Friday, July 8, 2011

Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming...

This morning I woke up in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, a tiny town of 304 people rising out of the sweeping western plains. Why I was there and where I’m going next are a tale for another blog post though- this one is meant to catch up on where I’ve been.

Somewhere on the road from Colorado to Oregon...

Before leaving on my current adventure, I drove out from Colorado to Terrebonne, Oregon, a small town located near Smith Rock State Park. Ever since I started climbing, I’ve heard people tell stories of the incredible, technical climbing on small holds with huge run-outs at Smith, and I always thought that it sounded like a place I could really enjoy myself (minus the run-outs). My interest was further piqued when I began to learn the history of the place-- which really is the history of the beginning of sport climbing in America.

Before any bolting occurred there, Smith existed as a trad climbing mecca. However, once the climbers started running out of cracks and corners to climb with natural protection, they began looking to the blank rock faces in between. In the late 70s, the climbing pioneer Alan Watts bolted the first sport climb on American soil-- a 5.12 he called “Watts Totts.” Not too long after, in the early 80s, Watts bolted a 12c called “Chain Reaction,” a route that was to draw national, and even international, interest to the area. The route, an extremely photogenic steep arete, was photographed extensively and even featured on the cover of Time magazine. To this day, Smith remains as one of the most visited crags in America by international climbers.

Other notable Smith Rock history bits include Alan Watts climbing the 5.13d “East Face Crack” in 1984 with natural protection (at the time 13d was the hardest climb anywhere in the world- one of the few times American crags have been at the cutting edge level equal to European standards) and the first 5.14 in America, called “To Bolt or Not to Be,” in 1986, first climbed by the Frenchman JB Tribout.

The start to "Heinous Cling," a 12a I climbed... the first bolt is so high up, it's out of view

History aside, I was just excited to climb at a place full of crimps and vertical angles. I was not in the least bit disappointed-- when I arrived at the beginning of June, the climbing felt honest and hard, the bolts were few and far between, and the holds were as small as any I’d ever grabbed. In addition, Smith Rock State Park is just eye-poppingly gorgeous. Otters swim lazily down gently rushing rivers, hoards of snakes bask in the sun, horses graze on distant verdant hillsides, towering cliffs of volcanic tuff rise out from manicured trails, and eagles, vultures, and cliff sparrows populate the sky.

I got to vicariously revisit a little bit of history when Jonathan Siegrist repeated “Just Do It,” which in 1992 was the first 14c in the country. The feature it climbs on, a freestanding tower called The Monkey Face, is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring and unique pieces of rock I’ve seen anyone climb on.

Jonathan on "Just Do It"

From Oregon, we drove to Seattle, trading in Smith’s volcanic tuff for the “rhino rock” (as the locals call it) of Little Si. Humid, dark, and moss-covered trails lead to the edgy, resistance climbing on slightly overhanging walls. After feeling in my element on the vertical crimps at Smith, I quickly got put in my place after only a few bolts of the steep, endurance climbing at Little Si.

While at Little Si, I belayed Jonathan on a long-standing open project that extends a 14b called "Whore of Babylon." As he says on his blog, "After climbing the majority of WOB, including it's v10 crux, you continue into the meat of 'Lost Horizons' 14a, ending some 45+ meters above the deck.” He sent the route after I flew home to Boulder, calling it "New World Order," 14c.

From the cool damp of Seattle to the dry heat of Wyoming, the road keeps unfurling and the adventure continues. As my dear friend Katrina has tattooed on her torso underneath a drawing of silhouetted birds that I designed for her, “There is no greater joy than an endlessly changing horizon.” The quote was adapted from Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer, from the excerpt below:

"Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty."