Upper Gorge Rock Climbing
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The Upper Gorge consists of basalt column climbing further upstream from the Lower Gorge's east walls. Unlike the Lower Gorge, however, the columns are generally sealed and therefore there is less crack climbing between them; hence most of the routes are bolted. This also results in more difficult climbing and the Upper Gorge really shines in the mid-5.11 to 5.13 range. The climbing is often cryptic and requires an unusual skill set that involves the ability to use body position, friction, and creativity rather than raw power or power endurance. And while the climbing is excellent, there are a number of factors that warrant special care when visiting this area:
1. Aspect. This crag is south-facing and it gets hot. The nuanced, friction-dependent climbing requires the correct conditions for success.
2. Vegetation. The riparian area between the base of the walls and the Crooked River is very narrow and often completely choked with reeds, vines, poison ivy, stinging nettles, and tamarisk. This requires a lot of work from committed climbers to keep in check and even then you must use care not to inadvertently walk through something painful. On the flip side, the "good" plants, including grasses, sagebrush, and a few beautiful old-growth juniper trees, need to be protected. Please avoid damaging these plants by breaking branches, crushing grasses, or uprooting them. If you bring a dog, make sure he/she doesn't dig or damage the good vegetation.
3. Human waste. Again, because of the narrow corridor there is not a lot of real estate. A Wag Bag should be considered an ABSOLUTE MUST if visiting the Upper Gorge. If you forget one, invest in the 15 minute hike out to the rim and dispose of your waste there by burying it off trail and not near the rim itself.
4. Noise and crag behavior. The property boundaries are somewhat of a mystery and while some of the Upper Gorge is on public land, other sections are private property. For access reasons - as well as to preserve the unique ambiance of this secluded and undomesticated crag - it is essential that you keep a low profile, keep noise to a minimum, and be on your best behavior. Avoid leaving equipment in plain view long-term including fixed draws, fixed lines, and gear caches.
If you decide to make the journey out to this crag you will likely find a beautiful place that has been cherished by several generations of Smith Rock climbers. Hopefully you will do your part to respect, preserve, and enjoy this unique crag so that it may be experienced as it has been for generations to come.
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