Saturday, March 2, 2013

Solo Linkup: Smith Rock/The Marsupials

Wednesday I checked the forecast for Bachelor and Smith. I had planned to go skiing but conditions obviously favored rock climbing. With no partner I decided to drive out to Smith and solo some routes.

I'm not going to try to justify soloing or explain my motivation to do it. There is a huge body of literature on it. You can read about the out-of-body experience, the focus, the flow, the sense of freedom that people gain from it. People who don't climb a lot will never really understand. They either call you crazy, or stupid, or blabber about how amazing it is.

For the uninitiated I will offer some information for perspective: All climbs are rated. Some of those ratings (i.e. 3rd and 4th class) are defined as climbs where a rope is not necessary, or even appropriate. Fifth class climbs imply the use of a rope. Since ratings are a matter of opinion some 4th class climbs are harder/more dangerous than low 5th class climbs. Many alpine climbing guide books will explicitly tell you to solo some sections of 5th class climbing to save time and minimize other hazards such as changing weather. I don't mean to make a slippery slope argument. I'm merely pointing out that nothing is black and white. Using a rope has never been a given in climbing. How someone climbs a route is personal decision that is based on many factors. Obviously there is a big difference between Peter Croft free soloing Astroman in Yosemite and me soloing moderate routes at Smith. The line between safety and insanity is different for everyone.

When it comes to soloing I have a personal set of guidelines to follow. The route I climb must have solid rock (nothing too chossy), I must be familiar with the terrain (ideally I've climbed it before), and it must be rated much lower than the hardest grade I can currently on-sight. I also make sure I have certain items accessible. Besides wearing rock shoes and a helmet, I wear my harness and rack some gear on it. This always includes a set of stoppers, a couple quick draws and a couple alpine draws, an ATC, prusik slings, and a locking 'biner with a long sling. I also have my rope coiled in my pack, which I wear while climbing. With this kit I can secure myself to the rock in a range of situations, establish a self-belay, or rappel back down if necessary.
Racking up beneath Mini Half Dome.
The Koala is the yellow rock in the middle and the Wombat is the green spire behind it.
So, back to Wednesday afternoon. I left my car a little after 1pm and hiked out to the Marsupials (~2 miles). I got on the Marsupial ridge just above Mini Half Dome and climbed the West Face of Brogan Spire (5.5X, 3 pitches). I then down climbed the top two pitches of the South Buttress (5.5X) and rapped off to the base of Living Blindly. I then climbed living Blindly to the top of the Opossum (5.7, 3 pitches) and rapped off the anchors past the summit on the knife edge ridge. These rap anchors aren't really functional. Placed back from the edge of the wall, they force the rope to wrap over several sharp edges which makes it impossible to pull from below. After yanking on it for several minutes I soloed back up a ramp system (5.5ish). Tossed my rope off and down climbed.
Brogan Spire summit pic. Wombat is on the left.

On the Opossum. Looking down on Brogan Spire on the right.

Opossum madness!
I then walked across to the Koala and climbed Round River Direct (5.8, 3 pitches). This is an awesome climb and I was very happy to solo it. It was my first multi-pitch and my first Smith climb. At the time it felt hard and leading it sounded scary. To come back less than a year later and solo it felt like a huge accomplishment for me. I was super stoked.
Sitting on the top of the Koala, looking back down Round River Direct.
Koala top-out stoke!
 I climbed down the back of the Koala and started up Birds in a Rut (5.7, 5 pitches), which takes you to the top of the Wombat (the highest pinnacle in the Marsupials). After climbing off the back of the Wombat I scree surfed down to the Burma Road and started the hike back. I boulder hopped across the river to cut the corner and ended up climbing an unknown pitch of basalt cracks to get out of the gorge. A short walk down the road got me to my car.

The Sisters emerge from the clouds. Smith Rock Group in the foreground.
Smith Rock State Park from the top of the Wombat.
The Monument area from the top of the Wombat.

Wombat Cumbre!
Someone replaced the old rap sling on the Wombat. It didn't feel like much of a community service since they left the old sling and didn't replace it with a very long-term solution. Simple solution: don't rap, the down climb is short and easy.
Overall, in sub 5 hours: 4 summits tagged, 16 pitches climbed, 3 other pitches down climbed, 3 rappels, 4 miles of hiking, some other scrambly bits, 51 photos taken and some bathroom breaks due to enthusiastic hydration. Not bad for a Wednesday afternoon.

Bonus: Check out this video of famous American alpinist Steve House soloing hard ice climbs in New England. The precision and deliberateness that he demonstrates while climbing, and the personal approach to climbing and soloing that he espouses in the interview, changed how I approach climbing.


  1. Man some idiot must have taken the slings off the anchor we replaced at the end of the marsupials traverse/living blindly. You can blame me for not going back up and placing longer chains. When we replaced those bolts we didn't have chains, so we put long slings on it with the intention of coming back later with better chains... Well I never did and always forget about it, thanks for reminding me.

    Nice enchantment in the sups!


    1. Well, hey, it all worked out. Thanks for taking the time and effort to provide rap anchors in the first place. If you are going out there to add chains or anchors let me know. I'd be happy to help and learn more about the process. Especially in the sups.