I drove to Smith Wednesday. Traffic was horrible passing Fort Lewis and I getting tired by the time I reached Mt. Hood. I pulled in at a snowy trail head with a single Sprinter van parked in the quiet moonlight thinking it would be a nice calm nights sleep. I was wrong.
I drink coffee and Red Bulls to keep awake. I know it’s not wise…but it seems to be the only way to do long solo drives. Problems come when I push late into the night, trying to reach a destination…in this case, a crash spot down out of the snow…or even Smith itself.
I’d just had my last Red Bull half an hour before realizing it wasn’t helping anymore. My tiredness had overcome the caffeine. At that point I encounter something I joke about called: “Managing your pharmaceuticals”. The situation is this: You finally pull over, too tired to drive safely anymore. Sometimes I can sleep despite the caffeine. But this night I decided a shot of whiskey as a nite cap might help me sleep.
Now, I could have left that parking lot and driven further…but the tiredness and the shot of whiskey made it unwise. I was stuck. The only solution I can see is to leave in the morning. That was my original plan, but we had family over at noon and I like hanging out with the kids.
Anyway, there I was, sitting in the back of my cozy truck until 2 in the morning watching a constant stream of jacked up 4 wheel drive’s drifting donuts in the 8 inches of un-plowed snow. When that got boring, they’d plow thru the two foot berm and hotdog around on the snow covered lawn back by the cement outhouse. There was also a snowed in road out to a campground for the more adventurous.
There were so many of them that it must be a thing. I can imagine these self centered idiots gathering in a nearby tavern talking excitedly about this one plowed trailhead up by Mt. Hood where there is an open outhouse, lots of snow and no law enforcement.
That was a lesson learned. Earlier, on the way up past Sandy, before the snow I had driven past at least 3 normal campgrounds…all dark, calm and quiet looking. I’d hoped I could get over the snowy pass down to some quiet pull outs before Warm Springs…but it was not to be.
I met Dave and Danni at the Overflow Lot at Smith the next morning. We hiked down and climbed the red arête to the right of Purple Headed Warrior…which we also climbed. Then we “did the walk” along the base and got lucky with 5 Gallon Buckets. Someone had led it, top roped a few friends and walked away from the rope, leaving it hanging. It’s typical behavior these days at Smith.
But, to their credit, they kindly offered to pull their rope if I would rescue their draws…since their only leader in the party of 6 was leading a hard ten nearby. That worked out great for us. Danni and I both led it while Dave followed in street shoes. He has a new rule: Everything I lead he follows in street shoes. What’s ironic is I did that with Kena on some trips this summer. Street shoes are more comfortable…and what goes around comes around.
I don’t remember all the routes we did but a few stand out. We did Fridays Jinx, rapping down Pack Animal in the dark. I led the second pitch…feeling tentative but solid. I tried to hand it off to Dave, who had led the more dangerous first pitch.
“Dave, I know you haven’t led this before. If you really want the lead I will happily hand it off. You’re a good partner and I wanna’ keep you happy.”
Danni observed this little exchange: “I call that BS. Uncle Mark is scared of the pitch!”
“I’m 70 percent sure I can lead it…but the 30 percent that says I can’t is making a lot of noise. Alright, I’ll lead it…but you’ll rescue me if I chicken out, right Dave?”
A little of my skill from Indian Creek was still in play, helping me stay focused on the excellent layback and stem moves that keep the grade at 7+. When Dave topped out in the twilight I was surprised to see he wasn’t towing a rope for Danni. She had wisely decided to bail. Dave and I put on our headlamps and walked over to the Pack Animal rappel where Danni was waiting at the bottom to make sure we got off ok.
Dave was interested in multipitch so on the next day we took a trip up White Satin. I’ve done it with Richard and Marty (may he rest in peace), so this was my third trip up. I’ve never got it clean but it’s always exciting with enough exposure to make your knees weak. The hardest move comes right at the end of the third pitch which is an overhanging 5.9 open book. You can get up it with good stem technique but I’m usually so terrified by that point that I’ve forgotten how to climb. The stem foot holds are often on completely vertical smears that don’t look like they’d stick.
But stepping on these vertical smears in the overhanging open book is the only way up. The jams at the crux vanish for a 3 foot section. There is a blue #3 handjam…and a rattly finger jam, but those are out of reach. I think I had to layback on a flaring pod, stembox off to the left then step up on the concealed rail off to the right. That gained me a couple crucial feet.
I pulled Dave’s blue cam out of the hand jam, stuck my left hand in there and underclinged the rattly fingers to gain access to the sandy grapefruit sized knob off to the right. I pulled on the knob and lunged up for a flaring handjam on the left…which ended the crux just as all my power drained away and Dave came into view at the belay…grinning like a banshee. What a climb!
I hate to say it but the best climb of the trip was the newish sport climb: Voyage of the Cow Dog. It starts level with the top of the 600 foot tall Ship Rock and it’s a long approach. By the time you get to the third pitch you are climbing above the massive Picnic Lunch Wall.
I led the first pitch. It got increasingly steep on some of the most uninspiring frozen mud climbing I’ve ever seen. It looked like a vertical wall of cow sh$t got dried out and petrified. Every bolt I checked seemed solid…despite the ugly rock. Even for Smith it’s odd because there are very few embedded stones. It’s not conglomerate like Bunny Face. And despite just being an eight, some of the moves are thin, I had to hang once because stepping on a half inch edge of frozen mud seemed so improbable. After a rest I was able to “commit to the fall”. The bolt was just below my feet…assuming it was good.
This is why I’m not a huge fan of sport climbing. You have to put your life in the hands of the kind strangers who drill the bolts. Obviously we all owe a huge debt to the climbers who put up routes. But this doesn’t mean you should put complete faith in bolts found out in the wild.
Imagine if amusement park rides were put up by average Joe’s who taught themselves welding and engineering. There is no training of the workers, no government inspections, no guarantee it’s safe. Your only comfort is that lots of people have gone before you and found the bolts to be good.
The last pitch on Cow Dog takes you to the rim on an arete with 600 feet of exposure above Picnic Lunch wall. Dave had led it and made it look easy. Following it I found the moves were all there, but you had to move right at both bulges…and right meant moving out to the edge where the exposure was unnerving. I think I can lead it next time…just have to exercise some serious mind control. But you need to get up early for Cow Dog…it’s super popular.
You can often get on trad lines when the sport is crowded. One of my Smith favorites is Lions Jaw 5.7. I told Dave and Danni that it used to be the second route past the bridge. You’d turn left after the foot bridge and the first route you came to was Zebra Zion. Lions Jaw was second. There was nothing else. Now there are at least 40 sport routes before you get to Lion’s Jaw. It’s all ancient history now…but it’s weird to have all those memories…like ghosts in my mind of past trips down there when we were young and pretty. Lions Jaw is a super fun route. You can still lead it with all passive gear.
Twas another super fun weekend at Smiffey!