The birthplace of sport climbing in the US has a special distinction among climbing areas. The route development ethics are different than what you will see at newer areas and the amenities are second to none.
We made our second trip to Smith Rock during our road trip and it was just as awesome as it was the first time. The long overdue update to the guide book has arrived and has a great section on the history and characters involved with the development of the area.
Some of the old bolting ethics are not for the faint of heart. You will commonly experience an extremely high first bolt and some stiff ratings. As Watts puts it in the guide book “I’d boulder as high off the ground as my courage allowed deciding where to place the first bolt.” This makes for some interesting 5.9’s and 5.10’s, imagine if your projecting 5.13 and decide to put up an easier route. You can get pretty high off the ground before your courage gets the best of you. In any case the routes are typically pretty thin and technical with the basalt making for some great friction.
There is camping at Smith Rock at the Bivouac area. It has a communal picnic area and showers. There are no open fires or lanterns allowed nor do they allow RV or car camping. It makes for an interesting camping experience but one benefit is you can walk to climbing from the campground. Smith Rock is a state park and there is a fee to park there.
There is a Forest Service campground called Skull Hollow about 7 miles away that also has a fee. It is a little more like a traditional campground with picnic tables and fire pits at each site. If you are a tight budget and a self sufficient camper you can continue down the dirt road about a mile past Skull Hollow and stay for free on the rest of the Forest Service land . You’ll find a number of flat horse camp sites along the way which have no amenities. So make sure you have all the water you need before you head out there.
Like most climbing destinations the best time to climb is in the spring and fall. The hot days and frequent thunder showers makes climbing in the summer less than ideal. It is manageable if that’s your only option, either way you should get out there and climb, but don’t forget your stick clip.
You can buy the guidebook from Amazon at 20% off the cover price with free shipping.