Cragging At Smith Rock

It may seem unlikely, but as an alpinist living in central Oregon I find that climbing and training at Smith Rock State Park (the birthplace of American sport climbing) is just what I need to make sure I’m fit, strong and psyched to travel to the big mountains from which I derive some of my deepest motivations. 

To be able to climb big mountains, I need a few simple things:

1. A high level of cardiovascular fitness
2. The ability to climb hard with precision
3. A cool head in runout terrain
4. To be healthy and uninjured
5. To be psyched and inspired

Here is how training and cragging at Smith Rock makes sure I’m ready for the big hills of the Karakoram or Alaska Range:

1. Kick-ass Cardio
With miles of beautiful and steep trails, I can run to my heart’s content in Smith, engaging steep scrambling, knee-pounding downhills and splendid flat sections along the river. Trails like the Burma Road and Misery Ridge can be linked together to create challenging and long runs that make sure my legs and heart are ready for steep slopes on the high mountains of the world.

2. Difficult Climbing
The climbing at Smith tends to be vertical, technical and nails hard. To climb even in the easier grades, you have to use your feet and climb with precision. If you’re taking your first trip to Smith, bring your tightest and stiffest shoes. You’ll need them to stand on the small edges and pebbles that constitute the vast majority of the routes. To climb hard, you’ll have to move efficiently over small holds through technical cruxes.

3. Mentally Stimulating Climbing
The routes also tend to require leaders to climb hard with potential for big falls. A cool head is a must. Deep breath and precise movement will carry the day. Strong fingers also can be very helpful!

4. Health and Safety
This is not to say cragging at Smith is dangerous. Locals use stick clips, and there’s often potential for big falls, but the routes are long and in most cases the falls are safe. It’s an area where you can ‘hang it out there’ but usually remain safe.

5. Psych
Lastly, Smith is a beautiful, often comfortable and all-around very nice place to hang. When I return from a two-month expedition, I don’t feel like being cold, or sitting around in the gym, but I can always convince myself to head out to Smith Rock to hang with friends, work on projects and watch the otters playing in the river. The same goes for before a trip when the workouts are hard and often: it’s still easy to convince myself to head out to the trails or crag to elevate my heart rate and zero in my power endurance.

To be sure, I need to travel to other parts of North America or Oregon to swing ice tools (Canadian Rocks or Colorado), climb cracks (up the road at Trout Creek) and engage in tall mountains (the North Cascades or Sierra), but at Smith I can try hard, be happy and stay healthy for most of my year. It’s a place I’m proud to call home and would encourage any alpinist or rock climber to pop by for a visit.

Look forward to seeing you out there!