On the Road Again – Beginning of the US tour

Smith Rocks
Smith Rocks

The time has come for pilgrimage through some legendary US climbing (and running, MTB and skiing) locations. I packed everything in, and as usual – with no specific plan, but lots of hope that the road will show me the way, left my cozy temporary nest in Kelowna, British Columbia. Bye bye, my smoothie-maker; bye bye, cotton clothing and pillows; see you later all my cozy habits, books and conveniences; it’s time to trade in all of this for exploration, restless existence and unpredictable adventures.

I love packing. Most of traveling people will claim the opposite, but I always make a small ceremony out of it – put some music on, make myself a drink, and pack in the rhythm of music, and whatever beverage you have at hand. I do have some old time favorites – like Canned Heat “On the road again”, and an occasional Eddie Vedder. Yes yes, I know, not being super original here, but sometimes things work the way they work.

The morning of departure did come, and we happily head towards the Peace Arch – border between Canada and US. I got slightly lost, when asked the question “Where is home?” – I changed quite a few countries over my adult life, and clear identity lines do not exist in my life anymore (but this is a topic for a whole separate blog post). “Camping under Chief at Squamish” also did not quite seem to work for them as my address in Canada; this time – they seemed confused. After some more questioning we were finally let through, and could begin the US Epic. After a quick stop in the the Seattle for lunch and WiFi, we rapidly made our way towards our first stop – Smith Rock in Oregon.

Totally perfect lunch wall at Smith Rocks
Totally perfect lunch wall at Smith Rocks

We arrived to Smith after midnight. The GPS was navigating us through narrow roads towards what we could identify as series of dark blobs in the distance – Smith Rock. Quite exhausted after the drive, we finally found the campsite, which looked very full. Pitched our tent, and were unconscious in 73 seconds. It was a rather freezing night, and I – a cold sleeper, was suffering severely. Luckily, over the years, I’ve also got good at suffering, so in the end, it was not a problem. In the morning, our tent was covered with a thick layer of ice.

RedBull life juice to be brought back alive from frozen death.
RedBull life juice to be brought back alive from frozen death.
Climbers on the Picnic Lunch Wall.
Climbers on the Lunch Wall.

The morning sun rays wiped away all suffering. The view that opened up, was just spectacular. Golden and red faces, pillars and buttresses of fortress-like rock massive. Something that caught my eye immediately was the Picnic Lunch wall – big clean elegant east-facing face glowing, inviting, and almost speaking to me. We must get on this one. As if these crazy rock formations sticking out of nowhere in the middle of Oregon flatlands is not enough, the entire Smith Rock is enveloped by a small river. We quickly gathered our gear and rushed down a tidy wide trail towards the magnificent walls.

Smith Rocks is a very interesting place, both in climbing and aesthetic sense, but also in terms of its geology (although probably most of the climbing areas could be said to have interesting geologically). Smith Rock alongside Gray Butte, Powell Butte and Barnes Butte are located in area of the Crooked River caldera – an old extinct volcano that is known for its welded tuff rock. Welded tuff rocks form, when it’s sufficiently hot to weld things together, and hence is referred to as pyroclastic rock (pyro – fire/heat derived from the Greek, and clastic – formed of separate fragments/pieces). Caldera itself is a volcano-tectonic depression, resulting after emptying of magma-chamber due to explosive eruption, or erosion of magma chamber roof. The depression in the ground is then usually filled with ashes, rocks sediment, and eventually hardens to form rock. This is how Smith Rock tuff was formed around 30 million years ago, which was then covered with basalt river flows from nearby volcanoes 0.5 million years ago.

For those interested, I am attaching an interesting article/field trip notes on the Crooked River caldera by Jason D. McClaughry et al published in the Oregon Geology magazine: Crookedrivercaldera

Warm up route on
Warm up route on

For a warm up we picked some popular moderate route. Climbing was unusual for me. Going from massive pockets, big enough for “head-jams” to very delicate small technical feet and sparse hands. Stoke levels definitely risen, and as we were about to head towards the lunch wall multi-pitches, it started raining !

Hiding from the rain
Hiding from the rain
Climbers in hiding

We decided to ignore it, as the rock has a lot of friction, everyone around us seemed to be doing the same. However, as we moved towards a different route, the rain was getting stronger, and we decided to abandon the plans, and after a quick walk, departed for Yosemite.

Amazing Smith Scenary
Amazing Smith Scenery
Crazy rock formations

One the way out, we stopped at this excellent Redpoint Climbers supply – Coffee, Beer and Gear cafe (http://www.redpointclimbing.com/), located just a few kilometres from the Smith Rock State park, one the main road in Terrebonne. Super cozy warm place with WiFi, climbing gear essentials, excellent climbing guide/book library, and hot chocolates with home-made whipped cream 🙂 pretty epic if you ask me.

Next stop – Yosemite !

Pumpkin fields
Pumpkin field

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