[Trip Report] Smith Rock - March 2020- 13 minute read
It’s nice to get humbled every once in awhile.
After 10 weeks of winter training in the climbing gym, I figured it was time to get a little test run outdoors at my local premiere climbing destination, Smith Rock. Chris and I left Saturday morning and got down to the park by 10am. The weather wasn’t amazing at low 40’s and partly cloudy, but it meant that the crowds weren’t at the park and we largely had the place to ourselves.
We met up with our friends Paul and Connor at Chain Reaction, which Paul has been working on for some time now. It was his first time on the route this year and so he was pretty stoked to have made some progress on it after having done his own winter training. Paul left the top rope up for us on it and we were able to try out the first half before getting shut down by its heinous arete. It was fun to try out such a classic route, but also wild to feel how far away I am from 5.12c.
Paul working Chain Reaction with no one else in the park
Chris and I wanted to get some more multi-pitch experience in this weekend since we just got plane tickets to go to Yosemite in April and we have our eyes on some multi-pitch routes there. I’d also been itching to get back on Zion ever since following it with Alan and Edward back in November. And with no crowds at Morning Glory Wall, today was as good a day as ever.
Pitch 1: (5.7) We opted for the easier traverse out from Light on the Path, but I’m thinking next time we should approach from Gumby or Zebra Direct. Chris led this and awaited my arrival at the hanging belay.
Pitch 2: (5.10a) Having followed this pitch before, I figured it would be good for me to take this pitch on since I knew what difficulties to expect. I knew the crux was coming around the roof right at the beginning, and I knew that the pitch was long and that it would test my endurance. I had been visualizing the crux at the beginning for months now:
Place a BD 0.3 in the roof, use the side pull and crimps on bad feet to reach a good jug.
Well, I reached the good jug, but I was pumped by that point and fully stretched out and I couldn’t quite grasp the jug well enough. And so I took the fall. My first fall on trad gear that I placed! I probably had a big adrenaline rush from the fall, but I was mostly just frustrated that I blew the sequence. So I gathered myself and went for another go, this time I got through the beginning of the crux a little easier, but somehow still messed up the sequence and blew it again! And this time the fall was even bigger!
As I felt frustration turn to anger, I pulled myself back together and took some deep breathes and focused my emotions into working through this climb. And so success came on the third attempt, much more chill than the first two attempts. It’s crazy how much of a difference it makes to climb while calm and collected versus stressed. It’s something I’ve been able to take note of recently and I think it will be a good thing to keep working on in my climbing training.
Anyway, the second pitch is far from over after coming around that roof, as there’s still 50+ ft of a 5.8 corner crack to go. I knew I was going to be breathing heavy on this pitch and I was ready for the challenge, but I quickly learned that leading at my trad limit is a completely different story from following. Here’s a sample thought process:
Getting tired, find a stance, ok my last piece of protection is 10 feet below me, look for a placement, don't see a good one, that looks decent up ahead, I'll make another couple moves, ok 15 feet since my last piece, alarm bells ringing, I need to protect myself, this spot will have to do, looks like it's 1", do I have a red, where is it, my ankles are tired, find the piece, unrack it, place it, test it? well it's not bomber but it will have to do, ankles burning, shuffle my stance, stop breathing so heavy, relax, clip the damn rope, why is it so heavy, "SLACK!", ok clipped, gotta keep moving.
And repeat until I reach salvation at the anchors on ledge atop pitch 2 and pull Chris up. He had a hard time removing some of my pieces, so perhaps I’ll need to work on my placements a bit there.
Pitch 3: (5.8) I opted to take this pitch as well since I knew it wasn’t the most fun pitch. There’s an unprotected traverse to switch from the corner crack over to a flake to the right. It’s a no-fall situation, since a fall would have one slamming into the corner they just left. And that leads to an easy 30 ft flake system with poor protection until you reach the next belay station. Wild!
The best part of this pitch was how quiet it was up there. Very little wind, no clamor of people down below (since hardly anyone was there anyway), just me and the climbing and the clack of my gear, very nice. And then it began to snow little flurries while I was climbing it! While we were on the ground it was still nice and sunny and so I was still in a t-shirt. So great.
Pitch 4: (5.9) The money. This pitch is the reason to put one’s self through all of the above. Chris led this one. Traverse left across a bomber ledge, then, 300 ft in the sky, work your way up steep, exposed, juggy flakes until you reach the top of Morning Glory Wall. It’s truly fantastic and I would climb it all over and over again just to experience this top section. We wondered why they hid such a great pitch up here!
Paul came and found us at the top of Aggro Gully and so we walked down and tried our hands at Toxic (5.11b), a route that I’ve been looking forward to trying all year. He left the top rope up for us so we were able to get a couple practice runs on it. It took me a second to work out the crux as I was stubbornly trying my own intuition for it which didn’t work, until I listened to what Paul had to say and it went! I noticed on the Mountain Project photos that there are actually a few different ways of doing this route depending on your height. Here is my beta at 5’9”:
LH jug, LF up, right toe hook, RH on a crimpy sidepull, move RF to a smear much further right than you think, wind up and huck it, woohoo as you slap that giant left jug. Now you got 25 ft of steep jugs left to go, don't pump out before you clip the chains!
Chris ended up having to use a slightly different beta than me, opting for a closer RH undercling and RF, but he made it work and got to the top of the climb too. I’m pretty stoked to come back and try my hand at this one on lead!
Chris working through the upper portion of Toxic, 5.11b
Dusk sky while leaving the park
El Sancho Taco Shop
We weren’t stoked on sleeping at the Bivy in 20 degree weather, so we went and got ourselves a Motel 6 in Bend. Around the corner from the motel is a pretty awesome taco shop called El Sancho. I tried four different tacos and all were amazing! I especially loved the El Camino drink which was Cazadores Blanco, Cointreau and fresh Lime Juice. Oh and the house-made Choco Taco was insane! Definitely returning to this place next time I’m in Bend.
Super Slab → A Stroke of Brilliance
Day 2. Chris and I weren’t impressed with the amount of time it took us to do the four pitches of Zion (four hours), so we wanted to get another round of trad multi-pitch in. I think my biggest time sink for trad still is being able to eyeball which piece of protection will fit in whatever slot it is I’m looking at. So we figured the classic three-pitch Super Slab (5.6) would be a good one to get some more needed practice in.
I led the first two pitches. Pitch one’s climbing is so chill that it allows one to really focus on the protection aspect of trad climbing, which was perfect. Pitch two is an awkward unprotected 5.5 traverse to a giant crack where you set up a gear anchor to pull the second over. The second should be confident here as a fall while traversing would be unpleasant.
Although Pitch 3 is the money pitch for Super Slab, we opted for another classic just to the left of it, A Stroke of Brilliance (5.7+). I’d been eyeing the topography in the book for this route for some time now, as I haven’t seen the word “brilliant” etched into a topo before and I wanted to see what that was about.
*Disclaimer, the guidebook topography for A Stroke of Brilliance is actually wrong. The crack that it describes as the start is actually a 5.10b crack. There is updated topo on Mountain Project, but basically one should traverse left from the second belay station of Super Slab to get onto A Stroke of Brilliance.
But yea, I found a lot of fun on A Stroke of Brilliance and would recommend others try it out. Chris led it and found a noticeable lack of bolts and maybe slightly more difficult climbing than 5.7+, but that’s Smith Rock for you.
We attempted some haste up and down this route and managed to top out in 1hr 15min which I thought was pretty good. We made the descent in two rappels off a double 70m rope rappel which took another 45 min. So 2 hours to get up and down, not so bad.
And it was only noon by this point, so it was off to go play on some harder single-pitch stuff!
At the top of Pitch 1 of Super Slab, 5.6
Connor coming through the finish of A Stroke of Brilliance, 5.7+
Connor starting his rappel from the top of Super Slab
Morning Glory Wall was looking surprisingly bare of people, so we decided to hop on one of the more popular 5.11a’s in the area, Magic Light. As we waited for another pair of climbers to finish up on the route, we observed their beta. They were making it look easy! I could tell that some of the moves were more difficult than they were making it look. That’s when we realized that everyone in the area was a local that had been climbing there for years. I found out that the couple we were observing were actually Ian and Kristin Yurdin, 5.14 climbers that also own the restaurant Terrebonne Depot up the road. They use routes like Magic Light (5.11a), Overboard (5.11c), and Cool Ranch (5.11b) as warm-ups and cool-downs, and thus have done them all hundreds of times by now.
Whelp, this was my first time, and I was going to try pretty hard on my flash attempt. Somehow I made it through a tricky, thin, traverse crux down low. But the route is long and there is another 5.10 section near the top that you need to work through while pumped, and I blew it, maybe 10 ft from the anchor!
Chris and I both gave it two burns, working out the more difficult parts. With no one else in line, we were able to stay on the route for quite some time. But after four hours we were pretty spent from our time in Smith Rock. At least I have the beta worked out for the two cruxes for me:
For the crux down low:
From the RH jug, LF to small edge, LH to small edge (left side), match hands, match feet, move LF further left, LH to great undercling, match feet, flag LF, RH to high small edge, RF up to good ledge, LH cross to jug.
For the final sidepull section at the 8th bolt:
From LH sidepull, RH to right ledge, LF to bad divot, RF hooks a low right sidepull, tense both legs, LH gaston sloper sidepull, RH match, LH to great jug, clip 9th bolt, fight through pump while working left to ok holds and desperately clip the anchors.
Chris about to work Magic Light, 5.11a
Nothing prepares you for climbing outside quite like climbing outside. Endurance, hangboard, core, and campus board in the gym are all fine, but the actual mental aspect of outdoors lead climbing is hard to replicate in the gym. Evaluating holds and efficient body positioning, identifying the most useful foot out of a dozen possibilities (or non-existent feet even), running it out, calming your nerves through countless unnerving situations, it’s hard to cover this with just gym climbing.
I’ve clocked in 26 days at Smith Rock over three years, and somehow it continues to humble me every time I arrive. I show up to the park young and naive and thinking I can climb, and I leave old and battered in blood, sweat, and tears. I love it.
I’m proud of our achievements here this weekend. I’m already itching to come back for another shot at Toxic and Magic Light, and I’ll be stuck here at my desk visualizing their sequences until then!