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Outside » Outside Features

High Times at Smith

It's been a busy climbing season, filled with notable ascents



Like Crimea's Wikipedia page, Smith Rock State Park has seen plenty of action this season.

During fall, it was the French who once again laid siege to the park (the French established a number of Smith's hardest routes, including, in 1986, America's first 5.14a, To Bolt or Not to Be). Gerome Pouvreau completed a number of Smith's toughest routes and did so with relative ease. He polished off Just Do It, a nasty 5.14c that was once considered the hardest route in the U.S., in a mere four attempts. For dessert, Pouvreau devoured the incredibly difficult and sustained To Bolt or Not to Be (5.14a) in five attempts, as well as the equally difficult The Big R (5.14a). Meanwhile, Florence Pinet, one of the world's top female climbers, ticked off Spank the Monkey (5.13d) and later, after nibbling away at To Bolt, she sent the Smith test piece.

But Americans—locals, even—would soon have their day. In fact, the mild winter made for one hell of a productive season at Smith.

Ryan Palo is one of many who have enjoyed and benefited from favorable winter conditions. Just last weekend, Palo, one of Central Oregon's strongest climbers, recorded a difficult first ascent on a 60-foot tall route located on the backside of the park. The route itself, however, is nothing new. It was bolted, established and abandoned some 24 years ago without ever realizing a first ascent. Until Saturday.

"I think a lot of people overlook it," said Palo. Many visiting climbers walk right past it, he added, in favor of well-known test pieces like, Just Do It, (a route which Palo completed in 2012). "It's been on my radar for about a year," said Palo, 30, of the new route. "It suited me perfectly."

The route, which Palo has dubbed Resting Bitch Face and rated at 5.14 a/b, is very "bouldery," according to Palo, meaning it requires the type of powerful moves often reserved for short boulder problems. "Thanks to the gym (Bend Rock Gym) I've been really motivated," added Palo, who's included regular climbing gym visits to his weekly training regimen.

Now that the route's cherry has been popped, Palo expects Resting to see increased traffic.

"I think these routes are real attractive to boulder-ers who want to prove themselves as roped climbers," said Palo.

Also on Saturday, Palo witnessed Washington-based teenager Sean Bailey complete Badman, a notoriously hard 5.14a. Palo reports that Bailey nearly onsighted a 5.14 (climbed a route on one's first try with no prior knowledge). Had Bailey done so, it would have been the first time a 5.14 had ever been onsighted at Smith. "He looked so smooth—I was really impressed with his ability as style," Palo said.

Earlier this season, on a cold day in late December and after three months of effort, Bend's Peder Groseth sent the intimidatingly steep To Bolt or Not to Be, a 5.14a. Standing below the 120-foot route is enough to deter even the burliest strongmen and women. The rock slab is vertical and essentially blank. Thus, to succeed on To Bolt, one needs not only be strong, but extremely precise—not brutish—as the route's wire-thin micro edges make for highly technical climbing. The thin holds also wreak havoc on climbers' fingertips.

"All of those small holds chew up your skin and are very painful to climb on," Groseth said. "I'd never really worked a route where I'd come off simply because it hurt too bad. It took weeks of effort to condition my skin to be tough enough to make progress on the route."

But To Bolt poses other hurdles, too. Because the moves are so nuanced and reliant on exact sequences, climbing the 5.14 route is also quite cerebral. It's like playing an intense game of memory while at your physical limit.

"Climbing To Bolt successfully requires doing almost every move perfectly," Groseth said. "You have to memorize every small movement and remember footholds that you can barely even see. Small mistakes were really mentally rattling. If I messed up something small down low, it was really difficult to shake it off knowing I had 100-plus feet of similar climbing to go to the top."

Once he clipped the anchors, though, the front side of Smith erupted into congratulatory cheers.

"My expectations were low," Groseth said of his successful effort. "I wasn't nervous. I just climbed to climb. I think most people climbing difficult routes can tell you about similar experiences."

It took Groseth months to recover from the demanding route. He reports that he's just now, nearly three full months later, starting to climb hard again and has started working The Big R, another Smith 5.14a established by a Frenchman.

"Right now it feels really hard, but I guess that's the point," Groseth said.

Go here: Sunriver Mudslinger mud run, 1 pm Sunday, March 23. Get competitive (and dirty) on the 1.5-mile course that features an obstacle course and mud pit. Afterward, warm up with food and drink from Hola!, Bellatazza and Sunriver Brewing Company. $35, register until 5 pm Sunday, March 22 at sunrivermudslinger.com.

Or here: Gorge Roubaix, Saturday, March 29-Sunday, March 30, The Dalles. A two-day bike race in the Columbia River Gorge featuring rolling and scenic gravel roads. Open to riders of all race categories. $30, $35 (day of), register at gorgeroubix.com or onsite.

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