What’s to Love: The picture featured above is Jim Ablao of Chockstone Climbing Guides. Our family has climbed with him in the past at Smith Rock State Park. When Jim is working, it’s a sure bet that he’ll be sporting a big smile on his face. Right before I took the aforementioned picture, I asked him, “Another great day at the office, huh?” Jim obviously loves his work as a climbing guide, but he also has a love for climbing, which shows in his enthusiasm (and competence) as a a guide. If you’re looking to take your family out, or you want to give rock climbing at try at one of the world’s premier climbing areas, get in contact with Jim as soon as possible. The fall is a great time to climb at Smith.
Parents have to have fun without the kids sometimes, right? For Father’s Day (2012), I decided to treat myself to a full day of guided climbing at Smith Rock. It was one of my most memorable days climbing. I met Jim in the parking area bright and early, and we headed over to the Northern Point to work on anchoring systems, rappelling, and do a couple warm-up climbs on top rope. If you want to take your kids out climbing, it’s essential to learn fundamental skills (e.g., rope handling, knots, anchors, top roping, safety, etc.) from a qualified guide. I’ve been climbing for over 20 years, and I still hire a guide to freshen-up my skills.
After a quick lunch, we decided to head over to the Red Wall to do the multi-pitch classic “Moscow” (5.6). This is a long traditional climb (i.e., protection has to be placed while leading and anchors have to be built on each pitch) with lots exposure, great protection, and clean climbing. Jim also mixed it up with the beginning pitch of Peking (5.9) and a sport pitch high up on the route, which felt like 5.10. We took a nice leisurely pace with Jim talking me through each belay setup. Since it was a one-one-one outing, the instruction was customized to whatever I needed in particular moment. Here is a short clip of our climb:
“Moscow” took us late into the afternoon, but when we arrived back at the base of the climb, Jim was up for one more climb. “Dances with Clams” (5.10) was a short sport climb (i.e., bolts are secured to the rock by the first ascent team and leaders clip the bolts as they move upward), which was a wonderful way to end an already action packed day. As you can see in the picture, Jim’s smile and enthusiasm for climbing are both highly contagious.
Caveats: Smith Rock is very hot in the peak months of summer. Setup your climbing trip for the spring or fall. Speaking from experience, rock climbing is highly addictive. If your kids love to climb, you might find yourself on weekly excursions to Smith Rock or other climbing destinations.
Website: Chockstone Climbing Guides
Distance from Portland: About 143 miles, which clocks in at about 3 hours. Here is a Google Map.
Recommended Ages: On our first trip, our kids were very young (between 3 and 5 years). With kids that young, the climbing options are limited. If you want to give it a go with younger kids (6 and under), I recommend a half-day rather than a full-day outing. One or two climbs works well for younger kids. Inevitably, there is a lot of waiting while other kids are climbing and kids can get impatient or lose interest quickly. Chockstone has a specific summer camp program for teens where they camp onsite. Jim told me about the program, and it sounds great. Check it out!
Parental Stress Factor: If you’re new to climbing and setup a trip, your hands are probably starting to sweat just thinking about climbing! Watching anyone dangle from a rope carries a certain (and healthy) amount of fear and/or stress. Statistically, I always tell myself that it’s far more dangerous driving to the climbing area. Rest assured that personal safety is the number one priority of any reputable guide service you employ.
Physical Difficulty: Again, if you’re not used to climbing, you will get worked big time! Climbing puts your body in all kinds of positions where you must apply force. Most likely, your muscles will not recognize the movements, and you’ll get tired quickly. Usually, most beginners’ forearms will give out first from intense over-gripping of holds. If you stay in one place too long, the “Elvis Leg” will start to creep up on you. It’s all part of the fun!
Family Fun Factor: If you spend the necessary time upfront figuring out what is best for your family, most likely, you’ll have one of the most memorable family adventures ever. Perhaps, your family’s best option is bouldering or climbing with ropes on smaller boulders (great option for kids under 5 years). Chockstone Guides has the necessary experience to make the trip align with your family’s needs. In contrast, if you visit on a hot day with several kids who get whiny or impatient, you may be in for a very long day!
Pet Friendly: In my opinion, Smith Rock State Park is not a good place for a dog. People do bring their dogs to climbing areas, but they often cause unnecessary distractions. It’s not very fun for a dog to be tied up underneath a climb. Best to keep your dog at home for this trip.
Weather Considerations: Again, fall and spring are the best times to climb. Rain can certainly put a damper on a climbing trip, so try to make it during the sunny months.
Insider Info: Jim is a parent and understands the safety needs of families and children. If you hire him for a half or full day, he will be able to cater the learning specifically to your family’s needs. He’s very good with kids.
Even if your family isn’t interested in climbing, Smith Rock State Park is an epic adventure for the whole family! Smith is one of the greatest rock climbing destinations in the world, but there is also great hiking, mountain biking, rock scrambling, trail running, and photo ops. It’s a beautiful place to visit. Here is a direct link to the Park map with all the hiking and biking trails noted.
Family Tips: Private guiding is more expensive than group classes. Before using private guiding, it’s not a bad idea to gauge your family’s level of interest with a group class. There is one specifically designed for families called “Families Rock.”
There is a campsite near the main parking area. Here is information directly from their site. “Park your vehicles in the bivouac parking area and hike 200 yards west to the tent campsites. Campsites are first-come, first-served and the $5 camping rate is per person/per night. RV camping, sleeping in vehicles, and open fires are strictly prohibited. Call (541) 548-7501 or (800) 551-6949 for information.”
A jogging stroller is not a good option for hiking in Smith Rock. You’ll need to carry babies and toddlers with a backpack-type-carrier. There is plenty of up and down hiking on loose gravel, so make sure you bring appropriate footwear, whatever that may be for you. Also, bring plenty of snacks and LOTS of water! There are bathrooms down in the canyon, but no running water.
Other Posts of Interest...
Rock Climbing at Smith Rock! on August 8th, 2009
Sunriver Resort on August 12th, 2010
Lava Lands Visitor Center on August 12th, 2010