August 21, 2010

is it possible to look MORE bald with a goofy helmet?

(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.

From the parking lot, hiking off into Smith Rock State Park.

From a switchback along the trail into the park.  The river gorge is simply spectacular.

This was taken from the base of our climb, across the river.

We hiked in about a half mile.  It starts with switchbacks to descend into the gorge valley, then a pleasant hike along the river and an ascent up various steps to the base of the route our guide had picked out.  Did I mention our guide?  Aaron, from Chockstone Climbing Guides, was our mentor and guide for the day. He'd picked out two routes for us, spanning 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.  The first, Cinnamon Slab, is a 5.6 climb. The second, Ginger Snap, is a 5.8.  I had some idea of what this meant because Big Bro had explained this to me the week before.  5.6 sounded OK but tough.  5.8... we would see.

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.

Aaron, our guide, setting up the route.  Relax, ladies.  He's married.

Sam belaying, with Aaron as backup.

Sam nearing the top of Cinnamon Slab.  The point he's climbing in this shot has a surface only about a foot wide.  There are holds on the outside of the rock, too, but I found those not as tempting as maybe they should be.

Me at the bottom of Cinnamon Slab, taking my first steps up any climbing route ever.  I look pretty manly in this, don't I?  Except for the dorky helmet, of course.

Me about halfway up Cinnamon Slab.  Here it's about two feet wide, maybe a little more.

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.

Tiffany used a zoom for this one.  You can see my right foot is on a solid ledge, but tell me where the hell I'm going to put it next when I hoist up onto my left foot?

Another zoomed shot, as I step up off that ledge on my way to the top.

Sam struggled a little with this route, too, but he made it all the way.  You can get a sense of the route here.  Sam is roped in, by the way--it's just hard to see the rope in this shot.

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.


bluesugarpoet said...

Wow, Peter - that is spectacular! I could have done only one thing you did that day: consume dark ale (did you get to try a Black Butte Porter Ale? that's my favorite!).

So glad you had a chance to explore the best of Oregon!

jjdebenedictis said...

Kudos! Not just on climbing but also on looking all manly and fabulous despite being victim of the camera angle known as the "Classic Climber Butt-Shot".

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fairyhedgehog said...

Climbing is harder than it looks from the ground? But it looks impossible from the ground! Or it does to me, anyway.

Those are great pictures, as always.