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Three North American spring mega-destinations . . . on the cheap

We get it — the economic news is heinous, too many folks (climbers included) are jobless, and we’re all hording our cash. But there’s no better way to beat life angst than a road trip, where living on just dollars a day, you see how little it takes for us climbers truly to be happy. With our new regular Mileage department, Climbing reconnects our readers with the road, everything from new ways to visit classic areas, to undiscovered gems, to international hotspots. This issue’s theme is timely: three recession- proof, springtime monster areas where North American climbers can still stretch their dirtbag dollar and tick off mad classics.

Spring magic on the pimpy Rawhide (5.11d), Christian Brothers, Smith Rock; the climber is Cahoon. Photo by Andrew Burr /


Smith Rock, Oregon

Like a collector’s car that only gets more classic with time, Smith Rock, just outside Bend, Oregon, has as much draw now as a quarter-century ago, when Alan Watts rap-drilled Watt’s Tots, America’s first sport climb. These days, the tech style dictated by the area’s sheer, welded-tuff faces and arêtes has re-found favor after sport climbing detoured, in the 1990s, onto super-overhangs. Part of a dry, magical, highdesert setting, Smith’s a solid tick, from the park’s sunny moderates and looming testpieces, to the gorge’s basalt cracks and stem corners.

Keep It Cheap

Camping: The park’s walk-in campground is only $4/night; this also covers your day-use fee. For $0/night, doss at the unimproved Grasslands (Skull Hollow Campground), about 8 miles distant.

Food: Redmond and Terrebonne have cheap, quick Mexican and fastfood options, while Bend has it all. Also check out the climber-owned Terrebonne Depot ([541] 548-5030).

Guidebook: Smith Rock Select, by Jonathan Thesenga (

Cheap Rest-day entertainment: Sit by the Crooked River and compose climbing rap. Or check out McMenamin’s (, in Bend, for second-run movies with pub food served while you watch.

Ticklist: Five Gallon Buckets (5.8), Morning Glory Wall; Moonshine Dihedral (5.9), the Dihedrals; Moons of Pluto (5.10d), Mesa Verde Buttress; Pure Palm (5.11a), Wildfire Wall, Lower Gorge; Chain Reaction (5.12c), the Dihedrals; Darkness at Noon (5.13a), the Dihedrals

Insider Tip: “Think of Smith as a giant sundial,” says the Northwest drifter Fitz Cahall. “In warmer temps, chasing shade is a must — the crimps will shred your fingertips.“ Cahall recommends starting early on the shady back side, and then working the front-side nooks from early afternoon onward. “With cold temps, reverse the process,” he says.

Ben troy cuts a slice of Sunkist (5.12b), Zen wall, Saint George, Utah. Photo by Andrew Burr /


Saint George, Utah

For geologic variety, try Saint George, Utah, in the state’s balmy southwest corner. Sandstone, endless limestone and volcanic rock, hundreds of routes, short approaches, and plenty of cheap, warm camping and budget hotel rooms make this a great spring hang. With a smalltown feel and none of the hassle and regulations of Red Rock (think: loop road), this is what desert cragging is meant to be: empty, low-stress, and with only 8 inches of annual rainfall. Crags at different altitudes / climate zones give you options, and the sandstone bouldering (Moe’s Valley, Pioneer Park) is a kick, too.

Keep It Cheap

Camping: Camping is free at Cedar Pocket (20 minutes west of town), with pay camping in Snow Canyon. But with motel rooms in the $30s per night, you don’t have to rough it. Food: Plenty of affordable options in this touristy town.

Guidebook: Rock Climbs of Southwest Utah and the Arizona Strip, by Todd Goss ( Cheap Rest-day entertainment: Surf the Net (free) in the library, grab a quick shower in the adjacent rec center, and then round up friends to head to Zion National Park ($20 entrance fee), only 35 miles away. Go back to the library and blog about how your crew “crushed in Zion.”

Ticklist:Spirit World (5.9), Soul Asylum, Utah Hills; Living on the Edge (5.10c), Snow Canyon; As the Crows Fly (5.11b), Chuckawalla Wall; Mentor (5.12b), Virgin River Gorge; Fall of Man (5.13b), Virgin River Gorge

Insider Tip: For rest days, the local Todd Perkins recommends the Sand Hollow Aquatic Park (“It’s the building on Sunset Boulevard that architecturally looks like a monument to Pamela Anderson,” he jokes). For less than $5, you get access to showers and two Olympic pools.

Clay Cahoon stays dry on Table of Colors Direct (5.13b), Left Flank, Red River Gorge. Photo by Andrew Burr /


Red River Gorge, Kentucky

When Red River Gorge OG Porter Jarrard visited Rifle in the early 1990s and declared it a “roadcut” compared to the Corbin sandstone cliffs he was bolting in Kentucky, the Colorado boys laughed. Nearly two decades, countless Rocktoberfests (see, and hundreds of world-class sport climbs from 5.7 to 5.14c (and stacks o’ longstanding trad classics) later, Jarrard’s been proven more than correct. April and May are plenty workable here, with the rhododendrons in bloom and highs in the 60s and 70s, though it does rain (4 to 5 inches/month on average). But don’t let the precip deter you — many crags are so steep you can climb through downpours.

Keep It Cheap

Camping: Miguel’s Pizza charges $2/night to camp behind the restaurant, with no stay limit. Cabin rentals are also available throughout the Red. Food: Lexington has grocery stores and a Whole Foods, so you can stock up there or closer in (Stanton, Campton); Miguel’s yummy pizza is hard to beat; and there’s a Subway and a Shell station/convenience store at the Slade exit. is the online version, with a print version for sale (Ray Ellington;

Cheap Rest-day entertainment: Talk is cheap in a down economy: head to Roadside Crag to spray up the masses about how you got “wicked powered down” on 50 Words for Pump (5.14c). You can also slackline behind Miguel’s (free) or check out the Kentucky Reptile Zoo ( down the road ($6/head). Get moving with the many scenic trails in Natural Bridge State Resort Park, starting at the Hemlock Lodge.

Ticklist:Sunshine (5.9+), Military Wall; Rock Wars (5.10a), Long Wall; Fuzzy Undercling (5.11a), Military Wall; 8 Ball (5.12d), Motherlode; Table of Colors (5.13a or 5.13b), Left Flank

Insider Tip: “Stick clips are nice, as is a 70-meter rope,” says Justin Roth, an Ohio native and ex-local. Bill Ramsey, a driving force in the famously overhanging Motherlode, recommends the beer trailer just south of Torrent Falls and the one in Zoe, too. For quieter camping, advises Roth, try Lago Linda (, which is closer to the Lode and other southern-region areas.