn’t ever done before. Climbing at Ozone had inspired me, and I wanted to check out some other crack climbing areas that I’d heard about, but never had a chance to explore.
The goals of the day? The lower gorge at Smith Rock, and the main area of Trout Creek. Both, thankfully, close together and both on the Northern route to Wilsonville from Bend. It’d be a nice outdoor adventure after the urban adventure of the concert the night before… if a concert in Bend can really be considered urban. You know, hippy town and all.
I had a quick bite of breakfast, did the usual clean-up of the AirBnB, and was on the road… early? Early-ish? Not late, I can say that. In retrospect, early morning before the heat of the afternoon may have been a better idea, but… you know. Vacations and rest days and sleeping in, right?
I drove, parked at Smith, and headed in.
It was gorgeous, hot, and clear. It wasn’t oppressively hot just yet, though I did make a point to park in as much shade as I could find, and I brought in my usual “tons of water” for any desert hike. It did take me a bit of time to find the trailhead, but once I tracked down the descent route, my adventuring went nice and easy.
I’ll admit – I was a bit surprised at how easy it was to get to the lower gorge! After years of climbing at Smith, it’d always seemed like a magical and distant land… learning that perfect crack climbing was literally an easier approach than any other area in the park… well, that was a bit rough on the old mindset, let me tell you. Thankfully, the beauty of the cliffs overwhelmed that sadness… mostly.
I had some lunch by the river, in the best patch of shade that I could find. It wasn’t a lot of shade, but… you know what? In the sun, any patch helps.
By the time I got back to the car, the temperature had climbed to a lovely 102 degrees. I put the top down on the car, cranked the AC, and headed onward to Trout Creek!
That drive was rough, man. I didn’t know much about Trout Creek, except that it had good trad routes, but if I can tell you one thing about it… the drive in isn’t easy. It’s rough, and the next days saw me at the tire shop in town getting a nail pulled out of a slowly flattening tire. Frankly, I’m glad that’s the only damage caused… the gravel road wasn’t bad, but something about the ridges and waves… well, the Mustang didn’t appreciate it, tell you what. And the Mustang’s been on roads that look FAR rougher than this one did.
Anyways. I parked, slathered on sunscreen, and headed in.
The hike in was gorgeous.
I mean, look at it. The desert browns, the verdant green by the river, and then the sparkling blue of the river itself. It was stunning, and made me feel like I was in an old western, following the dusty trail along the river to the legendary fort, hidden city, or treasure stash.
The heat really… baked it in… too. (Ed Note: Sorry, readers. I tried to get Ben to avoid puns) But I forged onward, slowly raising dusty footfalls along the trail while staring wistfully at the sun glinting off the cool-looking water. I was never quite close enough to take a dip, and… let’s be honest here. The water at Smith isn’t safe to swim in, thanks to agricultural runoff, so… how much safer could this really be?
Well, that rafters would say that it’s perfectly safe, but… hey. Let’s play it safe, yeah?
Onward and warmer and hotter.
When I reached the climbers trail, I headed up toward the now-visible cliffs. For a short while.
I didn’t go far, though, as I quickly realized just how hot it really was… and just how tired I was becoming. I don’t think I ever actually went into heat stroke, but I will say that I was surprised at how little I was sweating… and in the heat, that’s never a good sign. After maybe 50 or 100ft of elevation, I turned around and headed back to the car.
On the way back, I kept track of my physiology.
It was the desert, the height of the day, the middle of Summer. It was over 100 degrees, and I was in the direct sun. Not a good recipe, I freely admitted to myself.
But as with all events in life, dangers have mitigations. Risk has ways to be tempered. And, thankfully, I’m not going into these wilds unseasoned. As I walked, I kept checking in with myself:
– I wasn’t sweating much… which is an early sign of heat exhaustion. – I mitigated that by drinking more water… and using some of that water to saturate my shirt. If my body won’t make sweat… I’ll make it for myself.
– I was tired… which is just an early sign of being tired. – I ate a bit as I walked… but not too much, since digestion warms the body, and lord knows I didn’t need any more of that action.
– The Sun was high, and there wasn’t shade. – There was nothing to be done about the shade… but sunscreen I had. I reapplied, even stopping to take off my shirt and apply all over my shoulders to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
I kept walking.
I got back to the car, and drank some Gatorade and a protein shake. I kept the top up, this time, and drove out slowly. I turned up the AC… but in stages, so I wouldn’t shock my body.
I got a hot dog from Sonic on the way back.
I was glad to be out of the sun… and glad to know about two new climbing areas!
Maybe, in hindsight, two new winter climbing areas.