(Apologies to my facebook friends, who may already have seen the photos I posted there.)
Our last full day in Bend, Sam and I went off with dear friend and wonderful hostess Tiffany and her son to climb a rock. Of the four of us, I was the only one without any time in a climbing harness. Sam had completed his Climbing merit badge at boy scout camp. Suffice to say, I was excited and nervous.
We set off for Smith Rock, about 40 minutes north of Bend, Oregon. This is a gorgeous river gorge and huge upthrust of stone in the middle of the high desert of east-central Oregon. From the outside, it merely looks like a setting for one of those old Western movies where everyone dies of dehydration. Then you get up on top and into the gorge, and my god it's beautiful and dramatic.
Long story short: Climbing was fun but much, much harder than it looks from the ground. The Cinnamon Slab climb looks like an easy jaunt up a sloped surface, but when you're fifty feet off the ground and have a 14 inch wide surface you're clinging to at a 75 degree pitch with no footholds, it takes a little focus to keep your cool. On top of it all, you're wearing this really goofy helmet that, you're thinking at the moment, will only serve to keep your scalp from getting lacerated as every bone in your body breaks as you bounce down the rocks to the bottom.
But then you remember you're on belay, and if the person on the ground likes you and your guide has properly anchored the rope at the top of the climb, you're pretty safe. So you carry on to the top, sweating like a cold beer on the tar in a Las Vegas parking lot in August.
Here are some photos from the Cinnamon Slab (5.6) portion of our day.
When we had just all finished on Cinnamon Slab, a group of 7,000 experienced climbers arrived and started loitering about six feet away from us. OK, maybe it was more like 12 people in climbing gear, and I don't know how experienced they were. The way they hovered, though, it appeared they intended to climb the routes we'd set up already.
No matter what they were there for, I was certain of one thing: I was not excited to have an audience. I knew I would make a total fool of myself. 43 year old doofus in a goofy helmet slipping off the rock and ending up dangling upside down from one foot caught in a tangled mess of rope. I was sure that was my future: a future filled with laughter from below and blood rushing to my head.
I did go up the Ginger Snap route. It starts with a little scrambling up some boulders until you get to the flat part. I stood on that last ledge for maybe five minutes trying to figure out how the hell I was going to go up even one more inch. I sortied and retreated a number of times, frequently thinking I had made it as far as I could for my first day. But Tiffany, the evil slave driving torture dragon lady, "urged" me on from below. And up I went. And damn, was it HARD.
After we were all done, we headed off to the Terrabonne Depot for cold beers and dinner. Highly recommended after an exertion like climbing or a long hike. The black ale was outstanding and the service very friendly.
It's funny how, that day, I thought I enjoyed climbing but never really felt a need to do it again. As I get farther from the event, though, I begin to think about how I'd love to go out and challenge myself again. I learned a lot on Ginger Snap as I found or missed footholds, held my body close to the rock, used one or two fingers for balance as I stepped up. Clearly this won't be a lifestyle sport for me, but I would not be surprised to find myself on another wall sometime in the future.
Especially since Sam seems to love it so dearly.