Written by BRG Member Chris Hatzai
“The Monument area at Smith Rock State Park was once an area of the past. Reading old accounts in Alan Watt’s Smith Rock climbing guidebook of the bold, old-school climbers making heinous first ascents, riding unthinkable weaknesses up huge, choss-filled monoliths excited and scared me. A notable story of a climber making the first ascent of the Monument, a 600’ tower standing high above all other surrounding towers, inspired me. This wide fractured beast of a tower is not only the biggest in height, it also has many crack systems covering its massive body on all sides. The recollection by Watt’s account is that the climber who got the FA had to ditch his belayer because there were ‘refrigerator sized’ blocks raining down to the ground. The climber proceeded to solo to the top and summited this huge tower alone.
The first ascent of any kind at Smith Rock dates back to 1935. The majority of climbing in the Monument and surrounding areas was done over 60 years ago. With the explosion of sport climbing in the park 48 years after the first ascent at Smith, the semi-covered choss towers of the Monument had all but been forgotten about. Watts, Benesch, Sandahl, Franklin, Tribute and other developers at the time had looked past these towers, having their sights set on the cleanest red patina in the park. Once these magnificent walls of tuff were all filled in, Smith Rock, for a time, was considered “tapped out.” With the exceptions of a few motivated locals like Tom Egan, Tedd Thompson, Jeff Frizell, Jim Anglin, Jim Abalo, Tomas Edme, Mike Stoger, John Collins, David Potter and Ryan Lawson searching out the good lines amongst the seas of bad rock, route development had slowed down for a time. Only a small number of quality routes were developed after the main surge at Smith.
While hiking down into the park, after crossing the bridge that passes over The Crooked River, you can turn left or right. Turning left brings you to all of the routes put up by the amazing crushers who came before. These ultra-classic lines bring people from far and wide to test their abilities in the ‘main area.’ Turning right after the bridge can feel like walking back in time. It feels wilder over here. The vegetation is a bit more over grown on the right side of the park and the presence of animal life seems more abundant. As you walk past giant monoliths sitting high up on your left hand side, the blankness and lack of chalk covered holds seems unusual compared to the rest of the park. Having more bends in the river over here, makes for breezier conditions on most days. Hiking toward the Monument in the morning, the constant cold wind numbing your fingertips adds to the anticipation of the climbs to come while approaching the base of the towers.
After hiking upstream for a bit and turning left at a huge ponderosa with very welcoming entrances at the base, you are thrust into a world of your own. You’ll immediately notice the lack of crowds for the most part. It’s common to see the occasional guided group at the base of the Monument, but it’s usually pretty quiet. After you wind your way through a lush meadow and snake your way up a few dirt paths, you will find yourself standing at the base of a string of monoliths aligned in a soft, curving U shape. This rounded alignment of towers cradles an undisturbed meadow within. Containing more natural features and minimal human disturbance, the Monument and surrounding areas feel like their own state park.
Back in 2014, after suffering a nasty sprained wrist, the Monument area caught my attention. Beyond bored from lack of climbing and trying to fill the void with hiking, the idea of route development crept into my mind. A year earlier, a former buddy Alan Collins almost recruited me in his developing efforts. I had suited up to bolt a route with him but decided against it because I felt I wasn’t ready. One year later, with boredom overriding doubt, I decided the time was right to develop a wall that both Alan and I had been eyeing since we started climbing at Smith Rock.
First thing was first though, we needed to get to the top of this beautiful wall to actually start bolting it. We checked in the Watt’s guide for info or beta, but the only history we could find on the wall was that a top rope had been put up in the early 90’s by Tom Egan. After randomly meeting Tom months earlier on one of my injury-distracting hikes at Smith, I was pleased to find out he was the badass who got the first summit of this formation.
As legend has it, a climber developing in the Lower Gorge at the time saw Tom climb a formation that butts right up to the back of the Hank Wall. A roughly eight foot gap sits in between the formation Tom soloed and the Hank Wall. Rumor has it that Tom drilled a bolt, set his Grigri to that bolt, fed out a bunch of rope and tried to jump across the small gully. According to that story, Tom cased the jump and fell into the gully cutting his leg pretty badly from a dangling drill, but somehow managing to put anchors up on this amazing piece of stone. The actual account from Tom was a bit blurry and understated: “I don’t really remember it like that but if that’s what ya heard, I guess!?”. While it will always be a mystery how Tom actually ascended up there over fifteen years ago, Alan and I were definitely not willing to be as bold and badass.
Falling back onto what we know best, lead aid bolting is the system we decided to go with. At this point, Alan had started bolting routes on what is now known as the Marsupials Walls at Smith. Already owning a drill and having all the gear and experience, Alan still had not done any bolting on lead… so he left that to me. Having never bolted a route in my life, but having a bunch of construction experience from my younger years, I felt semi-confident in my abilities to get us to the top. All suited up and this time feeling ready to go, I drilled the first bolt as high as I could standing on the ground. The ash and dirt that rained down on my head was the first wake-up call that ‘this might be a little harder than we anticipated.’ Still we soldiered on. One bolt became two, then became three. Before we knew it, we were actually more than twelve feet off the ground! After realizing that building a true bolt ladder was not the best way to do things quickly, I started to climb above my Redhead (Home Depot crap anchor) bolt a bit. Upon Alan’s suggestion, “Hey you might want to slam a bolt in…”, I was surprised to find myself six or seven feet above my last bolt, stemmed out in a huge flaring chimney, with no protection, just tools. I was able to keep my cool, drill and set my bolt. I went in direct even before the bolt was tightened due to severe calf cramping. This painful process was repeated again and again at a rate of about five minutes per bolt. Even though each bolt felt like it took an eternity to drill in, we managed to get two thirds up the back side of the wall that first day. It took us three days total to summit the Hank Wall.
The Hank Wall at Smith Rock State Park is an 160 foot formation that sits exactly 90 degrees adjacent to the Monument tower. In 2017, Hank Wall now holds nine sport lines and two closed projects. From the first route put up on the wall, Entry Fee 10a, to one of the last project routes bolted, All Dogs Go to Heaven 13a, this three year journey has been something special that I will always remember. Other people seem to enjoy the routes on the wall as well which makes the experience even cooler.
This year, it seems the resurgence of route development is back in full swing at Smith Rock. There are over 250 new routes to be added to the Alan Watt’s upcoming Smith Rock Guide Book. In the past year alone, hand fulls of new routes have been developed by Alan Collins, Peder Groseth and Drew Ruana. Amongst all of the futuristic new hard lines being put up, a number of moderate high quality lines are being installed as well. Dedicated climbers like Dave Mcrae, Alex Reed, John Collins, Mike Majeski and myself are putting up sick lines the ultra badasses don’t want to mess with.
Alex Reed summited Puddy’s Tower in July of 2017. This accomplishment marked one of the last, if not the last, free first ascents of a tower at Smith Rock. Since his FA of Puddy’s Tower, three amazing 5.11’s and a 5.12c have all been installed. After his proud send of Capacity Tenacity 12c, Alex is hungry for more FA’s, setting his sights on unestablished towers and lines throughout the park. As for the future of Puddy’s Tower, we have lines plotted, we just need to bolt em’. It seems though that bolting the lines and sending the lines are two different stories all together, at least in my case. Finding these amazing lines at our limit and trying to climb them has totally changed my climbing forever. From exploration into the unknown to seeing a project through to the end is what motivates me to climb now. What will 2018 bring at Smith Rock?
Who knows but I’m guessing more new routes.”
- Hank Collins Memorial Wall: https://www.mountainproject.
- Puddy’s Tower: https://www.mountainproject.
- Anglin’s Buttress: https://www.mountainproject.
- The Marsupial Wall: https://www.mountainproject.
- Upper Gorge: https://www.mountainproject.