Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Smith Rock

Last month on our way to a wedding in Oregon we spent several days climbing at Smith Rock. Pretty fantastic place. We’d been there once before, about five years ago. Great climbing and scenery, but even beyond that, the place is really well designed for climbers. The campground is great, with the tent area on the rim of the canyon away from the parking/cooking/bathroom area. The bathrooms are clean and there are hot showers, the approach trails are nice and well-maintained, and there’s huckleberry ice cream within walking distance of the campground. But just saying all that doesn’t really get the point across; you need to have seen other climbing areas where the climbers are treated like encroaching dirtbags (which they often are) to appreciate how nice Smith is. It’s the only climbing area that made me write fan mail to the area’s administrators, and in fact one of the other climbers was saying that he did the same thing and that the park system gets email from appreciative climbers almost every day.

The bulk of the climbing is on welded volcanic tuff, i.e. hot ash from an eruption 30 million years ago. When the welded ash cooled, it pulled apart forming the vertical cracks and columns with steep faces, perfect for climbing. A quirk of the place is that the rock is solid near the bottom but gets loose and crumbly when you climb more than one or two hundred feet up on the climbs that top out.

The most famous formation at Smith is the Monkey Face, a detached column with the look of a nefarious voodoo doll. In the photo, there’s a climber standing in the monkey’s nostril, faintly visible if you click on it.

I’m impressed to see proper retaining walls at the base of some of the climbs, made from the lava rock found on the rim of the canyon, a rock that gets sold under the trade name Black Lichen in the Bay Area. It’s the type of rock in the header photo of this blog, actually, which reminds me that I’ve always meant to switch it out for a photo with our native moss rock. Black lichen is darker and blockier than moss rock, not quite as attractive, and it’s from Oregon rather than California, so I suppose I’d better get myself a suitable moss rock photo ASAP.

We must have woken up early in the morning when I took this photo, as this area gets crowded. It’s definitely a little strange when the whole terraced cliff is full of climbers, not exactly like they are storming an Anasazi cliff dwelling, but maybe as if they are all training to storm one.

Smith Rock State Park also has an area of columnar basalt upriver from the main rock groups. The basalt is not as tall or regular as the cliff I posted about at Devil’s Postpile National Monument, but you’re allowed to climb the columns at Smith, unlike at Devil’s Postpile. I was surprised by how much columnar basalt I saw in Oregon; at one point during our trip I scrambled down the bank of the Deschutes River and realized I was scrambling over a whole slope of the high-dollar basalt that is sold for water features in the Bay Area. It made me feel better about the ones I’ve installed, to see them so widespread.

The basalt at Smith formed much more recently than the main formations at Smith. It’s pretty remarkable for such contrasting rock and climbing to be in walking distance from the main area.

4 Responses to “Smith Rock”

  1. October 18th, 2010 at 6:31 am

    Carol says:

    Fascinating and stunningly beautiful. Thank you for sharing your wondrous photos! ;>)

  2. October 18th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Randy says:

    Wow some place to visit. Another place to add to my list of places to see. Great job on the photos!

  3. October 18th, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    lostlandscape (James) says:

    Interesting concept: native rocks, just like native plants. Yeah, why not?

    Smith looks as great as your description. Viewing the first faces it’s almost enough to get this non-climber itching to earn myself some altitude on a rock face.

    I’m glad you had a good trip!

  4. October 20th, 2010 at 7:35 am

    Loree / danger garden says:

    Wow…I really need to get out and see more of “my” state.