May 13, 2007.
With a greasy, hearty breakfast in my belly and a backpack full of clinking rock gear I set off for Smith Rock early Sunday morning with three friends. We had camped out the (cold, windy) night before and awoke with the sun to be among the first in line at the easier routes available. Although my friends have a good deal of climbing experience I am very much a newbie at this sport.Gary set up the first set of topropes on two routes right next each other. I watched everyone else climb and was willing to sit back and just soak it all in for a while…but my buddies pushed me to get on the rock so I squished my feet into my rented rock shoes and tied in. I was nervous and it didn’t take me long to get frustrated and tired. But with an overwhelming amount of encouragement and help I eventually made it to the top of the route. One down.
Over the course of the day, I’d climb three more times on routes rated up to 5.8, whatever that means. All I know is that the first 10 feet felt the most difficult, and then it would get easier from there. I had to take a bunch of breaks and sit back in my harness contemplating future moves. It’s amazing how little surface area is required to support body weight. I felt like a stranger in a foreign world. And a big wuss for getting tired so quickly. But I did like the challenge of attempting something way outside my comfort zone. And I really enjoyed the camaraderie of the people I was with.
When they decided to up the ante and tackle more difficult routes, I packed up my camera and took a walk along the rock to Asterisk Pass, where I followed a herd path/scramble over to the other side to glimpse the famous Monkey Face. The breeze was so comfortable over there and there seemed to be fewer people as well. It was beautiful. The horizon rose and fell over several significant Cascade peaks. I wandered along the base of the rock, watching and listening to the cliff swallows zipping through the air. Their nests clung to the overhanging rock above my head. What a picturesque scene to awaken to each day! Lucky birds. I continued along, blissful in the sun and serenity. Soon, Monkey Face appeared around the corner. I took a photo and turned back, wondering how long I’d been walking, and not really wanting to go back. It was peaceful here.
The scramble up was much easier than the scramble down, and soon I faced the still heat of the other side of the rock. I stepped over and around a myriad other groups of climbers infesting the area. Much unlike the part of the park from which I just came, every rock face was dotted with chalk marks and sweaty climbers.
The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting in the sun, watching people climb. The only interruption was a horrific fall across the river. I’ll never forget the sound of the dull thud of a body hitting the ground. The cries of “Oh my God” over and over after that sound sent chills up my spine. People jumped into the water and swam across the river to help. We sat uselessly and wondered what was going on. After what seemed like an eternity, an ambulance showed up and a helicopter carried the fallen climber off somewhere. I still don’t know what happened that day.
The day was topped off perfectly with huckleberry ice cream and a relazing ride home to Portland. My dusty, half-unpacked bag is still sitting on my living room floor…