"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Friday, May 30, 2014

Smith Rock State Park: Our Astounding Accomplishment

Memorial Day weekend at the most popular hiking/climbing location in Central Oregon. What were we thinking? We almost turned back when we saw the cars parked more than a mile away from the entrance to Smith Rock State Park. But we thought we'd just get a little closer and see what there was to see, and we found a parking spot right close to the entrance, so of course we had to go on in and do the park. First tough choice made.

After visiting the facilities and paying our entrance fee. the next big choice was which hike to take. There are 12 different hikes identified on the park map, from short and easy to the infamous "Misery Ridge Trail" that goes to the summit of the most imposing rock in the park. Mmm…


Or this...
(just the easy beginning of Misery Ridge Trail)

I looked up at the top of the giant rock face in front of us (3,660 feet) and thought I didn't need to be up there.  Rick concurred without pressure so we headed down the River Trail through the truly gorgeous valley created by the Crooked River. 


In addition to the occasional fly fisherman there were many rock climbers all along the faces of the rocks. You can see all the handholds on this popular rock face by the white chalk left behind. There were lots of climbing classes going on at these locations along the River Trail.

About 2 miles down the mostly level trail, Rick was ready to turn around, but I said, "Let's just go to the place where the trail turns around the back side of the rock and see if we can see the famous Monkey Face rock." So we did that. Rick's a trooper.

There it is! Monkey Face!

Then Rick, the trooper, said, "Let's just get a little closer to get some good pictures." See the monkey face? There are actually two climbers sitting on the ledge that you could imagine would be the monkey's collar if he had a shirt on. You could probably zoom in and see them.

By this time we were approaching Mesa Verde Trail, and the trooper says, "Shall we just make a loop of it?" Sure, sounds like an easy decision right? No, what this means is deciding to go up and over the top of Misery Ridge and down the side we decided earlier not to tackle. But we've been seeing all these people of every conceivable shape, size, age and ability, including folks carrying their babies on their backs, with every conceivable kind of footwear, including flip flops, coming down off the rock with big grins on their faces. It was very tempting to give it a try.

Here's the map, and the only information we really had.  We were on the back side, 2 miles into the hike, still along the river, facing another 1.5 miles up and over on the red zig-zagging trail. Everyone else seems to be going the other way.

What would you do?

Well, I guess you figured out that we went for it. Here's the view that rewarded us as we ascended (huffing and puffing) the gentle Mesa Verde Trail diagonally up the side of the mountain. (I don't know what to call this thing. It's bigger and more complex than a "rock" and not exactly what you think of as a mountain.)

At the top of Mesa Verde Trail there is an alcove where people wedge little rocks to mark their completion of Misery Ridge Trail. It serves as inspiration to all the fools who come up the wrong way.

Another big moment. Stepping on to Misery Ridge Trail. This is the first time we've ever tackled a "most difficult" trail. What a bunch of mixed messages we were getting. The ranger at the bottom seemed to be telling us it was no big deal, just take our time…kids in flip flops…infants in back packs…and this sign.  Oh boy.

We plunge ahead. But what we were doing was nothing compared to the climbers all around us, including those tackling Monkey Face. (Notice the snow covered mountains in the distance?)

Finally we get to what seems to be the top and we take a break to look out over the incredible landscape to the west. That's still Monkey Face on the left, but now we're above it. 

This next quarter mile follows the top ridge and is nowhere near as scary as it looked from down below. There are magnificent views at every turn.

Here's a choice we didn't make. There were plenty of daring folks up at this height, including tightrope walkers and acrobats doing their thing. Unbelievable. 

We stuck to the main trail and felt incredibly grateful for the whole experience. I got a little ecstatic high as we bridged over the summit and started our way down the other side. Now I know why all those people we passed were smiling.

Here's another choice we didn't make. That's the Burma Road Trail on the mountains across the way. Another day maybe?

So, it was a long way down, with switch backs and slippery rocky/sandy trail surfaces in some places.

Stairs, thank goodness, in other places.

As we got near the bottom, I hate to say it, but my body was complaining a bit, and I had to take it kind of slow. Rick didn't seem to be having any troubles at all. I told you he was a trooper.

The many climbers along the Red Wall provided some distractions and reasons to stop and take a break to watch.

Finally! We made it!

The shadows were long as we eased ourselves across the footbridge where we made our first decision not to do Misery Ridge. But I'm so glad we changed our minds and went for it. We were tired but really proud of ourselves, and so rewarded by the views of this amazing state.

By the way, we're in Bend, Oregon for the month. I'll have to say more about Bend at some point. We're really liking it.


  1. Wow, looks like an incredible hike. I'll need to make a note of.....kudos!

  2. Being the hikers that you are, this might be a breeze for you. I do think you'd love it, and many other hikes in this area as well.

  3. Smith Rocks is one of my favorite places in the Bend area. Good for you for making that amazing hike! How lucky you were to see climbers on Monkey Face. We hiked there several times during our stay and never saw anyone on that rock. We were there in September. so it's nice to see your very green photos

    1. Thanks Lisa! I guess we are lucky to be here during the green season. I just assumed it was always green! : ) We're really loving this area.

  4. Had to go back and look at your photos of this amazing hike. We just loved it there! Good for you to make the loop. Going down is almost harder sometimes than climbing up.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the pictures. Yes, I find going down much harder than up. But a walking stick helps a lot.


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