Seasonal secret of Smith Rock
The setting was nothing short of idyllic.
A clear, cobalt sky spanned the horizons. The mid-morning sun sprayed the east walls of Smith Rock, casting heat onto us as we scaled the world-renowned rock.
Temperatures sat in the low 30s, but the sun reflecting off the cinnamon slabs of Smith Rock warmed things up to the equivalent of a spring day.
In the middle of January, a time most people spend at Mt. Bachelor, this is winter rock climbing.
“People a lot of times forget about Smith Rock,” says David Potter, owner of and lead guide at Smith Rock Climbing Guides Inc. in Terrebonne. “It’s right here, and it’s a great place to go in the winter because we have so many sunny days out here. Some days, when Mt. Bachelor might not have the best snow — it’s icy or whatever or hasn’t snowed in a week — those are some of the best times to go out climbing.”
We showed up wearing layers, but left with them in hand. We found handholds with relative ease — with little to no sweat making things slick, nothing like one would find in the summer. Smearing (relying on foot friction on a featureless rock) is made easier, Potter says, because the rubber on a climber’s shoes is harder. Climbers are comfortable in the winter, Potter says. “It’s just nice, crisp, clean air during the winter. It’s real nice.”
From a business standpoint, the winter months are not ideal, but speaking as a climber, Potter says he prefers this time of year.
Temperatures are ideal.
“If the sun is out, it could be in the 30s, and it’s comfortable out there,” Potter says. “It’s kind of crazy that way. It doesn’t hold snow, the rock itself, unless it’s like a really low-angle climb. There’s a few climbs that might hold snow. You pretty much have to follow the sun around. We get plenty of sun in Central Oregon, which is nice.”
Crowds are minimal.
“That’s the majority of the people that you see out there this time of year is the locals,” Potter says. “People are kind of hesitant to travel (over the passes) because the weather can change pretty quick, and they don’t want to be out here camping out in the cold. I’m fairly surprised there isn’t more people out here in the winter, but to tell you the truth, I don’t really mind.”
Smith Rock boasts some of the best climbs in the world and is made up of more than 1,800 climbing routes, according to the state park website. From the 5.4 Left Slab Crack route in the Dihedrals for beginners to the 5.13d on Morning Glory Wall for the more experienced climbers, there is no discriminating.
It’s one of the better-kept secrets in Central Oregon, Potter says. Admittedly, the spring, fall and summer are great times to scale the cinnamon slabs of Smith Rock, but the winter may be the most prime time for climbing.
“A lot of people go south in the winter, and they’re surprised a lot of the times because they’ll end up going to Joshua Tree (National Park in California) to climb in the winter, and they find out it’s like 10 or 15 degrees at night,” Potter says. “It’s just as comfortable, I think, to just camp out at Smith and climb up here. The days might be a little cooler, but as long as the sun’s out, you’re good to go.”