Reaching for Higher Peaks
Smith Rock State Park is an epically gorgeous natural location. Just 30 minutes North of Bend, where we live, play, and make Pure Polish, it's conveniently located enough that we visit it on a regular basis.
Smith is more than just a grand place to photograph for its natural beauty, as most of the year it's also accessible to hiking, biking, and rock climbing.
We regularly love to hike up Misery Ridge, sit and picnic, looking out across Monkey Face Rock, followed by a hike back around the river trail to the trailhead.
This last Saturday, along with the help of some trusted friends, I managed to achieve one of my "bucket list" items – rock climbing at Smith Rock.
Not once, but twice I ascended the Red Wall. Along the way, I had to conquer my vertigo (not fear of heights, but a proprioceptive issue, for those new to the term), trust in the ropes, trust in my friends, and reach skywards to touch the anchor point of two separate routes with my bare hands.
This may not seem extraordinary to seasoned climbers, and it may seem beyond reason to others. For me it was an overcoming of past obstacles, a sign of growing, a connection with nature, and a resonance with the spirit of life.
Three years ago, I had back and neck injuries from excessive driving exacerbating an old surfing injury. I went to a physical therapist, who worked on strengthening my posterior chain muscles. And, while I was in strong cardiovascular health (Training to run a 50K trail run, and I used to compete at the National level in cycling), my back and neck muscles were partially detached, had a dangerous range of motion, and needed work.
After months of work and some progress, I asked if rock climbing would be a good way to keep my back and neck muscles strong, while reducing the chance for further injury. My PT thought it was a good idea, and so I started climbing at the local rock gym.
Now, two and a half years later, after climbing 3-4 days/week, I've had almost no further injuries to my back and neck. I'm overall more balanced and flexible, and I love the community and natural puzzle-solving of the sport.
This last weekend, I finally got up the courage to go outside and climb the epic beauty of Smith Rock with my friends.
Fortunately, I've made some great friends over the last few years, who have all of the equipment, and knew how to navigate the different routes.
So on Saturday, when the weather was beautiful and sunny, when I received the message "Want to go climb?" I responded with "yes!"
Both scared and excited, I knew it was a leap worth taking.
I was familiar with the movements, the people, the location. But the rest of it - the hugging of the rock face, the feeling of digging your toes into thousand-year-old cracks, looking down and seeing rocks that slope down towards the river hundreds-of-feet below you, that was new. All I had to do was trust, use my climbing skills I've developed over the last few years, and experience it.
It was exhilarating!
At one point, there was a section of the first climb where I had to step my left foot onto a 1" toe ledge on an open face, exposed over a rock shelf. Looking down, I could see all the way to the bridge that crossed the river at the base of the mountain, hundreds of feet down. Stepping into the void, I said to myself "trust", and embraced the rock, climbing solidly step-by-step towards the top.
Sure enough, I made it to the top of that route. The climbing was nowhere near as hard as anything I do in the gym, but the psychological unnerving was miles apart. And, not satisfied with doing it just once, I did another – harder – route, and again made it to the top.
Thanks goes out to Jesse Fish and Ryan Schuler, for taking a newbie out for his first time to an epic place, to fulfill some dreams.
Oh, and on the hike out, we noticed this goose looking out across the chasm, contemplating life, probably considering how he can be his best self.