Smith Rock, 2009-04-18

We had a fantastic time on our first climbing trip to Smith Rock. We drove down on Friday and camped at the base of the rock. Scott D. was anxious to beat the rush and set an alarm for 5:00 AM. When that alarm went off it was still quite dark and the temperature was just below freezing(!). The thought of ice-cold rock on bare hands was enough to keep us in our warm sleeping bags for a while longer, but eventually we did bundle up for the approach hike to the rock.

We got onto the rock at about the same time the sunshine did, and fortunately it warmed the rock very quickly. In fact, by afternoon we were desperate for shade to escape the heat. Large temperature swings are expected in the desert, of course, (note: next time, remind everyone to at least pack some socks). Getting to the rock early did work out quite well. We didn't see another climber for over an hour, so we had the chance to choose any route we wanted. Later in the day the most popular routes had lines long enough to make things feel a little bit like Disneyland.

Since this was our first time leading outdoors we decided to start with the easiest routes we could find in the guidebook, and work up gradually. We found some nice beginner routes in the Cinnamon Slab area just before the Dihedrals. Everything went great, and we each had a successful lead behind us well before the mobs of climbers started showing up. We might have stayed more impressed with ourselves if we hadn't seen that the next climbers on our first route were parents setting up ropes for their 5 and 6-year-old children. Look close in the picture and you'll see that just behind Scott's belay stance there are a couple of kid-size shoes, and a tonka trunk. Ah well, a little humility might even be good for us, I suppose.

Leading on this rock outdoors was very different from anything we had done in the gym. The most obvious change is that there's not any tape showing exactly where to put your hands and feet. So we all found ourselves shopping around for a while at each stance, always looking to see if we could find better holds.

And for me, at least, the psychological difference between top-rope and lead was much wider outside than in the gym. That might have been because these routes were not very steep, so any lead fall would have certainly meant a fairly quick swing into some very rough rock. I didn't realize how much I was staining, over-gripping, over-thinking and neglecting technique until I got onto toprope of a route I had just finished leading. Suddenly I was relaxed, comfortable, and moving quickly and smoothly on a route that moments before had my leg shaking wildly. So I'll definitely need to improve my ability to relax, use good technique, and just trust myself.

We stepped up the difficulty a bit when we moved over to the "Peanut" and confirmed the rumors that Smith routes have tough starts. On all of our routes in the morning the hardest moves were right at the beginning. We were glad that Scott D. brought his stick clip, (in spite of being afraid he might feel like a goober carrying around such a long pole), so we could get into that first bolt while it was still 15 feet up and have some ropes protection for the first tricky moves. And rather than seeing him as a goober, climbers nearby were grateful that Scott was happy to share his stick with them. Have I mentioned before at how friendly people seem to be in the climbing community? Everyone we met at Smith was very nice, and they didn't even make fun of us even though we were obviously beginners, (our gear was all obviously unused since it was still so shiny).

By the afternoon, we were getting a little tired of knobby face climbs on wickedly abrasive rock. We got some variety on the "5 Gallon Buckets" route, a ladder of pockets so big you could sit down inside most of them. Scott DV was anxious to lead this one and found the underclings in the pockets extremely gratifying. Just take at look at how confident he his flashing those pearly whites while on lead.

Here's a run down of the six routes we climbed. All three of us climbed each one of these with (almost) no falls at all.

Next time we go we'd like to lead some 5.9 routes, (and maybe bring a friend to put up some rope for us on some 5.10). One thing we didn't find was any terrain steep enough to make us comfortable to take any practice falls. I think Scott D. really missed that---sometimes I almost wonder if falling is his favorite part in this sport.

See the complete set of photos from this trip.