Smith Rock Renaissance The Process Part Two

Smith Rock

STORY By Dave McRae
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Dave McRae, Chris Hatzai & Alan Collins’ Collection
Chris Hatzai caught the new route bug and wanted to claim some first ascents of his own. In late summer of 2015, he and Alan Collins scoped out an impressive wall at the base of Smith Rock’s largest tower, the Monument. A generation ago, Tom Egan investigated this same wall with a heroic solo effort to establish a top rope above the wall. Eventually, Egan abandoned the project and the wall sat neglected for 25 years.
With no idea how to access the top of the wall, Hatzai and Collins partook in a two-day, learn to aid climb on-the-fly mission to establish a top anchor. After a few more days of work, they finished the first route on the new wall, Big Tease (5.12b), a classic, 115 foot endurance test piece. Big Tease propped open the lid to Pandora’s Box and a slew of new routes began to fall into place.

By the fall of 2015, Alan lured me to the new wall with the promise of low hanging fruit. We arrived to a crumbling pile of garbage with an anchor above it. Alan and I traded shifts hammering and prying it into submission, then bolting and eventually leading. What I first dismissed as a pile of junk, The Good Die Young (5.10d), is now a solid and fun warm up.

Next, we installed a higher fixed rope on a 115 foot monster pitch of vertical and flawless rock. Alan spent the last couple hours of the day fighting to unlock the cryptic sequences of this virgin wall. Like usual, we climbed until dark and hiked out under the stars.

Adventure Dog Hank
Adventure dog Hank stayed close on the hike out, but always found his own adventure. This time, when Hank caught up to us at the bridge, Alan knew something wasn’t right. Unlike most dogs, Hank was way too smart to stick his face into a porcupine. Apparently, he tried to capture a porcupine under his body and got hundreds of quills in his torso.

We spent the next hour pulling quills out by headlamp on the side of the trail. Alan sobbed to see his companion in so much pain, but Hank stayed chill while Alan pulled out endless quills. A major surgery and several hard fought days later, a quill worked its’ way to Hank’s heart and ended his life. While Hank no longer frequents the crags of Smith Rock, the Hank Wall and that 115 foot monster pitch of vertical and flawless rock, Hank Collins Memorial Route (5.12d), will always remind people of his adventurous spirit.

In the fall of 2016, after a seasonal closure for eagle nesting, Chris Hatzai set up shop at the Hank Wall. He fixed a line up an impossible looking overhang of dubious rock. Rain, shine, sun or wind, Chris was there; pry barring, cleaning, bolting and busting ass to make it happen. But, transforming a teetering pile into gold was just the first step, now he needed to actually climb it.

With Alan firmly entrenched into Marsupial Wall development, Chris begged and bartered for a belay on his projects at Hank wall. He’d wear out one partner after another taking lobs off his overhanging projects. One such belay victim, the original explorer of the wall, Tom Egan, seemed post traumatic after catching Chris’ falls while connected to an anchor. Developed right at his personal limit, Chris surprised everyone but himself when Sweet as Hank (5.12c), and its second pitch, Hank Spire (5.12c), came to fruition.

Another wall in the Monument Area that’s been the sight of recent development is Anglin’s Buttress. Located a five minute walk uphill from the Hank Wall, Anglin’s Buttress sports a 370 foot Southwest face of beautiful rock, guarded by a 30 foot band of garbage rock at the base. With the exception of a single neglected crack route from the ‘70s, the entire face sat unexplored until December 2015, when Alan Collins and I made a recon.

We hiked and scrambled around the back, then made four rappels to get to the ground. With a top rope now established, we brought out the hammers, pry bars and elbow grease. With three days’ work, we tunneled through the garbage and established two serviceable base routes, Anglin & Danglin’ (5.11a) and Optigrab (5.12b), before the seasonal eagle nesting closure.

For the next seven months I obsessed over the soaring upper walls of Anglin’s Buttress. As soon as the eagles flew the nest, I rappelled the wall and established a fixed line. With my newly learned system of self-belay, I no longer needed to impose or rely on partners. Working solo, I’d check in with Chris Hatzai at the Hank Wall on the way in, then enter my very own world on Anglin’s. Time seemed to stop, my phone got turned off and everything else melted away as I became engulfed in the exploratory process. Eventually, with the entire face draped in fixed lines, I could show up, click in to the line and quickly access whatever part of the wall needed work.
I’d wake up at 4am in September to work on the wall before the sun hit at noon. 30 degree temps in November? It didn’t matter as long as work got done. I don’t feel this level of obsession or work ethic is unique, but rather a prerequisite for route developers. It’s what Collins, Hatzai and I all have in common. We burn out climbing partners, have little social life and are virtually un-datable. With all of us quagmired in our respective projects, we couldn’t even climb with each other in fall of 2016. But, work got done!

After three months and 30 work days on Anglin’s Buttress, I placed the last bolt and reluctantly pulled the fixed lines. Anglin & Danglin’ (5.11b, 5 pitches) and Jim Climbing (5.11b, 4 pitches) were now ready for the public. I looked forward to the finished product the entire time, but with the hard labor completed, I felt a surprising sadness.

It ended the era of solo, mini-big wall exploration on my own private wall. For the first time I realized, it’s not the finished product that I love so much, it’s the process.

On to the next.

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