I've never been to the Pacific Northwest. I've traveled almost all over the country, probably visited 30 states in North America, but haven't made it to the Northwest, now I had an excuse. My good friend Sam moved from L.A. to Bend, Oregon a year ago and I had promised to visit when he was settled in. April 15th, 2016 I boarded a flight leaving Burbank, California and heading to Redmond in Oregon.
The flight itself was a treat, I normally don't get excited on planes, but we flew over so many important mountains. Below you can see Mt. Shasta under the wing, that summit is on my radar for next year and here was my first look at it, lots of snow!
I had a bit of a backwards flight heading to Seattle and then back down towards Bend, but I enjoyed flying over Mount St. Helens, Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Hood, Mr. Rainer, the whole cascades, and below is an amazing view of Crater Lake National park, note that small island in the lake which is actually another volcano. Great ride over with a very clear sky.
The objective while catching up with Sam included climbing a very special tower inside Smith Rock State Park. There had been much anticipation, and like any big trip, I could hardly sleep the night before. We woke up Saturday at 6am, hit the Black Bear Diner for breakfast burritos and headed off for an 8am meet up at the park. A couple months back we decided it'd be better to hire a guide for this specific climb. The grade of the route seemed moderate, but neither of had climbed in this park, or on this type of rock, or wanted to bother with the logistics. It would be crowded and highly intimidating, so we thought we might enjoy just climbing and let Timberline Mountain Guides do the leading. I don't hire a guide too often, but when you have specific heavy duty objectives in your sights, it's quite enjoyable!
We met Cliff at the Smith Rock State Park yurt on time, and also met my friend Josh, whom I have been collaborating on several business innovations with, and his girlfriend Christine. The five of us entered the park, being welcomed with immediate spectacular views.
I'm not sure if I made an assumption or just forgot to ask about the approach. I think I figured it was like Joshua Tree or Yosemite where you can drive up to many of the main features, nope. To get to the Monkey Face tower, one must hike the Misery Ridge Trail I feel like the name is self-explanatory, and you can see how the park classifies hikes on the trail head signs, the small placard underneath the name reads "most difficult," fantastic.
The trail does just what you expect, goes straight up a ridge. Series of tons and tons of stairs and switchbacks. The air was brisk, but the sustained gain had us all stripping layers quickly.
In the defense of the approach, it was freaking beautiful. What a way to see the park, as it would be revealed later in the day this is a very popular trail, and the sweeping views of Smith Rock State Park are inspiring.
When we got to the top of Misery Ridge, Sam and I tested the GoPro with a selfie, you can see Monkey Face rock peeking between the two of us. This was my first glance at our intent for the day.
Oh what? You made it to the top of Misery Ridge? Great now, hike all the way down it! To get to the base of the tower we dropped pretty much all of our gain. Here I am standing at the top of the switchbacks that lead us to our climbing route.
We made it. At least to the route. I didn't bother to check the time. Josh and Christine split left to climb the Pioneer Route, one of the most classic routes on a different angle. Sam, Cliff and I were heading up West Face Variation, which breaks down as a Trad / Aid route, 300', 5 pitches, 5.8yds C0. Which means nothing if you know or don't know what those numbers are. The more I climb the less I focus on grades and numbers, it's all inherently dangerous and all really fun!
Above you can see me 8 feet off the ground starting up the first pitch. I immediately started flailing and struggling. Anytime you go to a new place, you're always a little out of touch with the local style of climbing and the rock feel, and I had heard many times over that the routes at Smith Rock all start very hard, even Cliff prefaced the lead that is was awkward, so don't worry. But I did worry, we had a party of 3 staged behind us and a party of two heading up the adjacent route Astro Monkey 5.11d, so here I am with an audience as I burn out instantly. I kept trying to do a squeeze chimney or stem it or off width, no matter what, I was really getting frustrated and the helmet and backpack where defeating me too. I took a few deep breathes and got some beta spray from someone behind us and off I went. Only way is up from here! This is classic behavior for me.
Above is Sam coming up the second pitch, which went at the same grade but was less awkward for me. It had a couple delicate balance moves but overall was pretty physical. When I get under pressure or out of my element, I have a poor tendency to abandon my use of technique and just start using muscle, which is a bad bad bad idea on long days.
Josh took these next two photos, he smoked us to the mouth of the climb, he was really climbing quick.
Above is Cliff at the top of pitch two and Sam and I climbing to meet him. There are several routes on the pillar, however many of them meet at a central location and join up to get to the summit.
Below is the three of us on the ledge at the bottom of pitch 3. This next pitch is a bolt ladder of aid climbing. You can see the first bolt if you look directly above the yellow webbing anchor. That bolt is high, but the bolt ladder was plenty. We had a couple step ladders and fifi hooks and did the darn thing.
I found the aid climbing surprisingly relaxing and oddly therapeutic. With the proper mechanics it wasn't as intimidating as I expected.
In the photo below, taken somewhere along pitch 2, you can see Josh just finishing the aid pitch, he's about to enter the mouth of the monkey. Josh and Christine started along the east face of the rock, traversing to the bolt ladder. This is where the traffic jams often happen (you can see 4 more people waiting behind me in the photo above). Josh was already up and in before we got there, and we beat two other parties to the bolts. To free climb this pitch it's said to go 5.13-, so good luck with that!
Josh and Christine live in Eugene, Oregon, just a couple hours away from Bend. We had been trying to meet up for a while, maybe the Sierras, maybe Vegas, Joshua tree, the logistics weren't simple. Meeting up and topping out on Monkey Face was epic, none of us had been up there before, and it's so inspirational. Josh has been a huge asset to Forever Outside last year, and his own company TUFA climbing is brilliant. He gifted me this custom made chalk bucket when we got back to the cars. Check out his chalk bags, packs, bags, pots and more at his site right HERE, the man can sew and design!
Here's Cliff inside the mouth at the top of the aid pitch, the sun was warming up, the crowds were building, the park was getting busy, and I was getting parched.
Sam came up second, and I headed up last, here I am pulling over the last couple steps to pull myself into the mouth, snack time!
We had a very brief break and headed to the next challenge. From inside the mouth you head over to "Panic Point." which is where you step out, down, around and up. The reason it's called Panic Point is because when you step out the floor completely disappears from below you, it's just several hundred feet of total exposure.
From the mouth, we found ourselves oddly close to misery ridge and there was very little wind. With no shame at all, I was able to speak to day hikers on the trail and asked them to send me a couple photos from their perspective. The communication was so good and everyone was so kind and generous, you wouldn't even believe it. I shouted my cell number over and by the end of the day, successfully collected some of the most bad ass climbing photos!
If you're wondering what it might look like when you step out onto panic point and then looked down, this photo Cliff took from above Sam should illustrate. I couldn't see Sam, but I heard him yell a loud expletive from around the corner, this being out his character had me curious/worried for my turn.
Out I go! There's pretty bad feett, but some good hands. This pitch goes a stout 5.7, you would need nerves of steel to lead it. Also, from the top of Misery Ridge you have 50+ people just watching you, it all adds up in you head. What are we doing?!? WHY!?!
Above the mouth you get to the nose. Below you can see Josh and Christine at the summit, Cliff on an upper ledge, and me climbing an incredibly exposed dihedral. I had a chat with a guy named Nathan while Cliff was climbing, he had a tripod and was shooting some purposeful landscapes, I asked him if he could do me a favor and send me a pic or two. I could tell by his disposition and equipment he would be the guy! The hikers texted some great cell phone pics, but Nathan looked talented!
We made as many attempts as possible to get someone out there to hike up and shoot photos for us, but in hindsight, the hike is hard, the heat was high and the timing would be a nightmare, it would be waaaay too big of a favor. Everything just sort of fell in place naturally. People we meet where incredibly fun and funny and kind. All the other climbers on the route were awesome, a real pleasure to interact with.
Here's the three amigos convened at the anchor above the eyes, just 15 feet of 3rd class climbing to the summit. Take a look at Mt. Jefferson on the left of the frame, thanks for the awesome pics Nathan!
Cliff shot our obligatory top out pic (L to R: Christine, Josh, Me, Sam) . We meet the dude sitting down along our way, his name is Ross and he's actually from Bishop, California. Really cool dude, also his first time on top of Monkey Face rock.
This is the photo, this is what we wanted! We wanted to be in this photo and it happened. Really wild and surreal. What a crazy climb, long day so far and plenty of good luck!
And another epic summit pic from Nathan, how crazy is this thing!?! A top-heavy pillar in the middle of a gorgeous park with a winding river behind it. Doesn't get much better than this. This has been my proudest climb since Half Dome last year.
Now to get down. This photo below really illustrates the features of the monkey's face. You can see Josh with the white pack and brown pants standing near the nose, you can see someone laying down in the mouth too. Christine in the purple top is getting ready for the first rappel down the nose.
He's Sam, Cliff and I staging our first rappel, it's a long way back down!
We all meet at the nose, it's only two raps down. Christine and Josh descended on a single strand rope just to get up and out of the way, everyone wants off now! This second rappel normally requires two 60 meter ropes tied together to get you back to the ground.
The kicker is the second rappel is near 300' of all free hanging. Sam loved it and I hated it! I found it just totally gut-wrenching. As soon as I landed in outer space, of course I started spinning on the rope and wound up turned around facing the whole park. I most slowly but surely lowered myself back to Earth. I've never gripped a rope so hard in my life. I shot this pic of Ross rappelling after I landed. Terrifying x 1,000.
After that we removed our harnesses, coiled our ropes and back up the ridge to the top and back down the stairs to the car. Tough but pretty hike out, satisfaction and accomplishment was high. We left our cars around 8am and got back around 5pm, long day, and to think we were first on route!
After the climb, we rushed back to Bend, had some amazing home cooked Lasagna that Sam's wife Ann cooked, and headed downtown for the BANFF film festival. What an amazing coincidence for me this was playing the same weekend I was in town. I scored a ticket before it sold out and loved it, my first time seeing the mountain themed film festival!
Woke up sore on Sunday, did a café crawl around Bend, drinking way too many espresso shots from Back Porch, Lone Pine, Thumb, and Blue Bird, then caught my flight back to Los Angeles. Short but sweet weekend, mission accomplished!