There are a number of threads on the various climbing-related message boards with that subject line… everybody’s looking for a place to spend “opening day” of climbing season, that uber romantic weekend after Valentines Day, especially with the beauty of the Presidents’ Day three-day weekend for us slackers who actually take the Monday off. Shawn’s weather report proved accurate… the weekend was sunny and warm at Smith. We headed down after work on Friday, and got in to Skull Hollow campground at about 2am. Threw down bags and slept until morning. The view from Skull Hollow is nothing compared to the view from the park proper. Some in our group (the usual suspects, Moleman, Devil-Foot, Beautiful Girls Campbell, and a new kid on the block, KT) preferred the free-ness of Skull Hollow… Chris and I will take paying $4 a night in exchange for warm running water, heated bathrooms, and the view from the Bivy area at the Rocks proper. Hell, I’d pay $4 a night just for the privilege of waking up to the view, even without the heated bathrooms and running water.
Anyway, after packing up, we headed to the park. We do Smith a few times a year, so I don’t take notes and can’t provide a proper trip report, but it was, as always, beautiful, warm, dry and the climbing was tons of fun. It was also so crowded that some routes had lines multiple parties deep. I wish we could have been down mid-week instead of on “opening day,” but after driving all that way we were mostly just down to make the best of the situation despite the crowds.
We started on the front side at the Testament Slab and Combination Blocks area. Chris and I went for familiar territory with a visit to the 5.7 on the right hand side of the slab on Combination Blocks… it’s either Dancer or Jete, I can never remember which. It made for a nice familiar confidence builder, and then I got a bit overly confident and tried the 10a on Testament Slab on lead and had a good workout trying to downclimb from above the first bolt when I couldn’t figure out the moves to make to get to the second bolt. It was a scary downclimb… downclimbing 5.7 is one thing, downclimbing 10a, it turns out, is something entirely different. I took a little lead fall on that first bolt since I couldn’t complete the downclimb, and then finished hyperventilating and then pulled myself together. Lesson learned… don’t overestimate my leading skill just because I’m feeling super confident on an easy warm-up climb that I’ve done before. I need to give myself a little more time to adapt to being back outside before jumping on harder routes on lead.
The guys and KT climbed hard stuff on Testament Slab, and then we decided to head to the backside for a little bit more solitude. The guys and KT took Asterik Pass and Chris and I did the walk around the Smith Rock formation, which is a really beautiful walk along the Crooked River. We met up with everybody on the back side, mostly climbing at Mesa Verde wall where I got to bum a toprope on Screaming Yellow Zonkers, a super classic 10b, and the 10a sport route between SYZ and Trezlar. Screaming Yellow Zonkers was a fantastic lesson in Smith climbing… grab knob, identify knob for next foot move, grab next knob, move foot to next knob, fingers into slot, move foot to next knob, rinse and repeat. Both routes were really good for helping me trust my feet and identify what to look for as far as decent foot holds, and I had a blast on both. I was thankful for our ropeguns, since I wasn’t ready to get back on lead after my Testament Slab learning experience.
But, after the Mesa Verde confidence builder, I was ready to get back on the sharp end. The guys and KT went off to do a 10d roof route, and Chris and I hit the 5.8 bolted line on Spiderman’s Buttress. It was super fun, and again, a great confidence builder. The moves right off the deck were the first crux, with the second crux up high, but it was a great slabby lead, and Chris and I both had lots of fun on it. After that, we started our hike back toward the car and then we all headed to the Mexican joint Alex loves in Redmond, which honestly was really good. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name, but the spicy carrots really were incredible.
We bivied that night at the Smith Rocks bivy area, out by the rim above the Crooked River. I wish we’d taken the SLR camera and tripod… the moon was so bright that the view from the rim was stunning, even by moonlight.
Morning was trumpeted by what sounded like about two hundred geese, but according to Shawn “Early Bird” Campbell it was somewhere between two and four. The morning was chilly, so we all took longer to extract ourselves from our sleeping bags than usual, and got a very late start down into the park. By the time we got in, just about every climb on the front side had a rope on it. The guys and KT went to Phoenix Buttress, and Chris and I spent the day with our friend Kari. We wanted to start out on Dancer and Jete again, but another party JUST beat us to it. We scouted around a bit more and decided that there was just nothing open and we were going to have to wait, so we sat down to enjoy the weather at Dancer and Jete. One of the guys gave us a tip about a 5.7 that wasn’t in our guidebook just a little further up toward Asterik Pass, and it looked like fun so we warmed up on that. I don’t know the name, and it had the downside of some loose rock, but the upside of a fantastic view out through Asterik Pass. I’m not usually a sightseeing leader — and even I stopped a few times to take in the view. From there, we went to the old standby, Bunny Face, and each lead it. I have been eyeing the 5.9 bolted line to the left of Bunny Face for three years now and haven’t ever had occasion to try it; another party lead it and left a top rope up, and they let me hop on it. Long story short, it may be my 5.9 lead project at Smith. The start was hard (notice a trend? Hard start to knobs and pockets … rock climbing at Smith Rock!) but the moves were do-able, and definitely something I’d like to work on when I get my confidence up a little bit more.
From there, we went on to another route that we’ve all had fun on before, Hop on Pop, a 5.8 on the Peanut. The start was harder than I remembered, but the last time I lead it was as the first climb of the day so I think yesterday I was more tired than the first time around. I gave it several tries and had to result to stick clipping the first bolt, but was glad I stick clipped and climbed instead of just giving up becauase the rest of the lead was fun, and Chris and Kari both had fun on it also.
By the time we had Hopped, it was getting late in the day. We packed up, met up with Shawn, and headed for home.
The verdict on Smith in February? Be prepared for LOTS, and lots of people. It was crowded. The West Side crags were less so, and are well worth the walk or scramble. The weather was stunning… it was tank top and sunscreen climbing, for sure. The nights were still very cold — it was still definitely winter camping — and the geese are really loud. All in all, it was a huge treat to get out this early in the season, and worth the trip even for two days of climbing.
PS – I’m working on uploading a little video to my .Mac Web Gallery for friends and family to see… it’s got Chris and Kari climbing some of the classic moderates mentioned above. Here it is…
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