Around the middle of September my next travel companions arrive in Smith Rock. Some of you might know Basti from our previous adventures in the Slumber Queen or our time mountain biking in Canada. My girlfriend Sarah might also be recognized from earlier exploits along the US west coast and the Mojave Desert. Together we will spend six weeks backpacking the Hawaiian islands before heading to New Zealand to spend another “Work and Holiday year” over there.
First we still have a few weeks to enjoy my new beloved outdoor paradise Smith Rock State Park. Basti and Sarah get introduced to rock climbing straight away. That way, we can head out into the park on our own. The following images are all taken while climbing in Smith Rock.
Climbing the “Voyage of the cowdog” with Martina:
First days with Basti and Sarah:
Other shots from Smith Rock:
At the same time the arrival of Basti (who is into photography himself) and me introducing our host Sierra to Photoshop, inspires me to get out more often to snap some shots. Especially astrophotography becomes very exciting again and so we spent a few evenings watching the stars over the State Park.
While October is getting closer, we all start to sort out unnecessary belongings to prepare for our backpacking trip. Even though I had tried to do that already, when I moved out of my camper, I still have tons of things that I don’t essentially need on this trip. Hitchhiking and tenting we will need to be able to carry all our gear over long distances and survive on our own while out in the countryside.
One of our last big projects before leaving the area is to climb the “Monkey Face”, a popular rock feature in Smith Rock. Apart from its aesthetic beauty, it also holds some of the hardest climbs in the world on its clean faces. Eric, an old climbing buddy of Sierras, finally agrees to take us up this steep route. Early in the morning we start to hike towards the bottom of the Monkey. Because nobody else wanted to take us on this ascent, we are a bit uncertain about what to expect…
After about 3 meters of climbing, Eric disappears around the first corner with two ropes tied to his harness. One of those is tied to Basti on the other end and one goes through my belay devise so I can secure Eric, while he leads the first pitch. When we finally hear “You’re on belay” from above, Basti starts climbing. I wait until he is about 2 meters ahead before I follow.
As soon as I climb around the corner, I’m suddenly in the middle of the very high and steep west wall of the monkey. Even though you are very exposed here, the route we’re climbing is basically very easy. A few minutes later, Basti and me are standing in front of a 30-meter high flat wall. The only way to get up here is to use the so-called bolt-ladder. Always clipping into the next reachable bolt, we pull ourselves up bit-by-bit on our carabiners while Eric is belaying us from above.
The bolt-ladder ends in the mouth of the monkey, where Eric awaits us joyfully. From here, Basti gives Eric belay on the second pitch. While finally following the other two, I have to make the famous first step out of the mouth and into the climb. “Panic point” – the name says it all. Whilst looking down about 50 meters straight, I lean out of the plateau to get my first foot into the climb. Five minutes later we’re all standing on top of the monkey.
Rappelling down is also quite special because we’re using two ropes to cover the whole way to the bottom in one rappel. Since we are rappelling down from an overhang, we are soon away from the wall, hanging freely in the air. A pretty amazing feeling!
On October 27 we say our farewells and start hitchhiking towards Vancouver. Before we can even finish our sign, we already have our first ride. A father and daughter offer to take us until Portland. Basically a very good offer (I had previously paid 56$ before for the bus), but we decide to take the more scenic highway 97 up north to avoid the busy I5, where hitchhiking is forbidden anyways.
Pretty soon after we’re dropped off, a young guy from Montana picks us up. A very interesting ride, because he has some good stories to tell about his job as a Smokejumper. Skydiving from planes into big fires with all their gear, these firemen risk their lives to stop the wildfires from spreading. This hitch gets us way up into Washington, which is a really good head start!
Trying to get a new ride takes “a bit longer”, probably about 20 minutes. Our next driver though, could take us all the way up to Bellingham (just before the Canadian border). We are surprised how well it’s working out for the three of us with heavy gear! Again we kindly decline the offer and get out of the car to stay on the 97. On the freeway entrance we manage to stop two cars at the same time and pick our preferred hitch. Brian takes us on a little detour (for him), to bring us to a better spot for further hitching. He even tries to invite us for dinner, gives us a roadmap of Washington State and refills one of our water bottles with delicious Fireball. What a day!
Our last ride is offered by James and his freshly married wife Sandra, who take us on the back of their pickup truck up to Pateros in the Okanagan Country. In the end we get invited to camp next to their cabin in the mountains. We have an interesting dinner together, while James tells us about his time in the Special Forces. Stories from bathing in Saddam Hussein’s private pool, receiving information about Bin Laden’s whereabouts and fighting Russian spies in ice-cold Alaska don’t fail to impress. I love this new way of travelling right away!
In the next morning James drives us back to Pateros, where we have a nice breakfast in a local café. Three rides later we reach the Canadian border and cross by foot. Not without getting stuck in the US Customs for almost two hours though, to answer a lot of stupid questions and get treated like criminals of course. (yes we are leaving the country at this point…) The Canadians welcome us with a smile afterwards and we get fresh visa stamps in our passports.
After the border our luck seems to run out for a while and we have to camp just behind the border. On the campground we meet Herbert, who we invite to share our campsite with us. As a ‘thank you’, he drives us back to the highway in the next morning to continue our trip. But it is just not our day and it takes forever before we get an old hippie bus to stop for us. Probably too stoned, they make a U-Turn just after picking us up and start to drive in the wrong direction. We decide to take a little detour up north to try our luck elsewhere but get dropped off in an impossible spot, trying to hitch another ride on a freeway exit. After a lot of people just fly by, a nice guy stops and brings us back on the right track while offering yummy muffins along the way.
Again we get stuck though and try our best until late in the evening, when finally Trucker-Steve picks us up in a huge truck and offers a lift all the way into Vancouver. Ultimately “King of the Road”, with a crazy mix of music from the 80ties to Heavy Metal. We sleep the last night on a truck stop, before heading into Downtown the next morning. We stay one night in a hostel and attend a Canadian Oktoberfest before splitting up. Basti takes a bus to Seattle to catch his flight and Sarah and me hang out at the airport in Vancouver. We catch our flight early in the next morning. Goodbye North America, Aloa Hawaii!!
By the way…this is me, writing this blog on a nice beach on the Big Island. ;)