Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Smith Rock

After much effort over the summer putting time into redpoint attempts on Kabaah at Raven Tor (close but no cigar), I travelled out to Smith Rock for a 2.5 week trip in early October and have just got back. I thought I would share some of my experiences in case any brits out there were thinking of making the trip over. It is quite a unique spot out in the wilds of Oregon with an extensive history of both sport and trad climbing. The standout routes there have to be To Bolt or not to Be, the USA's first 5.14a done in 1986 by Jean Baptiste Tribout (only the second in the world after Punks in the Gym in 1985) and of course Just do it, the USA's first 5.14c done by that man again, Jean Baptiste. 'To Bolt' as the locals call it, has always inspired me as a line since I first started climbing as it looks so blank and featureless, the epitome of impossible! I had always fancied checking out To Bolt, although I never dreamt I would ever be able to climb at the required level, 5.14a, it sounds outrageous! I must say, having done Mecca in 2009, and climbed 8b+ I thought perhaps I might be ready to give it a shot.


I had been to Smith in August 2007 for a week and for a day in 2009, on a trip which proved to be too cold in December, resulting in me bailing to Bishop. 4 years went by and I realised that it was now or never if I was ever to try this rig. Flights were booked and I found myself setting off down the US26 from Portland, destination Bend. I was incredibly lucky to be hooked up with some of the very friendly and welcoming local climbers by my main man Brian MacAlinden from the Climbing Works so a big holla out to him!! Justin Brown was very kind indeed in putting me up for my whole trip and introducing me to the local scene. This proved invaluable in terms of gleaning beta for the route and for the purposes of spraying and generally hanging out.

So, on my first day, I thought I would do some on-sighting and warm into the style of climbing, no tufas here or kneebars in the Dihedrals! Magic Light 5.11d is a great warmup and then it was straight on to the main event, the magnificent 5.13a Darkness at Noon. What a climb! 35m of relentless edge pulling up a gently overhanging wall, very thin at the start, a chilled out midsection and some steeper cranks up near the belay. This was my first 7c+ onsight so I was chuffed. I managed to follow up with an onsight of Full Heinous Cling, a companion line to Darkness at 5.12c, although several notches easier (I had redpointed the lower halfpitch in 2007). To finish a good first day, I did Karate Wall, a majestic 5.12c, again 35m of endless edges on a gently overhanging wall and then a very stout 5.12a 'Take a Powder', my arms were tired after all that!

Full Heinous Cling 5.12c

After a brief look on the first day, on day three, I got down to business and got on To Bolt. There are over 100 moves and it is extremely complex to get it all figured out. It basically boils down to a 10 bolt, 20m 8b+ to a reasonable shake on a good foothold with poor handholds. You are then treated to a pumpy 7c or 5.12d to finish on 5 further, spaced bolts. This is a real test of your ability to hold it together as it is by no means easy and has several very awkward lockoffs, balancy highsteps, foot-changes and cranks for distant edges when pumped out of your brains. People have blown the last moves and indeed have fallen eyeballing the belay, truly heartbreaking for them. There are countless epic tales associated with this route. Sonnie Trotter got through the first 10 bolts only to fall off the last section. He tried to get back up there but could not after repeated efforts and I believe the experience proved so stressful that he quit the route for other projects. This from a climber who has redpointed 9a! (I was actually sat next to Sonnie in the Depot pub chomping on my burger one night, wad point!) Drew Ruana did the route very quickly earlier this year, but bridged out unwittingly into Sunshine Dihedral for a brief rest at the 9th bolt leaving many questioning was this ascent valid? Who knows, opinion is divided, all I know is that the video of him on it is an amazing piece of footage, the dude does not appear to ever get pumped! Paige Classen also crushed the route this year as did some French wads.

   Eric on Karate Wall 5.12c                                 Ryan on Latest Rage 5.12b

So, how did it go? I managed to figure out the extremely thin and crimpy moves up to bolt 9 where there is a good shake before a nails rockover using tiny opposing sidepulls guarding the approach to the resting foothold at the 10th bolt; I also linked some sections together in my first couple of days. I did the 'French Connection', which is Alan Watt's link of Sunshine Dihedral, a tricky 5.12a trad route to the right (we used pre-placed wires) into all of the climbing after the 9th bolt, adding up to a testing 5.13b, or 8a. I also managed to redpoint from the ground to the 6th bolt and then from the 7th bolt to the top. I tried to go from the 6th bolt to the top to bag the coveted 'one hang' ascent but unfortunately, I split a tip on my forefinger halfway through my trip which was a bit of a bummer to say the least. Still, best not to get downhearted, at least it wasn't a finger injury and these things easily happen, especially on a route of this nature. In fact, the locals said the temps were really warm for October, up in the 70's for many days. This only left a brief 2 hour window before darkness in which to try the route. Sometimes, it was too hot even then to bother trying. My skin therefore ground down gradually until I literally saw red! In cold conditions, this would not have been so much of a problem.

Peder on French Connection 5.13b (the last half of To Bolt or not to Be 5.14a)

I tried climbing with tape but it was almost impossible to grip the edges properly. I have therefore resolved to come back in the Spring for a rematch, this route is too good to quit on! The last week was devoted to some fun climbing at a lower grade, which was tape friendly. Still my tip was very painful as it refused to heal properly under the tape with all the edge pulling. Regardless, some stellar classics were bagged including Crossfire 5.12b, Last Waltz 5.12c, the stunning arete left of To Bolt, Go Dog Go, a great 5.12c on a spectacular tower with a dyno at the crux, Watts Tots 5.12b, the USA's first ever sport climb, Taco Chip 5.13a and the Quickening 5.12c, a steep pumper of a line in the Aggro Gully. I also had a protracted tussle with Mama Docus, a really tricky 5.13c in the Aggro Gully, which is much steeper than most routes hereabouts. This one got away unfortunately as I found the crux slap, high on the headwall, pretty hard to stick after all the steep climbing to get there.

Jess on Last Waltz 5.12c                                                                      Mama Docus 5.13c

The crux, desparate!

The thuggy lower section (shared with Aggro Monkey)

Anyway, enough rambling, here are some more photos of the trip, I would thoroughly recommend a trip to anyone, it is really different to Spain and France, the climate is kind, it never rains and the locals are all super-friendly and speak the lingo, whats not to like?! A big shout out to Justin Brown and Andi Renden-Brown and the other locals I spent time with for making my trip so great and for Justin in sending his first 5.14a Badman (by none other than that man again, Jean Baptiste, he gets everywhere!) Oh and if you're out there, try and avoid imbibing too much of the local beer, which I found to my cost can be rather strong at 10%!

EDIT: Check out this excellent video Justin made of my attempts at Mama Docus, the crux is a true heartbreaker!

Justin on Badman 5.14a

Last Waltz 5.12c

  The Mama Docus (off the crux!)



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