The Inside Scoop: Smith Rock

If you’re like most climbers, you pour over guidebooks for weeks or even months when planning a climbing trip. You educate yourself on routes, descents, gear, and camping. But what about the local ethics, issues, and challenges at your destination crag? Part of being a responsible climber is knowing how to tread lightly—both socially and environmentally. In the Inside Scoop series, we connect you with local climbing access leaders at some of the country’s top climbing destinations for valuable insight into local ethics and issues.

Rock climbing at Smith Rock in Oregon

Destination: Smith Rock, OR

Local expert: Ian Caldwell, Board Member, Smith Rock Group

What challenges does the Smith Rock climbing community face now? The word is out about Smith Rock. While climbing visitors have increased at a moderate rate, hiking activity has gone through the roof over the last two years. Most weekends in spring and fall, the parking lot is completely full and you have to walk a mile just to get to the park. This increased use has affected trails and hillsides.

Got any beta on parking? On weekends in the spring and fall, it is best to arrive before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. to find parking. The park is actively working to create an overflow parking lot in a grass field, which would be used only when the rest of the parking is full.

How crowded does the climbing at Smith get? We do see overcrowding on the easier routes. When temps are cooler and the days are shorter, climbers tend to stay in the main areas. You can avoid the heavy crowds by heading to the Backside, Marsupials, or the Student Wall. It’s a bit more walking to get there, but only a fraction of the time you will spend waiting in line at the more popular areas.

What’s the camping situation? The Bivy site in the park has walk-in tent sites and showers. Park staff just installed a charging station for phones, laptops, etc. These sites fill up quickly on busy weekends. Keep in mind that you can’t sleep in your vehicle at the Bivy site. Skull Hollow Campground is about 10 miles east on United States Forest Service (USFS) land and is better for camping in your rig.

What’s the best way to dispose of human waste at Smith? Smith Rock has a number of composting toilets, and park staff does an awesome job at keeping them clean and removing the waste. You’d be blown away by how much effort the rangers put into managing these toilets—use them!

How is the relationship between climbers and the land managers? Pretty good. Climbing is fully accepted at Smith Rock. The park is going to be working on a Master Plan that will govern all recreation uses in the park. Climbers will be very involved in the planning process, and we expect a good outcome. We also host an annual Spring Thing event with the park. We sit down with park staff and determine different projects to work on. The park can only get so much done, but we can go in and blitz a ton of projects in a single day. This year, we had 260 volunteers and we helped purchase about $4,000 in materials such as pressure-treated wood and rebar to build steps.

Any words of wisdom for folks visiting Smith for the first time? Remember that there are a lot of people at Smith Rock—climbers, hikers, bikers, anglers, birdwatchers, horseback riders. Consider how your actions will affect others. Dogs off leash, excessive yelling, radios, large groups, and going off trail all have huge impacts and are frowned upon by locals.

What projects are you currently working on at Smith? We are starting to deal with aging anchors. Plated steel will last around 20-30 years at Smith, depending on how much moisture they see. Most of the bolting from the 80s is right at that 30-year mark. The American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) has been helping by providing bolts and glue for replacement. Smith Rock Group has started installing steel carabiners at anchors for convenience, speed in cleaning routes, and safety. These efforts take a tremendous amount of funds and volunteer labor, and we will be taking more of a lead role in collecting funds and replacing bolts.

How can folks support Smith Rock Group? Visit our website www. smithrockgroup.org for volunteer opportunities or to donate.