When my friend Sam moved from California to Oregon it gave me a great excuse to visit Bend. Upon my first trip to Oregon, and my first visit to Smith Rock State Park, we climbed Monkey Face Rock, it was epic! It was an amazing first climb at Smith Rock. Almost exactly one year later, I returned to climb with the same partners (Sam and Cliff), but with a new classic as my objective; The Marsupials Traverse.
Likely the longest climb at Smith Rock, the Marsupials Traverse is 1000' and 8 pitches, it's almost three times the amount of climbing as the towering Monkey Face Rock. Smith Rock is best known for it's sport climbing in the main areas. The Marsupials is an outcropping of rocks high above the typical park geography, leaving it usually very quiet to climbers. Their are many large towers and spires to climbed (the koala, the wombat, etc) but traversing the connected ridge between many of the featured rocks there is very alpine in the climbing style. It creates for a long, interesting, varied and adventurous day.
April 21st, 2017, we met up at the Smith Rock State Park yurt at 9am and wandered around the visitor center for a few minutes. As soon as you park, your blown away with gorgeous views. The approach to the Marsupials is around an hour and it's gorgeous. Last year we hiked Misery Ridge to reach the Monkey Face and it's looks like the high desert, this approach feels more like you're traveling through the forest and it's great, see the slides below for a hint of the views.
As we approached the climb, the ridge line came into full view, I have mapped out line of travel and the towers it ascends. We joked about it being an "Oregrown" version of Yosemite's Matthes Crest. You hike down to the Mud pile to begin the journey.
At this point, it's cold. The hike in was warm, hot even. However when we cling to the proper face of the Mud pile, a structure bigger than it looks, it's shady and windy. The rock is also ice cold. Cliff leads the first pitch up an awkward chimney thing to a steep and rather thin face. I follow behind and my fingers just go numb immediately. It's disconcerting to say the least. I can't tell if I have good grips on my hand placements or what. We can see the sun is at the crest of the ridge, and we are anxious to get high up on the route.
The first pitch might be the crux of the entire route, what a way to get out the gate. The climbing is straight forward since it just goes up, opposed to much of the awkward lateral travel that occurs during ridge traverses. We climb up two solid pitches, the second is a bit easier as there are many pocketed features in the rock.
We get to the top of the Mud pile and the view is amazing, we get our first glance at the ridge and our projected travel for the day, whoa! Here we actually change back into our approach shoes as the climbing is low fifth class and comfort will be key for a long day (we go back to climbing shoes before Brogan Spire).
Here we go, we gather down in a tiny notch and head right into a narrow ridge, solid exposure on both sides. This is what we wanted! Why, I can't remember. Everything seems like a good idea from your office desk.
In the photo below, I can't remember if Cliff is leading or belaying, much of it hardly matters as the room for failure is close to zero. These type of climbs require a style that is pretty technically easy, but mentally heavy with large consequences. The climber's protection on this route is very slim and that is well known. It's best to just make no mistakes. If one guy falls, we're probably all going to fall. However, I feel the teamwork is one of my favorite aspects of climbing. It is not competitive in the alpine, but in fact the opposite.
We simul climbed the majority of the route, but we certainly pitched out the big towers. After you gain the ridge by way of the Mudpile, then you cross the knife edge ridge, you get to the Unnamed Chunk of Rock (is that the name? ironic?).
Looking down, the exposure if pretty good! Here's the view.
From Unnamed Rock you do a little down climb, stem across into a very exposed notch, then quickly shoot up to Mini Half Dome.
From the top of Mini Half Dome, you rappel into the the large U-shaped notch. You can see the shear face for the rap line in the photo below. That is the "half dome" shape of rock. From the notch is a couple easy pitches up towards Brogan Spire. You reach a large plateau and walk over to the base of the spire proper.
The base of the spire is a great place to rehydrate, eat some lunch and put your climbing shoes back on. Might be one (or two?) pitches to gain the true summit of the Brogran Spire. You can see Cliff (in blue) leading the spire below.
It all blurs a together but I believe from Brogan Spire you do two rappels into the next notch and then you climb The Tail. The photo below shows Sam sitting on top of the Tail and pointing back to the Brogan Spire, what an amazing feature to climb!
At this time, most of the climbing was town, but the logistics never end these travel ways. We get up the tail and then the Opossum.
Our feelings are bittersweet now. It's been a long day, a fun day, but also a demanding time. After you reach the summit of the Opossum, you're left with what I considered one of the hardest parts, the descent of course. It's possible to do a double rope rappel off the Opossum but we only had one rope between the three of us. The other method requires traversing an additional truly knife-edged ridge to a bolted anchor that can get you back to the ground with a single rope rappel. Sam loves this type of terrain (me, not so much) you can see him smiling before we crossed the death bridge.
I would have loved to get more photos of this part, but it was pretty balancy and demanding of attention. I had to go first (why?!) and Sam Followed. I guess we were going to climb on opposite sides of the ridge to counter balance a fall, which we didn't need to do but I was at full attention now. There is zero protection for any belays, and the spice factor is in full force as the rock quality on much of this ridge is pretty chossy.
We get to the other side, and Cliff comes last, down climbing, then the cat walk. From here we go back to approach shoes (again) and do an easy rappel back to Earth.
I follow Sam down and we are free! Now we have our hike back to the cars! Good times, never saw another climber on the traverse or any of the spires it connects for that matter!
We get back to the parking lot around 5pm. I think we spent about 5 to 5.5 hours climbing the route and then include a couple hours hiking. Time for iced coffee at Redpoint Climbing and pizza from Base Camp!! I take one more look back up the Marsupials and point out much of the ridge we just traveled. On the way out we make loose plans for next year, discussing the West Ridge of Mt. Washington.