Climbing at Smith Rock in Oregon

At the beginning of the month, Greyson and I took a road trip up to Bend, Oregon. I’ve already written about the beer and biking, but we did one other main activity while we were there: climbing and camping at Smith Rock State Park.

Smith Rock State Park, Bend, Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

The Oregon State Parks website says this about Smith Rock:

If you enjoy scenic views of deep river canyons or rock climbing, Smith Rock State Park is the place for you. There are several thousand climbs in the park. More than a thousand are bolted routes. We also offer miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Along your trip through the canyon, you might see golden eagles, prairie falcons, mule deer, river otter and beaver.

Smith Rock is a major rock climbing destination and the birth place of North American sport climbing. The Mountain Project describes the climbing at Smith Rock as:

“…Oregon’s premier rock climbing destination, and one of the best sport climbing areas in the United States. This world-renowned sport climbing mecca has more than once been at the focal point of the climbing world. Extensive development took place in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s by locals and international climbers alike, who put up scores of classic climbs on the tuff and basalt cliffs; development continues to this day with new moderates and cutting-edge routes going up each year. Ranging from classic beginner routes to hardcore testpieces on a wide variety of rock, there is truly something here for everyone. Although best known for its sport climbing traditional climbers can find plenty to be excited about here as well.

Located in the high desert in central Oregon, Smith Rock State Park’s cliffs and hillsides take a commanding presence over the surrounding terrain. The main cliffs are made of volcanic welded tuff, and surrounding bands of columnar basalt lie above the winding Crooked River…the prominent walls overlooking the Crooked River are home to many of Smith Rock’s most famous routes, but for those seeking some solitude and adventure there is plenty to be found on the back side or among the basalt columns in the Upper and Lower gorge. Monkey Face, perhaps the park’s most recognizable feature, sits proudly on the back side of Smith Rock with spectacular views of the Cascade Mountains and the arid landscape below.”

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Our first night in Bend we stayed in a vacation rental downtown, as we weren’t sure how late we would be getting in, and wanted to avoid setting up camp in the dark. The other three nights, we camped in the walk-in only camping at Smith Rock State Park, about a half an hour outside of Bend, and a quick walk to the climbing area and Crooked River. All of the camping is walk in only, and $5 per person (which includes hot showers and nice bathrooms!). It’s only about a two minute walk from the parking to the camping area, so carrying stuff from the car was really easy. There’s no fires or cooking at the campsites, so we just left all of the cooking implements (food, stove, pots & pans, etc.) in the car to make it even easier. The camping spots are just flat areas spread beneath the juniper trees, so pick your favorite and set up camp! This is definitely one of the best State Park campgrounds I’ve ever stayed in.

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Smith Rocks from the campsite at the state park.

One of the first things we did when we arrived in Bend was head to a gear shop and pick up a guidebook for climbing at Smith Rock. The friendly and helpful staff at Mountain Supply recommended Falcon Guides Rock Climbing Smith Rock State ParkWe started pouring over it while back at our campsite cooking dinner. Luckily, we a friendly local overheard us chatting and gave us a ton of great advice for fun climbs at our skill level.

We ended up spending our day of climbing on the campground side of the river at the Rope de Dope block. This particular block had a number of fun top rope climbs within my range (occasionally 5.10a) and access to the top anchors via a rope ladder. Greyson ended up leading up a 5.7 sport route to get to the top and set up our toprope (note: Smith Rock is known for HIGH first anchors), but it was nice to have the option.

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Greyson getting our gear set up at Rope de Dope block

Though we waited for the sun to come out and melt the frost before we headed down to climb, Rope de Dope was in the shade. It was February in the high desert, so we were dealing with freezing cold fingers. I spent more time trying to warm up my painfully cold hands in the sunny spots down by the river than climbing.

I made it up 5.7 How Low Can You Go (though it felt like a hard 5.7 for a warm up!). I flailed around quite a bit on the crux of 5.9 Shamu, but I persevered after a couple of attempts and made it to the top! The rocks of this area are very different than the Sierra granite that I’m used to, so that was fun to experience. There were a lot more little pockets for finger holds, but I didn’t realize how much I relied on smearing my feet on the granite until I was up there sliding all over the face of Rope de Dope.

After my successful ascent of Shamu, I was physically done and mentally exhausted. Climbing is hard work! I can’t wait to get into better shape so I can spend longer days climbing. Greyson agreed with me, so we packed up our gear and headed on the hike back up to camp. I was worried the climb out of the valley would be miserable, but it wasn’t too bad! Plus we had gorgeous views of Smith Rock, the Crooked River, and a clear look at the Three Sisters way off in the distance to distract us.

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Obviously, one of the best parts of climbing is the meal you eat immediately following. You’re usually hungry enough that a peanut butter sandwich or cheese quesadilla you packed tastes like the nectar of the gods. But since were were on vacation, we decided to live it up and head into Bend and really feast! We planned on hitting up an Indian restaurant that Greyson had been to before, but fate intervened and they weren’t open for the early bird special dinner we were looking for. I was freezing and hangry, so we stopped in a coffee shop to figure out our next step, and the barista recommended Wild Rose Northern Thai Eats – saying it was the best Thai restaurant she’s ever tried. She was right! I love Thai food and living in the Pacific Northwest spoiled me, but this was the most amazing Thai food I’ve ever tasted. Since the menu is all food from northern Thailand, the Thai restaurant staples like pad thai and hangover noodle that I’m used to seeing were not on the menu. We ordered curried basil noodles off the menu, and something off the (huge) specials board that the waitress recommended. Everything we ate was so good! Everything everyone around us ordered looked so good! I can’t recommend this place enough – it’s a little different than the typical Thai restaurant, but unique in the most delicious way.

 

Mountain Biking the Deschutes River Trail

Mountain Biking the Deschutes River Trail, Bend, Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

Greyson and I brought A LOT of gear on this road trip to Bend, because we weren’t sure how the weather was going to be. We brought skis/snowboards, camping gear, hiking gear, snowshoes, mountain bikes, climbing gear and swimsuits! We ended up not using all of it, but we made the most of what we could do.

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One thing I was really looking forward to was mountain biking in Bend. It’s one of the (many) outdoor activities Bend is known for, and I was excited to give it a try. As I’m feeling fairly out-of-shape bike wise, I wanted to try a trail that wasn’t going to be too difficult technically or exertion wise.

We stopped in an awesome bike store/beer & wine bar/coffee shop, Crow’s Feet Commons, and picked up a Bend bike trail map to add to Greyson’s “map library” (aka the overflowing side pockets in the Toaster). We decided on the Deschutes River Trail, as it was easily accessible and close to town and rated as beginning/intermediate in both terrain and exertion.

Map via Google Maps
Map via Google Maps

We jumped on the trail a few miles out of town (directions here) from a dirt parking lot right next to the river. After a few minutes of fire road riding we found ourselves on a gorgeous dirt trail that paralleled the Deschutes. Unfortunately, despite the supposed “beginner/intermediate” nature of this trail, we fairly quickly arrived on some technical rocky sections. I consider myself a strong intermediate rider, but I had to get off and walk a couple of these sections, especially as I was not expecting them! However, the rocky sections were over in less than a quarter mile, and the rest of the trail (that we rode) was smooth sailing – definitely beginner.

Trail Map and Elevation Profile via Strava
Trail Map and Elevation Profile via Strava

For me, the best feature of the Deschutes River Trail was the awesome packed dirt. I’m used to the decomposed granite that turns to sand that the Tahoe area trails are “famous” for, so this forest soil was a welcome change! I felt like I couldn’t slide out if I tried (note: I am sure that is not true). The trail meanders along with the Deschutes, giving gorgeous views of the river and the strange lava beds the area is famous for. The Deschutes is also a popular whitewater kayaking destination, so I’m sure that in certain times of year, you can watch people shooting the rapids.

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The trail heads south from Bend and travels about thirteen miles south to Sun River, so you could definitely make a day of it for a longer, 26 mile ride. We ended up just riding about a 9 mile out-and-back section of the trail, but I imagine most of the trail is similar. It was muddy in spots, so be sure to check conditions and practice good trail etiquette if you’re riding in the winter or spring. Additionally, the trail is mixed use, and used considerably by hikers and bikers, so be sure to keep your speed under control to avoid user conflicts.

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Overall, I enjoyed this trail. Though I didn’t experience the whole thing, I’d rank the section we rode as “beginner” with a short “intermediate to advanced” but easily walkable section on the technical side of things, and definitely “easy” for exertion. I can’t wait to get back to Bend and ride the whole Deschutes River Trail, as well as trying out some of the harder trails.