Bend, Oregon & Smith Rocks State Park
After it was all said and done, I spent about two weeks in and around Bend, Oregon. I spent the first week with a good friend and claiming partner, Patrick. Pat and I met some years ago during a climbing course we took in Joshua Tree, CA. We shared a campsite for the week, and after the course was over, we stuck around to climb some pitches without the extra stressors of being evaluated by our instructor. Since then, we’ve stayed in touch and rope up together a few times a year.
So after being told that Pat was going to move to Bend, I was excited to reconnect with him when our road trip took us in that direction. Going to climb with Pat meant that my expectations were already pretty high. But what I arrived at was even better than I could have expected.
Pat and his partner Mackenzie, a traveling nurse, and the main reason why they plopped down in Bend for the year, rent a riverfront property along the Deschutes River in West Bend. Driving up to the property, I remember feeling surprised that we kept descending closer and closer to the river. Surely his house was one of the smaller ones up on the bluff. But no, it was a newly renovated, two-bedroom, two-bath single-floor home with an incredible patio along the river and ample outdoor space. Dottie instantly made her way to the river and began to play in the water.
In my first few days there, Pat and I both worked from home. On the second day, Pat got off work earlier than expected. So by midday, we were prepping for a last-minute trip out to climb a five-pitch route on a formation called Cougar Buttress. Despite the packed parking lot full of ground walkers enjoying the first signs of Spring, the Buttress itself was empty. We walked up to the route, threw down our packs, and racked up.
The climbing proved to be exciting, to say the least. The rock quality was subpar in some sections, which made me feel nervous. And the route finding was subtly more complex than I bargained for. Pat and I swapped leads until we topped out shortly before sunset. The views of the surrounding mountains and the Mt. Bachelor ski area were nice but not nice enough to distract me from the lingering anxiety of running out of daylight and starting to feel cold. It took us a minute to find the descent anchor for the rappels. Luckily, Pat found the way, and we were back on the ground before headlamps became necessary. Once back in town, we linked up with Mackenzie for a beer and dinner in Bend.
Over the next couple of days, Pat and I climbed at Smith Rocks State Park. Similar to Red Rocks outside Las Vegas, I was blown away by being there. It had been a very long time coming. I was thrilled to finally cast my gaze upon the iconic mecca of volcanic stone that is Smith Rocks.
Due to the fantastic weather and it being a Saturday, Smith was completely slammed. Luckily, Pat prepped me ahead of time. So I decided to leave Dot at home and lower my expectations of how the day might pan out in regard to crowds at the base of the climbs. Instead of waiting in line for famous classic climbs, we opted for the strategy to climb whatever line was unoccupied. This meant that we stayed busy all day. And surprisingly, we got to sample some of the best routes.
By the end of the day, we had worked up quite the appetite. We made plans to make pizza at home and so stopped for a few ingredients and a six-pack of beer. Before dinner, we enjoyed a few cocktails and watched the sunset over the Deschutes. I threw the ball for Dot, and she swam like crazy after having been pent up all day. The pizza turned out delicious. So much so that we made another the following night.
On our second day in Smith, Pat and I sampled a new area of the canyon. Because the routes in this area are traditional climbing routes instead of bolt-protected and modern sport routes, it was much quieter. We chatted with the few locals that were there and only climbed the best routes. It was another fantastic outing.
By the time the work week rolled around, Pat left for a work trip in Chicago. I spent an extra day in Bend doing chores and relaxing. I needed to get the van all spruced up for Whitney’s arrival. Later, we would find out that I had forgotten multiple items at Patrick’s house that would not have been left behind if Whitney had been involved in the packing. But oh well. On Tuesday, I shipped out of Bend early in the morning and headed back to Eugene to pick up my lover at the airport. About an hour outside of Eugene, I picked up a very talkative hitchhiker named Dave. Dave was a super friendly, well-kept, and storytelling man living out of his backpack for 12 years. He was headed to the city to catch a Greyhound to Bozeman, where he would work the season as a line cook to save up money.
Once Dot caught sight of Whitney at the airport, she urinated everywhere in excitement. We were reunited, and it was a good feeling, at least for me. Once the barking started the millisecond we pulled out of the airport and the familiar smell of the van wafted back into Whitney’s nostrils, she had quite the overwhelmed look on her face about being back in the van.
We spent the afternoon and night in Eugene. We went to the dog park, toured around Downtown, and went to bed early. The following morning we hit the road. This time it was Whitney’s turn to drive the scenic byway from Eugene to Bend along the Mckenzie River, through the Willamette National Forest, and over the Santiam Pass.
After being so stoked about Bend, I wanted Whitney to see the place. So we parked Sage downtown and went for a nice long walk with Dottie. We enjoyed the neighborhoods and the vibe of the area. By nightfall, we were looking for a campsite in the Skull Hollow Campground just outside Terrebonne, OR, and Smith Rocks State Park.
Between the public land we were camped on and the State Park, we were in love. The Crooked River, lush high-desert forests, and productive farmland was once home to the Tenino and Northern Paiute people. We were lucky to be there and had no inkling of leaving anytime soon.
We enjoyed multiple weekday combing days at Smith Rocks. The difference in the volume of climbers between then and the previous week was staggering. It was so much quieter and, therefore, so much more pleasant. Despite objectively knowing there was no reason to be in a rush, I annoyingly chastised Whitney for taking too long to get ready. I later apologized, of course.
We walked up to whatever climbs we wanted and scaled them. No lines, nothing. Just other friendly folk enjoying the extra personal space and less competitive environment just like we were. During the weekend, we opted to rest and avoid climbing in the park. We had lovely slow mornings and cooked luxurious breakfasts. I busted out the portable toilet seat my grandpa gave me and took my time with my morning trip into the woods. Whitney gave it a shot also and was pleasantly (and only slightly awkwardly) pleased by the extra layer of comfort.
The mountains we were camped in quickly became flooded with mountain bikers over the weekend. So due to my inability to sit still in beautiful places, I got my bike off the rack and readied myself for a bike ride. As I was pulling out, an older gentleman was riding past our campsite. I asked him where he was going and if I could follow him. We hill climbed together for a little while, and he gave me the low-down on the local trails.
His recommendations were spot on. The trails I sampled were excellent. I loved the scenery, the cool spring temperatures, and the new terrain. During my second ride on Sunday, I rode a 15-mile loop trail that took me up and over the mountain back to Smith Rocks and around the park’s exterior. I was literally pushing my bike up the steep hills by the end of it. I was completely fried.
Meanwhile, Whitney enjoyed the new landscape during multiple solo hikes with Dottie. I was so grateful to have Whitney look after Dot, so I could get some fast-paced alone time on my bike. In the evenings, we would reunite and share about the adventures we had just gone on. On one of the nights, the weather was pleasant enough to have a fire. So I harvested some wood, and we enjoyed a modest fire with the vegetable coconut green curry Whitney crafted.
A week or so into our stay, the weather forecast began to turn for the worse. Colder temperatures and some precipitation were on the way, so we began formulating our escape plan to Idaho. Coincidentally, one evening we were enjoying a few beers at the local climbing gear shop and cafe, and we got to chatting with some folks from Idaho. We bonded over raising crazy cattle dogs (they have two, for christ’s sake!) and received a much-needed pep talk about staying optimistic about our frustrations and exhaustion related to Dottie.
They also pointed us in the direction of the City of Rocks National Preserve in Southern Idaho. Before them, we had no idea what we wanted to do and see while passing through Idaho. We didn’t know it at the time, but their recommendation would be one of the best we would receive on our entire trip. So after saying goodbye to some friends we made at the gear shop, we filled up our water jugs and blasted East for Boise.