As a teacher, I get some nice chunks of time off throughout the year, and I do my best to spend these breaks doing what I love — rock climbing. This year, I journeyed west to Oregon and climbed on the welded tuff that was left over after a long ago volcanic episode. There is a really strong and interesting history of rock climbing in Smith Rock State park, and it is often sited as the birthplace of sport climbing in America. Sport climbing involves clipping pre-placed bolts as opposed to traditional (or “trad’) climbing, which involves placing your own protection in the rock as you ascend a crack system.
I was fortunate enough to join a married couple and their son for this trip. Additionally, I met up with an old friend and roommate whom I lived with in Yosemite Valley when I worked there as a park ranger. The trip had all the makings of a great time: classic climbing routes and good people to hang out with.
The first day we climbed at a place called “The Lower Gorge”, where we avoided the large crowds that were enjoying their last day of spring break at some of the more popular crags (crag=cliff where people climb). Jacob, my old roommate, and I teamed up and spent most of the day trad climbing classic crack routes.
Since we were both new to the area, we decided to climb routes that we could onsight (climb first try without falling) instead of trying harder routes that were on the outer limits of our ability. The day was awesome: we climbed 10 routes, each only falling once. We both flashed (climbed without falling) “Pure Palm” (5.11a), which is a route with very few holds, and involves a lot of stemming. Super classic!
Unfortunately, at the end of the day on the last route I climbed, my shoulder gave a large “creak!” and was a little tweaked the rest of the trip. I’ve learned this same lesson many times before; but it’s hard to control my excitement. My mentality is to always push myself to do more, partially because I simply love climb but also because I want to get better. The lesson I took away from this experience is to quit while I’m ahead. Injuries happen when tired.
Monday was a bit strange: I had two phone interviews for teaching jobs in Denver because my wife and I are relocating for her residency program in Emergency Medicine. My day went something like: interview, climb, interview, climb. I think I probably had the best view anyone has ever had during an interview as I looked out over Smith Rock from Jacob’s car.
The day was a total success: the interviews went well and I sent “Ring of Fire” (5.11d) on my 2nd attempt.
Tuesday, Jacob and I did a multipitch (multiple rope lengths above the ground) route called “Wherever I May Roam” (5.9, 5 pitches). The route, although easy, was enjoyable because I don’t get the opportunity to get hundreds of feet off the ground in Minnesota. He headed back to Portland afterwards, and I met up with my crew from MN. We worked on a super fun route called “Lightly Toasted” (5.11c). Dan hung the draws and made a great effort. I went next and fell at the crux (hardest part of the route). We both sent next go.
The last day of the trip was one of the most memorable ones. We had a leisurely morning, each one of us catching up on our “normal” life (aka work). After lunch, we decided to head to Smith Rock for one final session of climbing. On the drive, the weather looked questionable. As we pulled into the parking lot, it started to rain. Laughing, we tossed our backpacks on and hiked down to “The Morning Glory” wall. On the way, about a dozen climbers passed us on their way to the parking lot. “Perfect!” Dan said to me. All the climbers had left and we had the entire wall to ourselves.
We quickly roped up and I lead “Nine Gallon Buckets” (5.10c) which is a really spectacular route; in fact probably the best single pitch of 5.10c I’ve ever climbed. Next, we got on “Full Light Doritos Flavor” (5.12a), which is a pitch of 5.11a with a three-bolt extension. I lead first, hanging a couple times. Dan and Bronwyn both had a great time on it, making great efforts. The clouds were back to looking ominous. I quickly decided to try to send the route and soon I was well above the ground.
As I entered into the crux (hardest part of the climb), it began to rain. It didn’t matter. I was in the zone. All the clutter in my brain dissolved into the background. The rain spattered against the rock as the wind picked up. Moves that had felt hard the first time went smoothly. Soon, I was at the final undercling, staring the anchors in the face. I high stepped with my left foot, pushed hard on my right handhold, and reached effortlessly to the final jug.
The hike out was surreal. It rained, a rainbow appeared, and then a double rainbow topped the whole day off. I smiled from ear to ear on my hike out and the trip ended in a special way. Spending meaningful time with people, seeing new sites, climbing new routes…these are the things that make me tick.
- Sevve Stember