Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Spring Thing 2008
Almost every year, many of the climbers of the Northwest travel down to Smith Rock State Park in Oregon and perform a full day of trail maintenance. More than a simple litter pickup or tree planting (although we do that too), this is back-breaking work to construct safer trails on the steep slopes of the park.
Given the delicate desert landscape, having trails is a good way to join both the community and the climber crowd together to promote the park. This little park is a jewel of geological history and of course - it has awesome climbing routes.
The work parties started at 8 on Saturday and spread out across the park, each under a lead that directed the action. The supplies are carted or trucked to the edge of the park or area, but the majority of the work is bucket-brigade or simply walking with a heavy rock, putting it in place, then getting another.
But when the day progresses, finally wrapping up in the early afternoon (the hot afternoons shut everything down), the trails look amazingly new. These events are a great way to meet new climbers and catch up with old friends.
Also, the bolts that have gotten notices about being ready for replacement are all checked and replaced. This is especially reassuring, as the rock qualities at Smith are touch on any fixed gear, due to the high thermal expansion cycles of the desert and the rock actually being a "welded tuft", a form of petrified volcanic ash.
These pictures aren't a great way to capture Smith's expansive vista, especially from the top, where the majority of central Oregon's lower Cascade mountains are visible across a green blanket of farms and small towns. I believe Oregon to be one of the most beautiful places on earth, but you'll just have to take my word for it. No picture would suffice.
Smith Rock is located centrally in Oregon, not far from the larger town of Bend. It gained popularity in the 1980's as "this birthplace of American Sport climbing", which is to say, some local climbers cleaned the loose rock , bolted the walls into very tough routes, and invited the world to try the climbing. The entire process was bumpy in a few ways, including getting a community used to a new tourism feed in their area, and getting a climbing world used to a few "new school" techniques of putting a climbing route on a wall without always starting from the ground each time.
Many times, routes were so difficult that they demanded a series of "practice sessions" of small sections until they could all be linked up into a single, highly gymnastic sequence. This was new to the world of climbing, where a more mountaineering atmosphere was the norm ever since "traditional climbing" broke into a sport of its own decades prior. During the 1980's, "sport climbing" sought to create or find routes that didn't achieve a goal height, attain a peak, or adhere to a crack-based, naturally protected route. Instead, stone anchors were drilled into the wall and thus every face, however devoid of features, become yet another "project". When records for difficulty appeared at Smith (5.14b), it finally attained status world-wide as a place to visit on every climber's list.
We climbed later that day, in the shadier areas, then met up again that night for a party of beer and burritos. A slideshow, a few movies of some outrageous climbing from around the world (shown by attendees of the party) and the highlight of the evening, an auction and raffle of some great donated gear. This year, a huge amount of gear seemed to appear from some new sponsors.
We're very happy and thankful to get an opportunity to join in with our friends and help make a park a bit prettier and a lot safer for everyone to enjoy. I recommend anyone who has time to visit that park, and a few others, here in Oregon. And if you can find a way, throw some donated labor into your community. It feels great.