A couple weeks ago some friends and I planned a trip out to Smith Rock. My friend Jon wrote a detailed email outlining exactly what everyone needed to bring. Check and done. Things were still forgotten. I neglected to bring Stephanie one of my spare sleeping pads, Jon brought his tiny Snowpeak backpacking pot which made cooking dinner for five people suck. I almost through an extra pot in my bag, but decided not too at the last minute. We took these minor blunders in stride and had an awesome trip.
The detailed planning reminded me of another trip I did a few years back with a bunch of my old high school crew. We were up late, heavily inebriated, and within a couple of minutes made the decision to go backpacking the next day in the mountains behind Santa Barbara. The seat-of-our-pants trip planning was awesome. In the morning as we shook off the hangover, Chris shouted: “What?! We’re going backpacking!?” We scrambled and within the hour everyone was packed and we were on the road.
There’s really only two ways of going on a trip. One way is where everything is planned out. Some people even weigh out everything to the ounce. The other option is the “oh shit, let’s go somewhere!” option. I don’t prefer one way over the other. I will say that the level of stoke when a trip is rapidly thought up and executed is a bit extra high. So there’s that.
This past week was a blast! I headed out from Portland to Smith Rock for the Craggin’ Classic hosted by the American Alpine Club. Festivities started at the Redpoint Climbers Supply shop in Terrebonne where we picked up our steel pints, drank some pints, and watched an awesome slideshow by the legendary Alan Watts. We also heard from Meg Kahnle about her Live Your Dream grant to climb Monkey Face.
She’s doing a collaborative art project about Smith Rocks. Tag your instagram shots of Smith with #ConnectWithSmithRock to submit your photos or head over to Connect With Meg.
The next day we rolled into Smith Rocks from the Skull Hollow campground and met with our clinic leaders. I signed up for the Self Rescue clinic to brush up on some essential rope work skills. I didn’t bring my camera with me, so there’s not too many photos from that day. With the day winding down and the hangover finally gone, we hit up the festivities at the Terrebonne Depot. Lots of fun brands were out to support and give away great free swag. Highlights were the rock ring tug of war contest by Rab, push up contest by Outdoor Research, and the infamous headstand contest by Goal Zero. We capped the day with a back to back screening of Sufferfest I & II.
The next day we decided to skip climbing and instead do volunteer trailwork. This was actually a lot of fun. We repaired spots where the trail was eroding out and turned a social trail to the river into a proper trail with stairs. Putting in the stairs actually went rather quickly and it’ll help stem back erosion from people cutting down to the river.
Anyway, here’s some photos from the weekend!
And now I’m motivated to get back in climbing shape
“Yeah, we’re definitely not normal,” Mal stated, BC microbrew in hand in the evening light at the Rec Center campground. One of us asked him to elaborate. “Well, what do you say to someone who asks you what you did for vacation?” He continued, “I got really uncomfortable on the side of a cliff, had to shimmy, muscle, and grunt up a big rock, scared the shit out of myself, didn’t shower for a month, got hot, got sweaty, got cold, and got really stoked. Who does that?”
How time off from work is spent is weird. I spent the month of September living in my tent in Squamish, BC. In addition to my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and backpacking stove I had two pairs of shorts (one climbing for climbing, i.e. get dirty), two pairs of pants, four tshirts (two are destroyed from climbing), rain jacket, down jacket, light fleece sweater, a handful of underwear, and some socks. Most days I found myself roped in, too hot or too cold, belaying my friends up a cliff. I pushed my climbing ability passed what I thought I could do. In fact, I’ve put myself in some personally terrifying situations that could result in injury, probably not death, but “yeah, don’t fall here” kind of places. I don’t think anyone keeping score would call that a relaxing vacation.
I came to Squamish to learn to trad and crack climb. Trad climbing is a style of climbing where you place cams and nuts in cracks in the rock to protect falls. I had done a small amount of trad climbing before, but how does two afternoons compare with a whole month?
I learned to climb indoors on plastic at Allez Up in Montreal over three years ago. It wasn’t until last summer when I took a two week trip to Tuolumne Meadows that I really started climbing outside.
The best way to learn is by doing. So to learn to trad climb, I jumped in and did. Over and over. For the entire month of September, minus off days to work on job applications, I jammed my hands, fingers, feet, and toes into the best granite cracks in the world, placed cams and nuts, pulled up rope, and swapped leads on multi-pitches to complete the longest climbs I’ve ever done.
Do you want to get better at rope management? Yeah, tying knots in your living room on a rainy day helps, but climbing for 10+ hours straight where the only direction to move your body is up, works. I guarantee that by the end of the day there won’t be any more cases of short-roping your leader because you found a way to make a complete bird’s nest of the rope.
I am making a case for immersion. On this trip, that 10+ hour day (car to car) where my friend Ryan and I climbed Rambles to Over the Rainbow to Boomstick Crack to Ultimate Everything (21 guidebook pitches in 17) was a turning point for me. Climbing started to flow. This was the longest possible route up “The Chief” It was immersive and although the climbing wasn’t particularly hard, we worked to get up and keep moving.
That long day made me faster and safer in every aspect of my climbing and belaying. I’m a better climbing than I was a month ago. The notion that doing and thinking about something every day for a month straight makes you better at it, might not be very surprising.
Geology students in University are lucky because they cap off their training with an immersive field school. I experienced this during UC Santa Cruz’s summer field mapping course. We camped out at Westgard Pass and for over two weeks mapped the Poleta Fold Belt. This immersive experience of mapping and thinking critically about geology everyday made us better field geologists.
Was there a time in your life where you gained expertise in a skill though immersion? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.