Smith Rock and Watershed Restoration, Nov. 2007

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Catlin Gabel students arrive at an empty Smith Rock State Park for some climbing

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Trip Report

By Abby

My brother drove both of us to meet the bus Saturday morning, me yawning and trying to remember if I’d packed my rain jacket… My father had warned us there might be showers. It drizzled throughout the bus ride to Central Oregon, but had stopped by the time we pulled over to the side of the road to eat our lunch. It was a large group: 18 students and four leaders. We spread a tarp to eat on, and everyone pulled out his or her own sack lunches. I ate my cream cheese bagel, decided I was still hungry, and tried to take some of my brother’s while he wandered behind a tree to commune with nature. He noticed when he got back.

Our next stop was the BLM station, where a friendly woman described our community service duties: cut down junipers. To most of us true Catlin students, the thought of cutting down a tree seemed absurd. Aren’t we the kids who plant trees? Aren’t we worried about global warming? The woman explained the details to us: junipers are a native but encroaching species, meaning although they grow in the desert natively, they are invading new areas because humans and cows have altered the ecological balance. So we thought we might try to alter it back. We followed her to a good spot, divided into two groups, and began chopping junipers. This first day was tough; despite the creative names Chris Potts came up with (example: loptomus prime), most of us were tired from the drive and would’ve rather been sleeping than working. After 4 hours, we were finally allowed to retire.

We camped our first night in a deserted campground along a dry riverbed. It was dark as we set up our tents, and we failed to see the slope we pitched our tents on or the small gullies made by water in the dirt, which I’ll get back to when I discuss bedtime.

Dinner came after camp set-up and ran smoothly after Brian and Peter dumped half of the spaghetti on the ground. Somebody mentioned this happens every time. I wouldn’t know, though the spaghetti was very good.

After a campfire, everyone went to bed. It was only about 8:30, but it had been a long day. The boys in the tent next door blessed us with a rowdy rendition of “JJJJJJJJJ,” and the next thing I knew I was waking up to the same song. It was accompanied by the steady drizzle of rain and an occasional complaint of “Gosh it’s wet in here!” Climbing outside, I saw Michal hanging his down jacket on a tree, where it dripped water and got even wetter in the rain. He looked at me and smiled. “There was a small river running through our tent,” he explained. “And we didn’t secure the rain fly correctly. Everything’s soaked.” Through the laughter coming from their tent I heard that they named the river the Rio San Gervais.

After a soggy breakfast, we packed our tents and climbed back on the bus, headed for another day in the juniper forest. I anticipated another boring day, but it turned out magnificently. We split into two groups again, and decided to work until lunch. It stopped raining after about 20 minutes, and the rest of the day was spent in sunshine. My group ended the day having cut down about 700 junipers, which was many more than we’d imagined possible (we’d predicted about 250). The chopping increased in fun as the day progressed; by the end we would stumble upon an area with a lot of small trees and act like we had arrived at the Promised Land. We were all disappointed to be leaving the junipers, since the next day we would not be coming back, but the tree tied to the front of the bus, named Alfredo, reminded us of our encounter with the “chosen trees.”

Leaving juniper land meant leaving the only sunny part of Central Oregon. As soon as we had arrived in Prineville, a mere 6 miles away, it was raining again.

We drove to a campsite near Smith, where we would stay for the next two nights. We set up the tents lightning fast, hoping to keep as much rain out of the tents as possible. Michal took special care with his rain fly.

Dinner was warm burritos around a crackling campfire. We had a group meeting where we discussed the highs and lows of the day. A man named Joel joined us, who had been at Smith for the last couple of weeks and was planning to stay until his school started in January. He said he’d seen the fire and decided to come over… fires were always welcome. I wanted to say that maybe a house would be more welcome, but decided not to make a comment. The mood around the campfire had been peaceful and alert, and Joel killed it by asking impolite questions like: “Who are you guys,” “Why are you here,” and “Why were you cutting down trees? Isn’t that bad for the environment?”

I was excited to climb, but hadn’t really admitted to myself yet that besides the fact that I had never climbed before, I was afraid of heights. I didn’t want to let it bother me, but as soon as I was on that rock I decided that maybe next time I should consider the lows before signing up for the trip.

I had joined the beginner’s class, so while everyone else went off to climb high, tough routes, a select 6 of us went to learn how to belay, tie knots, and communicate with the climber. They didn’t teach us how to climb. I think maybe that part’s supposed to come naturally.

Each of us 6 climbed 2 routes in the morning, then ate lunch with the larger group and spent the rest of the day climbing with them. Two climbs didn’t seem like enough to be thrown in with the professionals, but I succeeded in one climb in the afternoon. I had someone helping me, pointing out helpful hand holds and such, I was passed by Peter who started at least 10 minutes after me, and multiple times I considered asking to come down, but when I reached the top I felt more accomplished than I ever have before in my life. I don’t know why. I’ve done cool and challenging things before. But the feeling of “Wow I actually climbed that?” was pretty cool.

After dinner out at a Mexican restaurant, as tradition called for, we made another campfire and discussed the high and low points of the day again. Everything people said about climbing I seemed to understand now; the screaming, the mental exhaustion, the triumph. Disappointingly, Joel didn’t join us.

A rousing chorus of “Kum-By-Ah” served as our lullaby, and we fell asleep dreaming of a clean, dry bed.

I heard rain in the middle of the night and thought to myself “oh god, tomorrow is going to suck if it’s wet,” but when we woke the ground wasn’t wet; instead, it was white. The snow set the mood for the day: amazing. It was warm in the sun, good climbing weather, the park was empty, and everyone climbed successfully. My fear rose up again when I was climbing, but I wanted to feel like I had the day before when I reached the top of the route, so I kept going. I am pretty sure rock climbing is a drug if it really made me do that.