It’s funny the way some adventures start and end. I actually like to think that they never really end; they just continue on forever with short intermissions. This one began a few months ago in the Beijing airport when I met a climber by the name of Brady Kendrick. I was heading to a BASE jumping event in Guiyang province and he was heading to meet some friends to climb infamous walls in the same region. He mentioned that he was currently living in Bend, Oregon and was working as a climbing guide. I mentioned that I have several friends who live there and I visit at least once or twice a year. We exchanged information and I promised that I would stay in touch and let him know when I was headed to town next. From there we went our separate ways.
A month later I began planning a trip to Bend to visit a long time friend, Matthias Giraud. Matthias is pro skier by trade and has turned to BASE jumping and ski-BASE jumping. Lately, it seems he skis and BASE jumps to pay for his surfing habit. Although he and his family are the primary reason I visit Bend, lately, I have been racking up several friends and acquaintances there, so the draw to visit is greater and greater. Matthias and I agreed on a few days in the middle of December and decided to keep an open mind on our activities since the weather is so hard to predict. One of the things high on both of our lists was to climb and jump the infamous Monkey Face, a 350 foot spire that sits on the west side of Smith Rock. Being that neither Matthias nor I are seasoned climbers, I decided to drop Brady a line to let him know the dates I would be in town and to see if he would be up to hang out and monkey around, as it were. He was in!
As the day of my arrival got closer and closer, I dropped a few more lines to some friends to let them know about the adventure to come. I contacted Randy Schmidt and Kyle Ohlson, both up and coming videographers and editors whom you are sure to have seen in GoPro videos and edits, to see if they were interested in getting together and collaborating efforts. They were both in as well! This was going to be a great time!
Randy and I had actually never met. He lives about an hour north of me and asked if he could carpool with me to Bend. Spending 5 hours in a car with a totally rad 19 year old like Randy is pretty interesting. I am pretty envious of his focus and direction in life, such a thing is a rarity. He told me stories of his experience working on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska the summer after he graduated high school. To hear a young man explain how much he learned about life and himself and to hear how grateful he is for the things and people he has in his life is moving to say the least.
We eventually arrive in Bend and meet up with Kyle at a burrito joint to conduct a hand off and chat for a bit. I was pretty much watching a young version of Harry and Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber. These two kids were a riot. After nearly giving myself a hernia from laughter, we say our goodbyes. They would be spending the next day skiing while Matthias and I did a little scouting.
I arrive at Matthias’s house and we talk over the next couple days, check out the weather, and begin to prep gear. It’s sad to say, but sometimes you forget how important some people are to you until you hang out with them again. Like Brady, I met Matthias years ago in an airport. We’ve been friends, no… family ever since. We said our goodnights, gave some high fives and off to bed we went.
The next day was slow and easy. We hiked around the area taking note of wind direction, trees, rocks, everything. We looked at the approach and climb on the Monkey Face. Intimidating would be an understatement. Classified as a 5.9 A1, it’s not the most difficult, but for non-climbers, we may have bitten off more than we can chew. After getting somewhat of a warm-fuzzy about the jump, the landing and talking things over with Brady on the phone, we decided on a time and place to meet and essential equipment to bring. Later on, Matthias would opt out of the climb and jump as he has several even bigger projects over the next six months that he just cannot afford to risk being injured for. Completely understandable.
4:30 a.m. comes early. Especially when excitement and anticipation prevent you from sleeping. Coffee is brewed, the car is loaded and we head out into the 20 degree morning. We ran into “Harry and Lloyd” on the highway and have a few laughs making faces and gestures in the windows of our vehicles. After we arrive, we triple check our equipment and begin the hike on the hard, frozen ground. Now at the base of the spire, Brady and I begin tying up and going over the plan of attack. He would be lead climbing while I belay him, then he would return the favor of belay. This would be the case for the three pitches it would take us to top out and claim victory. The first pitch wasn’t too bad.
Although the now 30 degree air temperature and what must have been 20 degree rock temp made things a little more interesting. Jamming hands and toes into cracks in the rock, the first pitch goes by and ends on a small ledge on the south side of the spire. It was here that Brady and I admired the alpenglow on the surrounding rocks as well as on Mounts Bachelor, Jefferson, Brokentop and the Three Sisters. Spectacular just doesn’t seem to describe the view and inspired just doesn’t seem to describe the feeling. The second pitch brings us up a sheer to overhanging wall that leads us into the monkey’s “mouth.” Again on lead climb, and myself on belay, Brady goes to work. Watching Brady work the route was like watching a maestro directing his orchestra. Every move was deliberate, methodical and seemingly effortless. There were even times that he made it look so easy that I wasn’t sure if I would have a hard time. Boy, was I wrong. Brady makes it to the monkey’s mouth in the blink of an eye. I would be jumaring (using ascenders to scale up the rope) up the next pitch. This would prove to be more difficult than I remember, especially on an overhung pitch.
Needless to say, the last 20 or so feet were painful. My forearms were gassing out and my grip strength was really beginning to suffer. Luckily Brady was there to help me out. A lot.
Finally in the monkey’s mouth, we gave each other a high five and I expressed my apologies and thanks to Brady. Like the rad guy he is, he sloughed it off and explained that it was his pleasure and he’s just stoked to be here with me. I am so grateful to have such amazing people in my life.
The last pitch brings you out of the mouth and past “panic point.” This is a section aptly named for the fact that you step out of the mouth, around a sharp corner and onto a completely sheer wall with nothing below you but 300+ feet of air. I think I may have mentioned that I am deathly scared of heights once or twice before. Needless to say, I looked down once and only once. After Brady topped out and belayed me up the last pitch, we shared a brief celebration before being completely awe struck by the panoramic view that was before us. The nearly 360 degree view was a sight to behold. Yet another reminder of how lucky I truly am.
After getting all of our affairs in order, I began to gear up and notify our friends on the ground that I would be jumping soon. After a couple gear checks, I gave a high five and a thanks to Brady and shimmied down to the ledge and exit point. I gauged the winds, gave a quick exit count, and left the monkey and my new friend behind.