My first trip to Smith Rock!

My first trip to Smith Rock!

07-Aug through 09-Aug

Texts flew like… things that fly… a lot… through the whole week. Sarah and I built up a framework, then the details, of an amazing climbing weekend in the desert. We’d put together a basic idea the previous weekend, but it was fleshed out and ready by the time Thursday hit.

So the car waited for me while I worked on Friday – full of climbing gear, my camping kit, and the bit of food that I’d need over the weekend.

And as soon as I finished up the last bits on my project for the week, and made a quick appearance at the company faire that was happening in White Salmon (a small town across the river in Washington) I rushed out, put the top down, and fired the car south toward the mecca of sport climbing: Smith Rock.

Friday, 07-August-2015

The drive down to Smith was pleasant. The road trip had reminded me of my love for long drives, and this was my first excuse to really hit the road since I’d landed in Oregon. So I took my time and enjoyed the scenery; watching the gorge dissappear behind me, then the trees of Mt. Hood fall away, and finally the desert appear on the horizon.

As soon as I got to camp, I was regaled with stories of hobos and thieves. Turns out, the camp keeper was a little paranoid of people – she told me about cops appearing at the campground, and peoples climbing gear vanishing overnight.

But I’ve made a habit of traveling alone, and part of that skillset is being unobtrusive, and careful with my equipment. I’ve always been a little paranoid, and it’s served me very well so far. Paranoia and the confidence to act as if you know exactly what you’re doing at any time (especially when you’re alone in a new area) have kept me safe… so I just stepped up my game a bit, and checked in with Sarah to see where she was on her drive.

And it turned out that I’d be camping alone that night anyways – She’d run into some difficulty at work, and wouldn’t be able to make it to Smith until Saturday morning. A disappointment, to be sure, but I was able to take it in stride and still set up camp as I normally would.

And then the best part of the night – the stars. Smith is in the middle of the desert, far from the nearest town (Bend, Oregon. If you’re curious). That means that the stars are highly visible… and the moon wasn’t out that weekend.

So I set up my tent, and then promptly ignored it for the rest of the weekend in favor of sleeping out under the stars and stargazing.

Saturday, 08-August-2015

I actually wake up on time, but Sarah’s running a little late… which is kind of good, since that gives me time to make breakfast and relax a bit and organize my gear.

And then once she arrives, we head in to climb!

Moscow – 5.7 Trad, 3 pitches, Ben leads all three, and messes up the belay ledge on one. Sarah leads the final summit, which is awesome and definitely not 4th class.
In all honesty, this was a really good route. Pitch 1 is simple and clean, Pitch 2 is a little more interesting, and then Pitch 3 is a big crack that slowly flares out to a #4 cam. It’s lovely.

We debated doing more routes, but since it was getting late and I didn’t sleep super well the night before we made the call to head back to camp, make dinner, and relax for a bit.

So we made our dinners and chatted a lot. Sarah, the true Mountaineer, had a quick and simple meal of Lentils ready within a few minutes. I, the coddled rock climber, made a full meal of pasta, chicken, onions, and sauce. Not to brag, but mine was pretty awesome. Even if it took like four times as long to make. And was heavier.

While we’re cooking, Sarah noticed a random guy sitting by himself, looking a bit sad and lonely… So she checked in with me, and then we invited him to join us to eat and chat. Turns out that he was a solo dude from New England named Zacks – climbing at Smith as a break while traveling the West Coast. So we all chat, eat lots of dinner, and have much enjoyment.

After a while, Zacks heads out and Sarah and I proceed to chat way too late into the night… but we do finally crash at some point. I let her take the tent so I can sleep out under the stars again

Sunday, 09-August-2015

Next morning, super quick breakfast and then on the rock ASAP – Zacks told us that he was aiming for the same route we were, and that his guide would arrive @ 8:00… so we get mobilized at 7:30.

We make it to the rock and are just starting up as Zacks and the guide arrive. Good timing, though we do end up sharing a few belay spots with them… which isn’t really a bad thing, but is never really ideal.

First Kiss – 5.7, 5 pitches sport. Ben, Sarah, Ben, Sarah, Sarah. – Beautiful climbing, long, slightly exposed, and only a bit of crazy route finding. Getting to the actual Descent trail is a bit terrifying… it’s a semi-bouldering section, made more “interesting” by having the rope coiled up on my back.

So we survive the walk over the descent trail, and start into the walk down. It’s a simple trail, but since I’m pretty beat by this point I have a little bit of fun on it, taking a nice little slide trying to traverse a particularly difficult section of perfectly flat ground.

As I pick myself back up, Sarah checks in to make sure I’m okay… and a random guy on the trail quips in with the line, “Are you sure you can climb, if you can’t even walk?”. I ignore it, being used to BS like that from New Englanders. Sarah, however, doesn’t appreciate the comment… and proceeds to rip into the guy, with a nicely placed rebuttal of her own.

So we finish the descent, grinning and happy… if I’m a bit tired. Lunch fixes that though, and Sarah even takes the time to make sure my gear is well fed, by spilling some of her curried lentils onto the gear. Thankfully she’s got a spare shirt that cleans it up nicely, once my ATC has eaten its fill.

Energized, we walk on and hit up the waterfall slab for two final climbs before we’ve got to leave…

9999 – 5.6, sport. Ben & Sarah both lead – Simple and fun, this one followed a pretty solid bolt line. Nothing too crazy to report.

Amelia Dearheart – 5.7, sport. Ben leads – This one was… interesting. Not a hugely great route, but the beginning was definitely fun. It falls into the “well, we’re already here, so… may as well” category.

Then comes the walk back out to the campsite, packing of gear, and a sad farewell to Smith Rock… at least for the time being.

The Flugtag, some good climbing, and a chance to explore Portland!

The Flugtag, some good climbing, and a chance to explore Portland!

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…

Friday, 31-July-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…

Sunday, 02-August-2015

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.

My birthday weekend! The fourth weekend that I’m in Hood River, Oregon, and the West Coast! — Sunday

My birthday weekend! The fourth weekend that I’m in Hood River, Oregon, and the West Coast! — Sunday

Sunday, 12-July-2015

My actual birthday! And for some reason I don’t go climbing on my birthday. Instead, we wake up, make breakfast, and head toward a trail called Salmon River, down south from Mt. Hood.
Why we picked it… I couldn’t really say – Brian and I had looked through a ton of possible hikes, but for some reason this hike stood out. It had a neat name, a good length, and was a pleasant drive away.

So, we filled up our packs and jumped in the car! But, instead of heading right to the hike, we decide to put the wrong address in the GPS, and get lost along the way. Because we’re cool like that.

And then once we get there, we notice a small sign mentioning that you can’t buy a parking pass at the trailhead. Instead, you have to head back into town and buy a parking pass. So… we crankily drove back into town. But we bought coffee and donuts, and it was ‘kay.

The hike itself? It was actually really pleasant. It followed a river, for the most part, and was nicely Jurassic. That’s a term now, by the way. Means when a hike transports you back to the age of the dinosaurs; the huge ferns, tall trees, and velociraptors hiding in every patch of shadow.

I mean, that last part is an assumption on my part. But I’m pretty sure it’s true.

But so we walked. We talked. We passed a few other groups of people exploring. I don’t know what else to say. Hikes are not really very good for talking about… One of the reasons that I want to read/watch that movie “Wild”… I seriously can’t see what could hold an audience for that long.

Then we got to a small slab of rock alongside the trail. With rock climbers! But we didn’t have any gear. So we just watched and cheered them on for a few minutes, before moseying on our way, deeper into the prehistoric jungle.

We even stopped to skip stones, before turning back and heading home. On the way we did stop into a “snow pulloff” thing on the Mt. Hood approach, where we bouldered around for a bit, and I even gave Brian the chance to practice driving a manual transmission car, even though I thought I’d learned my lesson when I let his brother stall the poor Mustang out half a dozen times in the Jordan’s Furniture parking lot…

But Brian did ok, and the car survived another day. Long enough to get us back to Hood River, where we had a delicious dinner at the Mesquitery and excellent wine at… a place… with wine? I don’t remember the name. But it was tasty.