Snowfall on the Monday of my return seemed to follow me all the way on my flight from Oregon back to Colorado. I was stoked to leave 15 degree weather in Colorado on April 10th but not as psyched to come back to 20 degree weather. I thought leaving cold weather behind in Colorado would give my bipolar girlfriend of a state time to straighten out and become warm again. Wrong. What can a girl do but hope?
It was my third trip out to Oregon. I flew into Portland and met my friend Mike Rowley, who then drove us back to his place of residence in Bend. Normally, the drive would take you through the beautiful pass of Mt. Hood which is surrounded by healthy looking trees towering into the sky. But as tradition has it, Mike took a wrong turn and we took detoured through Hood River. Maybe next time he’ll take me up on my offer of GPS directions; third times a charm right?
The day after my arrival, we set out for a nice country drive to Terrebonne. The drive from Bend to Terrebonne is about the same distance as it is from Denver to Boulder. What’s in Terrebonne you ask? Smith Rock. This state park is a sport climbing mecca reachable by about a ½ mile hike, ¼ of which is a steep downhill that is easier on the knees to run down instead of walk. Other than that, the short hike that spoils Smith locals is absolutely beautiful; you trot across a wooden bridge and meander your way along a gentle winding river before seeing hundreds of climbs at your fingertips. Being a much stronger climber than my previous visits to Smith, I had a mission in mind and goals to be met. I relayed to Mike I wanted to climb the Monkey Face and get on a few other climbs: Toxic, Magic Light (in hopes it wouldn’t make me cry this time), Dreamin’, More Sandy Than Kevin, Zebra Zion, and visit the Lower Gorge.
Being trad lovers at heart, Mike and I chose the Lower Gorge as our first destination. It had been a while since I climbed outside, so I wanted to do some warm ups before I decided to lead anything. However, top-roping the trad routes in the Lower Gorge felt more than just difficult. I made a mental note of all of the places I would have fallen on gear had I chosen to lead. Mike gently coaxed me, pressured me, and pulled every trick out of his bag in order to get me to rope gun for the rest of the day. I just wasn’t having it. Needless to say, the top rope struggles tangled my lead head in a way that had me questioning if I could even undo the knots over the remainder of my stay. The Gorge eventually became windy and cold as the sun began to slip away. We packed our bags and headed to the main park to get on Zebra Zion. The four pitch climb was beautifully amazing and was a great way to watch the sunset at the end of the day before heading back into town for some friends, eateries, and beers.
Waking up the next day, Mike looked at me and before even saying good morning he more of stated than questioned: “So you’re going to lead today.” I nodded with a sure that was less than confident. We met up with his friend Ryan and warmed up on one sport route (which I led) and one trad route.
Mike had other plans for our day which consisted of a nice, easy hike to the South Tip of Smith Rock. The 85 foot trad route Mike had in mind was named Kunza Korner, a 5.10c. While I was gazing up at the thin looking route, my partner had already dismantled his pack and began handing me gear. I quickly refused, but he was not in business to hear my protests. “You’re strong Shay. You got this. I KNOW you can do this. Don’t look at how thin it is; you are only psyching yourself out. We’ve talk about this before – NEVER judge a climb by its looks.” Noticing that neither he nor Ryan were going to back down, I reluctantly began attaching gear to my harness. But, I didn’t listen to his words of wisdom – I was judging Kunza by its looks and I was judging it hashly. Not only had I never placed my own gear in the rock at Smith before, but the route required gear that was composed of stoppers and small cams with only one #2 Camelot as stated in the book.
All of the deep breathing techniques in the world didn’t remove the scariest aspects of this route from my mind: there was a roof and it was thin. So thin. Too thin. Before I knew it, I had the weight of the gear on my hips and there was no turning back. As I led, a million thoughts flashed through my mind and most of them were the same…
- “….breathe, there’s no turning back, don’t fall, place a piece, check it once, don’t second guess it, keep moving, don’t fall, don’t negatively think about that piece below you, breathe, don’t fall, check your feet, don’t forget about your feet, you’ve got this, don’t fall, place a piece, breathe, don’t think about falling, remember your feet, breathe, keep moving.”
Photo Credit: Ryan Lazzeri with a phone.
As I climbed, I did so methodically and it seemed to take me forever. I had to collect myself a few times before pulling through more moves and even called out the pieces to Mike that I thought wouldn’t hold if I fell. I knew they were shitty placements, but I needed to place them for my head before moving to a place where I could get a solid placement. Mike and Ryan were incredibly supportive and praised me the entire way. Having a supportive belayer can make all the difference in the world for me.
All of a sudden, BAM! There was a solid, golden #2 Camalot and it was bomber. I felt ever fiber in my body relax just a smidge and I continued trying to stay present with the rock and my gear. Move after move. Slow. Breathe. Before I knew it, Mike called out, “Hell yeah Shay. Strong. Breathe. You’re doing great. You’re almost at the anchors!” I looked up, “Oh shit, the anchors are literally right there!” I did it. I didn’t fall. I kept my fibers together and it was glorious. Upon reaching the ground, Mike picked me up, spun me around in a hugging fashion, and congratulated me. It was then that he told me he had only been on the route once and it had scared him slightly. I punched his shoulder and playfully called him a jerk. I was psyched and even more stoked that Mike was going to finally be able to top rope a climb that I put up. I watched as he climbed and listened to his feedback on my pieces. He confirmed the pieces that I thought would not hold a fall were indeed terrible placements.
The next day our plans were to climb with Mike’s roommate, Dave, and his lady friend, Dee. We hiked about 1 ½ miles down to the other side of the Lower Gorge. Our original plan was to make it to the Marsupials, but the wind would not permit such desires. So, we settled for a hike to some trad climbs down by the river. The hike was absolutely gorgeous; everything was returning from its miniature death, newly formed life stretching timidly towards the sky. I capture the hike through lens-geared eyes as we turtled our way through overhanging branches.
Yes – turtled. I always feel like a turtle when I have to hunch over with a pack on in order to scrape through overhanging brush. My favourite climb that day was a squeeze chimney that engulfs you until you surface at the anchors.
Switching gears after climbing, I was stoked to take pictures of the hike on our way back. I warned my partners that they didn’t have to wait for me because let’s face it – I was going to take my sweet time. What can I say? It comes with the trick of the trade when you include a photographer in your group. And guess what? They waited for me.
My very last day of climbing I had made up my mind – I wanted to top rope Dreamin’, a 90 foot, beautiful 12a slab climb with 2 roofs. Ever since my first time at Smith Rock, I told myself one day I’d be strong enough to climb it and maybe eventually lead it. Mike, a much stronger climber than I, had been working on the route for a bit. The whippers he had taken on the route were, in his words, terrifying. I knew I’d have to play my cards carefully in order to get him to put it up for me. Not only did I want to climb the route, I really wanted the ability to take pictures of Mike on the route as well. When the time came, I pulled every single one of my womanly wiles that I could until he agreed. But then, he trudged back to me and laid out all of his qualms with my proposition. Naturally, I begged some more and continued to beg with intermittent sad puppy faces. The following photographs are picture perfect proof of who won the skirmish.
Mike did an amazing job on the climb and overall felt much more solid on the slab than he ever had before. He even passed the section of the climb where he normally fell without a second of hesitation. Dreamin’ is one of the most gorgeous dances I have ever had with a piece of rock. For me, the crimpy sequence requires a delicate body movement that is breath taking. A bald eagle even flew by while I was climbing, adding to the elegance of the climb and to the magic of Smith Rock. Doing better on the climb than I thought I would, I only struggled to pull the roof moves clean. After pulling the rope, Mike informed me there had to be an even ebb and flow with rope gunning and that it was now my turn to get on a hard lead climb. I had been eyeing a 12a climb called Latin Lover since my arrival. It looked like my style: thin and crimpy with the promise of a great dance. Touche Mike. You played your card wisely.
Latin Lover was my first ever attempt of leading a 12. It looked spicy, but there were draws already hung so I didn’t really have anything to loose. Once I was on the rock, everything felt sharp. Move after move I reminded myself to breathe, trying not to think about how far apart the bolts appeared. I felt pretty solid until I could literally touch a bolt with my tongue but could not clip it for the life of me. So, I fell…a smidge far at that. The fall shook me slightly but I got back on the climb and continued trying. The crux by the last bolt stumped me and after attempting it a few more times, my fingers were throbbing with anger. I chalked it up to an excellent effort for my first 12 and asked to be lowered.
The few weeks preceding my trip were increasingly trying of my character and patience at best. Needless to say, the trip was refreshing and as usual, I gained a little more knowledge about myself and my place in this world. I have this incessant urge to move, to never remain stagnant. Not within myself. Not within a place. Not within a challenge. Sometimes I need to recall my breath. And sometimes, I just need a good friend to hold my hand for a while and remind me that I often see myself with a tinted shade that doesn’t rightfully attest to my strength.
© /skin/ /ˈpōətrē/