Smith Rock State Park is a fun playground for hikers, campers, and especially rock climbers. As photographers, we also like to visit as there’s lots to shoot. With the river, lofty vantages, plentiful wildlife, and the rock climbers, themselves, we wouldn’t be bored. Smith Rock was easy to include in our recent winter trip to Central Oregon, though the day didn’t turn out the way we planned.
Hiking Smith Rock
It took us four hours to drive out to Redmond from Portland, so we had only half a day to scamper around Smith Rock. We initially started clockwise around the tuff ridge (most go counter-clockwise up Misery Ridge and around the backside), to find the spot where we knew we could clamber through some boulders and pop out on the far side. I like this path because it caters to my adventurous side and lets me climb stuff. This route is not advised for those who aren’t comfortable with some moderate bouldering and some tight spaces, but it’s a good way to mix up the standard hike.
Unfortunately, this proved too much for most of our group (a lot of us had large camera bags, and one pair had a little one in tow). So much to my disappointment, we backtracked and opted instead for the more typical Misery Ridge.
Ice on Misery Ridge
This section of the trail is aptly named, as it ascends without mercy. From the bottom, we didn’t think the trail looked too intimidating. But once we crested what appeared to be the top, we saw only more ascent. Huffing and puffing, we reached the final stretch, only to encounter a patch of ice. Many of us had packed microspikes. Sadly, they were back in the car, as we didn’t suspect ice from our initial inspection of the conditions.
Ice can be fun sometimes, but ice on a dirt trail, with a several-hundred-foot drop next to you is just a bit nerve-wracking. However, we somehow persevered, keeping to the snow-packed edges. We were rewarded with an even larger patch of ice, but we were so close to the top, we figured this had to be the last stretch.
By this point, half of our group had already bailed again, destined for the parking lot and warmer cars. I wouldn’t give up (I’m incurably tenacious), and I was proud to finally reach the true summit.
Forced to turn around
We made our way toward the Monkey Face rock formation on the far side… only to be met with yet more ice. Disappointed we didn’t leave the ice behind, we made a decision. Ahead, the amount of treacherous ice to face was unknown. Behind, we really didn’t relish the idea of traversing those patches yet again. But at least we knew the amount and severity of ice. Besides, sunset was fast approaching, and we really didn’t want to come down off a cliff in the dark.
After a few more shots of Monkey Face, we reluctantly turned back.
Coming back down Misery Ridge was miserable for a different reason; it was easier crossing the ice on the uphill. But at least once we were past the two spots, we knew we were home-free.
Sunset over Crooked River
Then the sun poked through the clouds, illuminating the far ridge beautifully. We raced down to catch sunset falling over the Crooked River, and we weren’t disappointed. The sky treated us with bands of gold and orange. I lamented the backlit situation, knowing the photos would never equate to what I was witnessing with my own eyes. While they certainly can’t do it justice, I think it comes close.
Out of breath, I raced the sun up the path toward the parking lot for a higher vantage. With every step, the view improved, and I snapped as quickly as possible before the magic disappeared. Satisfied, we called it a day.
We didn’t quite get to do the hike we had set out to do, but it all worked out in the end. And it wound up being an amazing start to an incredible weekend.
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