Two days at Smith Rock

July 2, 2008.

I woke up, sweating already, anticipating a very mellow day of watching other people climb. Of course, getting out to the climbing areas requires a little bit of hiking and that would be my excitement for the day. We stayed at the Skull Hollow campground, a basic, free camp area not 15 minutes away from Smith Rock State Park.

Marc and Brad arranged breakfast over a couple of camp stoves as the long, slow morning ritual began. I dutifully worked through my physical therapy and chowed down on oatmeal. I packed up my bird guide, binoculars and other trinkets to keep myself occupied for the large part of the day. Barely able to walk a mile, climbing will definitely outside my repertoire for quite some time. My flaccid, shriveled left quad muscles are hurting compared to the plump right quads. Although I progress a little bit every day, it never feels like enough.

Late in the morning we arrived at Smith Rock. I got a slight head start down the trail and Brad pointed out where they planned on climbing. “Okay, meet you there…” I mumbled as they bounded down the trail. Hiking poles definitely help, especially on the downhill sections (which are much more difficult than the uphill). I cursed my knees as I took my sweet time negotiating the rocky, uneven path down to the river. I continued along to the Red Wall, where the two brothers were getting ready to climb.

Trad climbing is an interesting endeavor. There is a great deal of knowledge, gear, technique and time involved in each and every climb. I watched as they picked through a large pile of shiny metal objects, each with its own specific job. I learn through watching and asking questions, and when I can, by climbing after someone who’s placed trad pro. My own level of climbing is far behind these two, who have been climbing advanced routes for several years. My own climbing experience is just about a year of hacking it and picking up bits and pieces of know-how as I go. So I sat there and watched the gearing up process unfold.

Shade was, again, very hard to come by. My stomach had been achy for the past few days and the searing heat did nothing to ease my pains. I sat, complaining, in half-shadows for a few hours while they played on the rocks. As designated photographer, I took some photos as they ascended the first pitch. After they disappeared from sight, I retreated into a cave, listened to the birds squealing, and tried to will my nausea away.

Later, when they returned triumphantly from their first climb, we took a food break and moved along to another nearby climbing area. By now my stomachache had subsided and the sun relented enough to put me in better spirits. We were completely shaded, and life was good. A stiff wind even blew through this area, cooling me down even further. I sat and did some of my exercises while they went at it again.

Eventually we all got hungry enough to call it a day. We walked back to the truck, drove in to Terrebonne and had a slammin’ dinner at the only restaurant in town. Exhausted from the sun, we went back to camp and relaxed until bedtime. There was a brief thunderstorm that night, and by morning it was as dry and dusty as the morning before.

July 3, 2008.

Today was planned to be a climberrific day as well, but as it turned out, sometimes plans just don’t work out. After another lazy morning, we finally got to Smith Rock and hiked out to the Dihedrals. This was a longer trek than the day before, so I got a real head start this time. After the gear rearranging and route choosing, Marc started up a hot rock face. Just a few bolts up, he decided he just couldn’t do it and let Brad give it a try. He couldn’t manage either. And, as quickly as the day began it ended. Truly baking in the sun today, we decided to head down to the river for a dip before going home. We located the easiest spot for my lame knees to carry me to the water and got in. The cool, slowly flowing water was just what I needed to energize my tired skin. We sat for thirty minutes or so, taking it easy, watching the birds and various critters in the water.

Thus ended my journey across the Cascades to the other side of Oregon. It was a great trip, with many highs and lows. My slow re-introduction to the wild world outside of the living room was good for my psyche as well as for my knee. I feel more and more like my former self each day, although I know there is still a long way to go.

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