Working 9 to 5, Monday to Friday sucks. Careers are the inevitable grind we all work towards for the majority of life, yet as soon as we attain them, many of us only work to get away from them. At least that is the way for us addicts. If you are not addicted to that sweet adrenal gland excrement and warming touch of the sun, then I highly suggest getting addicted.
I’ve taken countless friends, peers, colleagues, sassy-city folk, and flatlanders out to the cliffs to experience rock climbing for the first time. I always start by saying, “I’m warning you, this sport is addicting.” And religiously, after each person climbs high above their comfort zone or what they imagined possible for themselves, their smile is enough to tell of the high from the outdoor drug. Myself included. This is exactly why almost every daydream, spare moment, and calorie eaten has been spent on adventures of the vertical kind. There’s something magical about being suspended in the air, breathing heavily, with a cool wind on the back and chalky hands gripping the earth.
After too many days spent in a research lab this past summer, I was on a plane to beautiful Bend, Oregon. Flying over the desolate landscapes of western Colorado, Idaho, and eastern Oregon could give even the most boring of imaginations a place to create, with craters and ridges seemingly out of a sci-fi movie. My awesome cousin, Kelly, and her equally awesome husband Mark. Although not a specific climbing trip, there was a bundle of adventures planned for the next 5 days. Better get some rest.
First up, Kelly and I’s favorite band of all time, the John Butler Trio, arguably the greatest band ever to exist (although I might be biased), and they put on a supernatural show. I am proud to say that we were dancing the most of anyone.
Mr. John Butler creating some magic on the 12 string
The next day, only slightly sore from the dance party, we embarked on a scenic drive to the famed Crater Lake. A relatively recent volcanic wonderland, the caldera of the extinct (for now) lava pot has filled with rain and snow-melt over the last few millennia. With no inflow or outflow, the water is astoundingly undisturbed and subsequently dazzling blue and perfectly clear. This place is one of many examples of where pictures cannot do justice to the grandeur scenery. The scale (6 miles diameter) and many thousands of feet of cliff leading from the rim to the water take time to put into perspective. A single trail leads down to the water on the far north shore. Even with a cool wind and clouds in the sky, I couldn’t resist jumping into the crystal water. I had heard that one should open their eyes underwater, even if you normally don’t like to. So after diving off a rock, I opened my eyes to see the most spectacular blue in every direction. You can see hundreds of feet down where the cliff-lined shore stretches towards the 1,949 foot bottom. I may have taken a gulp of water as well, because when else can you drink volcano water while swimming in the caldera?
Feet apart: -2 points for bad form
A beautiful overlook with some great humans
We settled into our campsite, where Mark got to roast his first ever camp goodies over the fire. The sky grew dark and the stars began to burn bright as you can see, far from city lights. The Milky Way streaked across the sky as the fire burned down and we each departed to our cozy sleeping bags, alarm clocks armed.
The alarm went off at 3:30am, and we grudgingly crawled out to the still black night. We ate a banana, poptart, and juice before getting in the car to slowly slip out of the campground, well before our fellow camp mates stirred awake. Why so early? We had a mission to see the volcano lake in rare form. We parked at the Witch’s Point overlook, dawned our headlamps, and hiked up the short but steep trail to the top of a peak sitting along the rim of the caldera. The low light from the sun was just beginning to fade the black sky to a dark blue. Over the next 45 minutes, we watched in amazement as the sunrise slowly engulfed the view in front of us. Each moment was more spectacular than the last. Low inversion clouds crept in from the west, spilling over the ridgeline like a waterfall and dissipating into the lake surface. Every other peak on the ridge was immersed in clouds except the peak on which we stood, only adding to the magic. I couldn’t resist running out to a point on ridge below and doing a handstand, because when else in life could I do that! By the time we were thoroughly frozen by the freezing, misty morning air, the sun had grown higher in the sky and we departed. With only the early morning risers greeting us on our way down, we had a smooth trip back to Bend, Oregon and a needed nap.
When in Rome- or on a volcano at sunrise- do handstands on cliff.
The final days before departure were more local, but certainly no less extraordinary. Bend is a wonderful, young, clean and bustling town on the Deschutes River. We jumped in the kayaks and went for a relaxing float through town on a beautiful summer day. There was also of course the obligatory stop in the REI to look at all the cool gizmos and gear that we can’t afford. Yet…
On my last day, fully rested, Kelly was kind enough to humor me and take me to Smith Rock State Park — a climber’s paradise. On a Tuesday morning at 9am, we were the second set of people in the parking lot, and had literally the entire park to ourselves. This was another place were pictures can simply not due justice to the scale of everything. From the parking lot, you are greeted with a magnificent view of Peanut Wall, which doesn’t seem too large until you see a small black spec towards the bottom of the wall and realize that is a climber at the top of the first pitch. Whoa. 800 ft+ walls of pristine tuff and basalt rock thrust skyward in wonderful cracks, smooth faces and arching roof systems.
Just a little excitement.
I had spent a few to many hours at work researching routes to do within my limited abilities. The plan was to head to the south facing popular destinations like Morning Glory and the Dihedrals before the sun and crowds arrived, however, there was not a soul around and it was a pleasant 72 degrees. No rush I guess. I ticked of the highest star 5.11s, finding a groove in the excitement of the new place. Once the sun became more direct, we scrambled through Asterisk Pass, and found an excellent two-pitch .11 to explore. For one of Kelly’s first times climbing outside, and with a recent ACL tear, I was extremely impressed with her skillz (with a z) and willingness to try anything. Thanks for catching my falls, and reveling in my 2-year-old giddiness! We were able to see the famed monkey head formation and a few high-liners walking the webbing connecting the tower to the cliff.
Monkey Face in all its glory. Added to the bucket list of climbs. Yes, that’s long list.
After a very refreshing swim in the river, we headed around the southern tip of Smith Rock, back to the front side. I had one more item on my tick list for the day. A stunning line of chalked crimps up a smooth red face, crossed by two large roofs: Dreamin, 5.12a. I knew my skin and forearms were already a little beaten from the full day, and maybe I should’ve hopped on this earlier in the day, but I had to give it a go. And what a route indeed! A slippery boulder problem leads to the first roof, where a big power move protects a no-hands rest. Unfortunately, you can’t re-grow skin at a rest stance. A very daunting and runout crimpfest awaited. My favorite type of climbing. I pulled up to a scary clip above the first roof, chalked up, and went for it. It was a spicy lead for sure, with no shortage of distance between bolts on not-so-good micro edges, but I was so energized. I was sitting on this glorious rock 80 feet up at Smith Rock on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. Other than sticky shoes, chalk, food and water, what else does one need in life? Answer: nothing. When I got to the upper roof, I was getting pumped like crazy, toes on fire, skin tearing, already 15+ feet above the last draw. I reached and reached for the next clip but could not connect. When every muscle fiber finally gave out I distinctly remember seeing the rope wind loosely for a solid second as I plunged earthward. Then, as Kelly was shot upwards from the ground, I came to a sudden stop far below my starting point. The route description says it will leave you dreamin’ of the send as you fall off the final moves, and I completely agree. Although I didn’t clip the anchors this time, I knew I gave it everything I had and more. Let’s just say I will be back with more finger skin.
A beautiful line that got me this time. Dreamin’ .12a
And that was a wrap. I was beaten tired, filled with memories that made me smile at every thought, and was sitting on the plane back across the voided landscape until the Colorado mountains, still with a few patches of snow, greeted me at home. Before I knew it I was driving back down the highway to work with what felt like a vivid dream and a memory card full of pictures to prove it wasn’t. Until the next adventure. With enough daydreaming about the last escape, it can be Friday real quick.