Welcome to DEATH Oregon Style

The Smith Group as seen from the The Christian Brothers, Smith Rock State Park, Oregon. Photo by Shane M. Borza.

And so, there we were, halfway through the fourth in a serious of, 'this is the worst pitch of my life'… but wait, let me go back.

And so, there we were, on the way to Smith Rocks, when the car decided it didn't want to function properly… but wait, let me go back.

And so, there we were, the night before we were to get up early and tackle the most harrowing route of the trip and we decided it would actually be a good idea to… but wait, let me go back.

And so, there we were, reunited after all that time; since Railay, since Krabi, since that kingdom formerly known as Siam, since Thailand even. So, yeah, there we were in the parking lot of the Lava Lanes bowling alley in Bend, Oregon — that's Central Oregon to you! High desert and loving it, or somthin'. Anywho, Tony flew in from Tokyo, took the bus for all its worth, and after a lunch of grease on a bun, called me for a retrieval. Accepting said mission, I found the lad and a joyous reune was had. Bags were deposited, stories were told and retold, a meal or two were destroyed and we settled into settling in. The days flew by, the climbs were had, a cave or two were wiggled into (and then out of again) and all in all we had a great time.

Suddenly, the week was at its end and there we were with nothing to do but accept that it ('it' being of course Saturday) was our last chance to do the famed –or infamous as the case may be (and was) - Christian Brothers Traverse.

To put it into my own words... while the Christian Brothers houses some truly incredible lines — the west face stand in sharp opposition as, the rock crumbles and wanders, even as it plows through talus and lichen (which we are never liken). The Christian Brothers Traverse, at 5.7 X, is no exception. It is an adventure route in the truest sense and ranks in the highest regard — but only if you like to suffer. The route crosses all five summits of the Christian Brothers, to wit: the Priest, the Monk, the Pope, the Friar, and the Abbot. Although the gear is tragic, and the rock is horrible, it is a once in a lifetime climb.

As it was impossible to deny the pull of such a climb, we lept at the chance to go out that fateful Saturday and ascend said climb. But, as they say in some book somewhere (I am sure), "there was much to befall them first".

And so, my doctor friend Reena came down from Portland and told us to come out and we did and after we had crossed the midnight barrier, and Tony had had three Guinness, we decided to go home where we found — to our surprise — we were exhausted. After sleeping until eleven in the a.m. we jumped in the car so as to begin the estimated seven hour (for seven pitches) onslaught.

Photo by Shane M. Borza.

As luck would have it, we made it a mere two exits down the highway when a beep roused me from my pre-climb dreams of summit bliss. Looking at the dash, I noticed the temperature gage was all the way up, so far up, in fact, that the red 'emergency' light was, um, alight! And so, pulling over to check, I popped the hood only to find the coolant percolating like a coffee maker! I called the salesman who had sold me the vehicle –a mere three weeks previous- and gave him a sit-rep (which is, of course, military jargon for 'update'). Assuring me that, if I could make it to the dealership, I would be "taken care of", I limped back down the road.

Arriving at the dealership, I did the appropriate thing and lied. But I did it the right way, i.e. I told just the right amount of truth and then shut up. The result being they took the car in, gave us a new one off the lot, and said to keep it for the next few days. Hoo-ray! Back on the road again we were, albeit an hour later, hurtling to Smith. Arriving at same, we parked, ran down to the river, fifth class scrambled over the pass, and set up to begin the route.

Pitch One (5.5) begins up a pair of diverging cracks. Although the left-ern(?) most crack is recommended, there really is no joy in either one -as both are rotten and broken choss all the way up to the belay bolts on the Priest's south buttress.

We started by bouldering to a ledge where we decided I would lead. I entered a cave and chimneyed up fifty feet before placing my first piece — the first of many long run-outs on friable rock. I quickly found many hand and footholds were loose, broken, or breaking under my weight. Luckily, I was able to find a centuries old pin (an exaggeration –I think!) which enabled me to pretend I was safe. Placing a few good pieces near pitches end, I continued until I found a semi-hanging single bolt belay. Slinging a horn with the rope, for backup, I equalized the two and called it good. Tony, stalwart Brit that he is, literally bounded up the pitch and took the sharp end on pitch two.


Photo by Shane M. Borza.

Pitch Two (5.4) begins by yarding up giant huecos, which is fun until you encounter a veritible chasm. Upon leaping across (and praying to god) a low-angled slab is then negotiated to a belay on the crest of a ridge.

Tony took off and quickly made it a third of the way up the pitch where he placed his first piece; thus assuaged my fears about his attempts to solo. A second piece quickly followed and then he disappeared over a ridge and stopped. Asking if he had found the frightening gap he said he had. "How is it", I queried? "Pretty phuking frightening mate", he called back. As he was out of sight, I had no way to help him, but attempted encouragement nonetheless. Tony quickly sussed the situation and after downclimbing a bit, stemmed the void, and ascended the far side to an anchor. I followed, shat myself at the now obviously frightening gap, and scrambled up to join him. We rejoiced our non-DEATH, switched over gear, and I lead the third pitch.

Pitch Three (5.7) begins with an exposed traverse across horrifyingly fragile rock to a ridge. A single bolt protects the scrambly moves to the Priest's summit.

After gaining the summit, I noticed the two bolt anchor sported a single Petzl Spirit biner on sun bleached webbing –yay! Tony followed only to endure a near fall as he mantled up while his rope snagged on a horn and threatened to pull him off –zoiks! Joining me atop the spire, we readied the ropes and rapped into the notch where I made an impromptu two tri-cam anchor while balancing over outrageous exposure!

Pitch Four (5.6) starts on another scary traverse, which leads to a squeeze chimney betwixt the Monk's twin summits. After fighting up a slot and gaining the top, rap to a northerly low angle notch. There is an option of skipping this summit, which we embraced wholeheartedly. If you are interested in the fifth pitch, a protectionless chimney which I contemplated for all of about ten seconds. Its description is as follows:

Pitch Five (5.4) involves chimneying up dirty rock to the top of the Pope and then rapping back to, yet another, slot.

Photo by Shane M. Borza.

It took all my nerve to traverse our elected double length scary traverse but, with Tony throwing all his Brit mountain hardness at me, I got it. He seconded only to have a foothold break beneath him and drop six inches where, unbelievably, he landed on another one! After another rappel into another notch from another DEATH fueled anchor, we found the best anchor of the day –praise the gods (every last one of them).

Pitch Six (5.6) is easy climbing, it just so happens to be on disgusting rock and protected by abysmal bolts. Ending on a ridge finds you rapping into a large amphitheater — the Hobbit Hole — found between the Friar and the Abbot. Bouldering out enables a long rap to the ground.

At this point I was beyond it all and scampered up the final pitch like it was nothing, much to the chagrin of Tony, who had a time of it. Gaining the top as darkness fell, we transitioned to the final DEATH fueled anchor which — of course- needed augmentation i.e. we backed it up with the last of my webbing. Abseiling into the darkness below, my LED's strained for all they were worth — it didn't help much.

I found a semi-hanging single bolt anchor — again — and clipped in. Tony abseiled past, using the bolt as a directional, and landed in the Hobbit Hole. I pulled the ropes, scrambled down, and then the search for a way out began. After a few moments, including almost both falling off into the darkened abyss, we realized we needed to boulder up a ten foot wall and then down a slab into more impenetrable darkness.


Photo by Shane M. Borza.

We searched frantically for an anchor, found one, threaded the ropes, and I led the charge –again- into the inky blackness. After a mere thirty feet, I spied another anchor and contemplated clipping in. Deciding I remembered hearing the ropes hit the ground (yeah right) I continued because — and I quote (myself) — "I'm rapping a sport route, if worse comes to worse, I'll hang off a bolt while Tony threads the anchor I passed." …or something.

I reached the ground. Tony quickly joined me and after a celebratory, and much needed, food and water break, we attempted every conceivable method of pulling the ropes only to fail on each permutation. Boo. I made the executive decision that we were leaving them up and we did just that.

Hiking out took a half hour and we reached the car around nine p.m. (we started at two p.m.-ish)! Driving home we dialogued continuously of food and water, stumbled in the house, accomplished both, and collapsed.

Rousing ourselves at the ungodly hour of seven in the a.m. the next morn, our plan was to sprint in, retrieve the ropes, and drive Tony three hours north to Portland for his direct flight (amen) to Tokyo. Luckily, Tony assured me, his flight wasn't until "three or four p.m.". But, aha(!), upon getting in the car, we — well, he — realized he left at 1:50 (curses only two hours too short)! And so, I executive decisioned again and we went straight to the airport without further incident and Tony (I am assuming) made his flight and got home safe.

The End.

But wait, because the ropes were still up... so here comes the nightmare part of the story because, not only was I Tony-less, but I was to undergo things I wouldn't wish upon DEATH him(her)self.

Driving into downtown, I found the Portland marathon was in full swing! I spent two hours driving in circles unable to find anything remotely familiar. The highlight of which was when one of Portland's finest (a cop) waved me down a one way street the wrong way. He waved, I gestured at the one way sign pointing at me, he gestured again violently (and with both hands), I shrugged, and drove on.

After an agonizing time in the car I found the Lloyd's center (giant mall), watched "Superbad" (hilarious), and then went to my friend's house (which I found without further incident). After dinner we watched "Knocked Up" (funnier than I would have guessed) and went to sleep. Getting woken up the following morning at seven (why god why) I jumped in the car, immediately hit rush hour, and spent forty-five minutes alternately stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, or, driving at a blistering pace in directions I knew not where. The highlight of which was, I got so frustrated I actually took to yelling out the window at the city, to wit: "I hate you Portland! I hate you!"

After a few years, I found myself on the highway and homeward bound. Fuming from all the lost time and nonsense, I failed to notice — until I was driving through deserted mountains- that my gas light was on — yay! Cresting the pass, I put the car in neutral, and coasted twenty-seven miles (at an elevation loss of over two thousand feet) into the Indian reservation town of Warm Springs.

I pulled into the one — and only — gas station and endured yet another horror show of time theft as I waited nine minutes for someone to show up at the seeming abandoned car in front of me, and then eleven more for them to gas up, pay, and leave. Boo! Filling my tank in record time, I hotfooted it out of there, and stopped at Redpoint (the climbing shop near Smith Rocks) so I could recruit help to retrieve the ropes. Luckily, my buddy Lucas was up for it and off we went. After hiking in, Lucas locked off one rope while I ascended the other using a gri-gri and a prussic. An exhausting half hour later I hung from the anchor and found, even after I untwisted the rope an astounding eight(!) times, they still wouldn't pull (due to the angle).

Topping out, I pulled both ropes, coiled them, put them on my back, and spent an hour scrambling exposed fifth class terrain — in my sneakers (trainers to you Brits) — even going so far as having to rappel off more single bolt anchors so I could 'safely' cross crevasse/DEATH abyss's which dropped three hundred feet –or more- to the valley floor! The word 'horrorshow', really, does it no justice. All I could think was, "Thank the gods (every single one of them) Tony and I did NOT do this in the dark — DEATH!"

I finally did a double rope rap to the ground and was so exhausted and dehydrated that, while I hiked out to the car, my legs failed and I fell onto the ground — yeah. Luckily, all I had to do after that was drive to the car dealership, fight with them about my car, NOT get it back, and then go home so I could put the gear away, eat, drink, shower, and fall down (again). The End (again).

And, just because, let's just say it one more time: DEATH!


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