Air Traffic Control
Multi-pitch tuff tugging at Smith Rock
Smith Rock is known worldwide for one thing: sport climbing. You can spend all your time, and your skin, standing in line and bellyaching your way up super-sequential crimp-ladders and nubbin-feasts. But inch for inch, some of the most interesting— not to mention least crowded—experiences in Smith Rock State Park involve more air under your feet, cams and nuts, and a healthy sense of adventure. These routes still see a multitude of climbers during the warmer months, but nowhere near the hordes found closer to the ground.
Unlike some iconic sport areas, Smith has a climbing history dating to before the rap-bolting heyday of the late 1980s and early ’90s. Bold climbers like Dave Bohn and Vivian and Gil Staender left their names on prominent features of the area while pioneering routes in the 1950s, such as the Bohn Street ledge of Monkey Face and Staender Ridge. Many others throughout the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, such as Jim Ramsey, Kim Schmitz, and Tom Bauman, pushed high adventure up all of the main walls and formations, and most of their subsidiary pinnacles. Even now, a wide range of new multipitch lines continue to be established by dedicated, hard-working climbers such as Michael Stöger, Ryan Lawson, and Thomas Emde. Whatever your ambition, fitness, or ability level, Smith has a multipitch route for you. Here, some of the finest long stuff on the tuff.
➔Moscow (5.6–5.8, 4 pitches) One of the Red Wall super-moderates, this four-pitch fun fest can go two ways: take it straight on via the traditional start, now made slightly more interesting by a large, loose block at the base, or ante up on the neighboring Peking, a stellar 5.8 jam session located six feet to the left. Either option links into the prominent right-hand, left-facing dihedral higher up, venturing along a stellar 5.6 fist crack and, after a short fourth-class scramble, topping out the formation 100 yards or so from the Misery Ridge hiking trail. The whole route can go in two pitches with a 70-meter rope; 5.6 leaders may appreciate bringing more than one 3.5- to 4-inch cam for the dihedral pitch.
➔Super Slab (5.6, 3 pitches) No beginner’s tick list at Smith is complete without this one. After a so-so first pitch and a fun but unprotectable 5.4 traverse along gigantic Swiss-cheese huecos, the meat of the route begins on the third pitch. An endless, low-angle slab crack eats small cams and nuts, taking a direct route to the skyline. One of the first routes to see sun, Super Slab makes a great early route on summer days, allowing you to avoid any lines later on.
➔West Face Variation Direct to the Pioneer Route (5.8 A0, 4–5 pitches) For the 5.8 leader, this full-meal-deal link-up packs more entrées onto the multipitch smorgasbord than most routes of its length—with a dessert course consisting of the best views in central Oregon. Savor all kinds of cracks, an infamous bolt ladder leading into the Mouth Cave, and, finally, the knee-knocking exposure of Panic Point’s four-bolt 5.7 bucket bonanza. To save time, skip the anchor atop this short pitch, and continue to the summit anchor from here. Pants, instead of shorts, make the pitch-two flared slot kneebar-able, unless you’re too tall. Be fast on the long bolt ladder by eschewing the full aid rig for a pair of adjustable daisies—the bolts really are that close—and your second can yard the draws, Batman-style. A worthwhile 5.9 variation, Monkey off My Back, takes a more direct line to the summit from the cave. Descend with 70-meter ropes by a full-length rappel that for some is as exciting as the climbing itself.
➔Monkey Space (5.11b, 3 pitches) The easiest all-free route to the summit, this exposed line nonetheless intimidates many a climber capable of the grade. Either scramble (5.5) onto the Bohn Street belay ledge from the notch, or link this route with any of the many options ascending from below. Depart the capacious aerie of Bohn Street for a mega-exposed, left-rising traverse that will feel like solid 5.11, though it’s really 5.11a. A two-inch cam protects the last few crack moves leading into the West Face Cave. What comes next is the technical crux—a threebolt thug job moving out of the cave and onto the upper face to the summit.
Smith Rock Group
➔White Satin (5.9–10b, 2–3 pitches) Whether you stick to tradition and take the original line on the right at 5.9, or deviate left on pitch two to the edgy, bolted 5.10b variation (aka White Lycra), both share the excellent upper hand crack, with its tougher-than-it-looks topout maneuver. Approach the meat via a 5.5 chimney leading to bolted 5.7 face moves on the right. Beyond the belay ledge, the Lycra option goes to the top in one long pitch, or climb the inside corner, traverse around the flake, and belay. The variations rejoin in a vertical hand-sized corner leading to the final moves around a boulder to finish. Descend via the fixed rappel route on the west side (three raps to the ground with a 60-meter rope).
➔Wherever I May Roam (5.9, 5 pitches) For 5.9 leaders wanting to cover some ground, this fivepitch wander satisfies. An allbolted odyssey, the route will host a number of parties on a busy weekend, but is often empty early or late in the day. The highlight? A fourth-pitch rising traverse that parallels the sharp-looking edge of a roof below your feet—fall at the wrong moment and you might clear the edge. Belay positions seem tailor-made to savor the Cascade skyline, on your way to the top of Smith’s most prominent formation. Descend by rappelling first off the back (east) side, and then three more times down to the west with a single rope, the same as for White Satin.
Morning Glory Wall
➔Zion (aka Zebra to Zion; 5.10a, 3–4 pitches) This link-up tops anyone’s list of must-do routes for the grade, and with good reason. Start on the first two pitches of Zebra, following a 5.6 traverse on huge potholes to a three-move 5.10a crux around a small roof. A 5.8 flare and right-facing corner follow, leading to an awesome belay ledge. To avoid a hanging belay at the Zebra anchor, link these pitches. In the middle of the third pitch, traverse right on 5.8 knobs to join Lion’s Chair, and then friction climb up a slab to the belay. Watch yourself on this pitch—knobs sometimes break, and protection is sparse beyond the initial dihedral. The final pitch of Lion’s Chair (completing the Zebra to Zion link-up) is one of the most memorable 5.9 stretches anywhere. After a rising left traverse, gym-like overhanging fingerbuckets appear, swallowing both digits and passive gear the rest of the way. An easy scramble leads to the top of the formation. Walk off to the north and down Cocaine Gully.
➔Spiderman (5.7, 2–3 pitches) Beloved by moderate leaders, Spiderman takes its namesake buttress straight to the top in two or three pitches. Savory finger locks on the upper pitch will make you wish that they went on for a full pitch. On a busy day, link the first two pitches to get out of the toprope zone, a popular destination with numerous moderate options. If the first pitch is in use, the route can begin via a left-facing corner on the other side of the formation, or on a straight-up slab in between, both also at 5.7.
Hello Kitty Cliff
➔First Kiss (5.8, 5 pitches) A relative newcomer, First Kiss takes a long, meandering 500-foot line from the base to summit of the Hello Kitty cliff, neighbor of Monkey Face. Bolted in its entirety, First Kiss serves up a fun, slabby, moderate romp. Located in a relatively remote part of the park, with a runout here and there and a third-pitch leftward ledge traverse that would probably get a PG rating anywhere else, the emphasis is on adventure. As with several other Smith crags, this area is closed for raptor nesting during the first half of the year. Descend with an easy down-scramble toward Monkey Face.
- Getting there: Smith Rock is located just east of the town of Terrebonne, Oregon. Roberts Field (aka Redmond Municipal Airport), located 20 minutes south in Redmond, offers commercial flights to and from Denver, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. Driving time is approximately 2.5 hours from Portland, 5 hours from Seattle, and 12 hours from Salt Lake City.
- Season: Smith Rock is climbable year-round, but the prime seasons are spring and fall. Summer temps can be hot enough to chase climbers into the shade, and winter will find the opposite. Seasonal closures affect a few areas in spring to protect nesting raptors.
- Camping: Smith Rock State Park offers walk-in tent camping, along with hot showers, heated bathrooms, and running water year-round for $5/person/day. Sleeping in vehicles and fires are prohibited. The Skull Hollow BLM Campground, approximately eight miles east, offers car camping, pit toilets, and fires for the same fee.
- Food: The Terrebonne Thriftway is the closest supermarket. For local, climberowned restaurant fare, look no further than the Terrebonne Depot, situated on the railroad tracks overlooking the park. Further afield, Baldy’s Barbecue in Redmond, 15 minutes down U.S. 97, offers house-smoked local meats.
- Guidebook: The recently re-released, exhaustive, and authoritative Rock Climbing Smith Rock State Park, by Alan Watts, is a must-have for anyone wishing to spend a lot of time in the park. Casual visitors may save dollars, pounds, and space in their packs with Jonathan Thesenga’s at-times amusing, always opinionated, and highly informative Smith Rock Select. smithrock.com
- Rack: Most routes here feature bolted anchors, though several topouts do not. For trad routes, a double rack of cams to three inches plus nuts will suffice, unless otherwise noted. (Both guidebooks include gear recommendations.) Find both, along with just about any other climbing implement you may need, at Terrebonne’s Redpoint Climbing shop, located at the turnoff from U.S. 97 onto Smith Rock Way.