Last Sunday, I drove west from Colorado to Smith Rock, one of my favorite climbing areas in the world. I pulled into Bend, Oregon just as the sun was setting. From the beginning, this trip has felt different from others I’ve taken. I don’t feel anxious. I didn’t feel the need to speed all the way here just to shave a few minutes off the drive. I didn’t feel pressure to start projecting on my first day. I haven’t stressed about late starts, stormy weather, or uncertain meal timing. I feel relaxed and content.
I suppose I can attribute this to a number of things. Since I graduated in December, I haven’t stayed in one place for more than a few days. I’ve just come from a few trips where I had no idea what to expect, from who I would be traveling with to when I would eat my next meal. I’m realizing that making myself miserable over small details I can’t control is, well, miserable. In summary, I’m finally learning. And I’m not even in school, who would have thought?
On a scale of mountaineering suffering to sport climbing comfort, Smith offers extreme sport climbing comfort. Ian and Kristin Yurdin have graciously allowed me to move into their home for the month, with the added bonus of daily climbing partners, complete beta spray downs, a warm doggie to snuggle with, and a professional chef to teach me how not to chop my fingers off when cutting vegetables. Add an incredibly kind, fun, and humble community and a multitude of grocery store options to fill my rest days, and basically, this isn’t suffering. The world class climbing is a nice addition as well.
Kristin cruising on Chemical Ali
Smith Rock can only be described as a series of parking lots tipped vertically and arranged neatly like a shelf of well treasured books. Holds are scarce and features non existent, save the half inch roof. The perfectly manicured park allows for easy transition between sectors, and the Crooked River creates a peaceful environment where bald eagles roam the skies. America!
Whereas normally I would choose a project and set to work right away, I decided to take a different approach this time around. Projecting lends itself to (hopefully) achieving one big goal, while missing out on “easier” but equally high quality routes. Thanks to past visits, I already know how much I love the climbing here. However, the brilliance of many Smith routes is often masked in scary falls, unreliable feet, and sharp pockets. I think the delicate nature of the climbing is what deters many new era climbers. Dynamic movements typically end in a giant whip down a slab. A rest could mean a precarious balance on smears, rather than weighting your arms on a jug. This makes the climbing tricky. It’s almost stressful, but in a relaxing way, of course. You have to think constantly, rather than rely on strength.
Rude Boys, Andy Mann photo from 2010
I tried Rude Boys when I first visited Smith three years ago. At 5.13c, it shut me down completely. I couldn’t do many of the opening moves and was unwilling to try hard on the sharp holds. I wimped out. But I wanted to finish this uncompleted pest, and felt that the beginning of this trip was the ideal time, since my power is slightly better than usual, thanks to the last few months of bouldering. The opening boulder felt much easier this year, due in part to eliminating unnecessary rose move (thanks for the shot Andy Mann!). The first four bolts of power open up into an impressively runnout slab. I was happy to clip the chains.
Rude Boys, Ian Yurdin photos
After this little warmup, I’m checking in to shred some skin on the real slab. I love the projecting process, and I know that this is why I came. But I’m confident that I can finally balance the pressure of a project while still enjoying the rest of the trip. Bend is quite like Boulder, with a never ending supply of running trails and tasty food. If you need to find me on rest days or in the evenings after climbing, I’ll probably be at the Terrebonne Depot stuffing my face with fish tacos and chocolate banana bread pudding. For real, Kristin is an incredibly talented and creative chef, and the Depot is a key part of any Smith Rock trip – don’t miss it. But wish me luck on the core intensive slab after a few of those hearty meals!