Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Smith Rock State Park - Intro to Sport Lead Climbing

Oh man - what an incredible weekend! I headed out to Smith for the first time since moving to Oregon. As I adventure out here, I keep thinking "it can't get any more beautiful!" but then it does. Smith is like that - it's breath-taking... stunning... incredible. Sigh. I didn't want to leave on Sunday. 

I started bouldering back in December at The Circuit in NE Portland. After doing that for about four months, I decided to start climbing at the Portland Rock Gym (PRG). I'm a little scared of heights so bouldering can be tricky for me. At PRG, however, top roping is an option - I have no problem with heights when I'm roped in. So, I had been top roping for about a month and a half when I saw an introduction to lead climbing posted on a MeetUp. I'd been wanting to start climbing outside and was having a hard time getting started so I figured, what better way than to take a class!

I headed down to Smith on Friday night after work. It's about a 3.5 hour drive from Portland. When I arrived, I decided to do a little hike. I hiked on the Misery Ridge Trail and then headed back down to the bivy site where I met up with the other students. There were three women, including myself, and the teacher. We camped on Friday night in the bivy site and then started early on Saturday. I got to test my new tent, the REI Half Dome 2, and it was awesome!

We spent Saturday learning how to lead. We started on Night Flight - a 5.5 route. First we all mock-lead the route meaning the instructor set up a top rope. We tied into the top rope and also tied in to lead. This was a great way to lead for the first time. After one mock-lead, we each lead the route (successfully!) without a top rope backup. This was incredibly exciting and scary! It really put me out of my comfort zone... but in a good way!

leading Night Flight!
After everyone finished leading Night Flight, we went over to Asterisk Pass and practiced rappelling. Next, we set up a route for falling practice. The thing about lead climbing is that the falls you can take can be pretty big - they're called whippers. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!), I actually fell for real while doing this. It wasn't so bad - I bumped my knee pretty badly but other than that, it was fine! We also took some time to practice anchor cleaning but I still need some practice with that.

It turns out that one of the women in the class and I got along pretty well - we ended up deciding to stay on Sunday and climb by ourselves. This was such an awesome experience. It was scary because we were climbing without our instructor but it was so fun because we really felt comfortable and confident. 

lead belaying

I lead two 5.6 routes and a 5.5 route on Sunday. The woman I was with, D, did most of the anchor cleaning and rappelling required after a route has been lead because I wasn't comfortable doing that. The last climb we did was my favorite. It was pretty vertical and the first bolt was pretty high up. That meant that I had to free climb without support until I got to the first bolt and clipped in! It was exhilarating  This route went up pretty high but had great handholds the whole way - I loved it! 

We have plans to go again soon! I can't wait! This was one of the best weekends I've had since moving to Portland!

More Photos!

Mount St. Helens Summit - Mother's Day 2013

Climbing Route: The Worm Flows
Distance: 10.8 miles RT
Elevation: 5,700 ft

first view of the mountain!
J&J and some of their friends from Seattle and I had planned on doing this climb on Sunday (Mother's Day) but the weather forecast was more favorable for Saturday so we did it then. I'm really happy about this decision because I wouldn't have wanted to do it in the rain! 

In the first two miles there is less than 1,000 feet of elevation gain - practically nothing! We walked through a forest of Douglas firs and were feeling pretty confident. Once that two-mile stretch ends, the real climbing begins. At the two-mile mark, the mountain was in plain sight. It looked magnificent... and so close! We still had almost 4,500 feet left to climb, though. 

Chocolate Falls (or where it would be if it was falling!)

We passed by Chocolate Falls which is a 40-foot waterfall along Swift Creek. During a talk by Bill Sullivan, it was reported that Chocolate Falls only 'falls' in the afternoons in the summer when the glacier starts to melt because of the sun. It's named 'chocolate' because when it starts flowing it's kind of a brown sludge. 

J and I hiked ahead of the group. We were moving pretty fast and feeling pretty good. I stopped a couple times to switch out my sweaty socks for dry ones to prevent any blisters from forming. I also kept my boots relatively loose - these combined techniques worked! No blisters!

J climbing ahead of me!
We brought along snow shoes but didn't end up needing them because so many people had climbed the route ahead of us. The footsteps were so clear and defined in the snow that it was like we were climbing up steps. At some points along the route, we got off of the snow and climbed on the rocks - this required me to put away my poles so I could use my hands! 

I kept forgetting about false summits and thinking "Yes! We are finally getting there!" - each time that happened and I realized it was a false summit I wanted to kick myself. FINALLY, we got to a point where we could see the summit. At that point I was just willing my legs to keep moving and chanting to myself "just keep moving... just keep moving."

Happy Mother's Day! 

There were tons of people at the summit - skiers  climbers, snow boarders - It was really exciting! It was also extremely windy and cold. After spending the last several hours climbing and, consequently, drenched in sweat, the cold was a welcome relief. After about five minutes, though, I was uncomfortably cold and started layering up. My awesome, adventurous and generous uncle had given me a pair of snow pants earlier in the year. He had modified them so that the butt and the knees had waterproof material on them. I figured a perfect time to use them would be when I was glissading down Mount St. Helens!

There were a lot of people standing on the very edge of the cornice so that they could look into the crater. After reading reports and getting lectured by my aforementioned uncle, I opted to stay pretty far back - I figured the view wouldn't be worth it if I was dead. 

What little I could see of the crater (right) and Mt. Rainier 

So, after taking a break on the summit to eat and repack our packs, we got ready for the best part of the trip - glissading (obviously that video is not of me... but it's pretty close to what it was like - except I was smart enough to hold an ice ax instead of a camera)! Luckily, by the time we were ready to start, so many people had already descended that there were tons of glissading tracks. 

This was my first time doing anything like this and I was a little nervous. I had my ice ax which I rented from REI and I knew what I was supposed to do with it. Wow! What an incredible experience. Thanks to my reinforced pants, I wasn't able to go very fast. In fact, at times, I had to push myself down with my hands. I used the ice ax to control my speed - I only needed to use it once or twice to slow myself down. We were able to glissade almost all the way down to Chocolate Falls. It saved us a considerable amount of time and much discomfort in our knees!

This climb was a blast! It was really challenging but not as tough as I thought it would be. It really made me want to climb more mountains! I can't wait for my next adventure.