Saturday, March 19, 2016

Smith Rock State Park - Misery Ridge Loop

The names say it all: Voyage of the Cow Dog, Cocaine Gully, Time to Shower, Phone Call from Satan, Scrotal Avenger, Disposable Heros, Vomit Launch, and my favorite: Bubbas in Bondage. What are these, you ask? Punk rock bands? Mixed drinks? Canceled TV shows? Amusement park rides? Nicknames of ex-girlfirends? The answer is none of the above, dearies. These are simply a colorful smattering of climbing route names at Smith Rock State Park.

Ant on a wall
Now, contrast the climbing flair with the staid and steadfast names of the hiking trails in Smith Rock State Park (Chute, Homestead, Summit, Canyon): boring, boring, boring. One can only conclude that hikers are a much more sensible and safe group than climbers. Of course, we we do sport the Rope-de-Dope Trail and Misery Ridge Trail so maybe we hikers are only just marginally more sensible than climbers. At the base of each climbing route, there are first aid stations complete with splints, casts, and stretchers that speak volumes to me about the mental illness associated with climbing. And speaking of mental illness, today's subject is about the self-inflicted misery associated with doing the Misery Ridge loop at Smith Rock State Park.

Monkey Face
Monkey Face is an iconic rock pillar at Smith Rock, so I brought two monkey faces with me: grandsons Issiah and Daweson. We left Roseburg in the wee hours of a Saturday morning to make the long drive to Smith Rock. Well,  that's not entirely accurate as we actually left in the middle of the night which meant no repetitive " Are we there, yet?" or "How much further?" as the boys snored away the hours and miles on a dark highway. Arriving at the park in the early morning, we hoisted backpacks and walked about a quarter-mile into the bivouac camping area (there is no car camping at Smith Rock) and set up tents.

Daweson hikes next to the Crooked River
Once our camp set-up chores were done, we headed down the Rope-de-Dope Trail which had an awesome and iconic view of Smith Rock lording it over the wiggly course of the Crooked River. And across the river loomed walls of orange colored rock similar in tone and hue to the unnatural spray-on tan of a certain presidential candidate. The two lads were suitably awestruck as we navigated the switchbacks down to the river's edge on the Canyon Trail.

Rocky color palette
Smith Rock is an incredibly popular place and is quite busy on any given day due to its proximity to Bend. Already, hordes of climbers and hikers were out and about so we had plenty of company on our hike. Crossing the river on a stout wooden bridge, we hung a left and began a several-mile amble along the Crooked River along with half the population of Crook County.

Mental illness at work
The Crooked River is just that, from the air it looks like the squiggles of a spent rubber band. At ground level though, we were relatively unaware we were walking hither and yon, so to speak. Progress was slow as we continually gawked at the orange rock wall looming above, topped only by a deep blue sky. As we walked, a river otter swam across the river and several bald eagles were spotted fishing the green waters of the river. Climbers, looking like ants on a stucco wall, made painstaking progress up the sheer cliffs flanking the river.

A closer look at Monkey Face
Once we were a couple of miles out, Monkey Face came into view. The iconic rock is a tall pillar whose large knob on top has a couple of strategically placed caves that really do make it resemble a giant monkey face. Continuing the monkey metaphor, small  climber "fleas" crawled in Monkey Face's eyes and mouth. Fortunately for the "fleas", Monkey Face did not stick out his tongue.

View from the Mesa Verde Trail
The Mesa Verde Trail is a shortcut from the river trail to the Misery Ridge Trail and the steep climb around Monkey Face's back side was a harbinger of misery and woe to come. Climbing steadily and steeply, views improved to the point we could see a chain of Cascade Mountain peaks stretching from Diamond Peak to the south and Mount Hood to the north. Epic, plus the view did provide an excuse to stop and wait for the pain to subside.

"Let's go climbing!" he said
The Misery Ridge Trail zig-zagged up the steep wall and conversation pretty much stopped as we huffed and puffed and tried to cajole our burning leg muscles to execute one more step. Almost at the top, we stared Monkey Face in the eye as we had arrived at face level. Just 30 yards of air separated us from Monkey Face and we observed some rappelling groups blithely dangling in empty space.  Issiah was quite entranced by the climbers and he asked "Grandpa, can you take me rock climbing?" Sure, Issiah, as soon as my hair grows back, I'll take you climbing!

View from the crest of Misery Ridge
By now, we were cresting Misery Ridge and we were treated to a view for the ages. We were on the knife-edge crest and could observe the Crooked River on both sides of the rocky ridge. The trail, comprised of endless switchbacks and steep stairs, dropped away at our feet. Views of the Cascades and nearby Gray Butte were simply astounding.

Rickety trail 
A steady procession of hikers were coming up the stairways and were silent except for the heavy gasping. We could relate because that was us before we had started to head downhill. At any rate, after carefully picking our way down the rickety trail, we arrived at the river. From there it was a short walk along the canyon rim back to our campsite.

The Crooked River
The boys played at a climbing wall, perhaps inspired by all the climbers they'd seen on this hike. The next morning, we hurriedly struck camp before a rather vigorous rainstorm began dumping water on our heads. A good time was had by all us monkey faces despite, or maybe because of, the misery on Misery Ridge.

My people
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Looks like a classic Richard hike. We too want to get to Smith Rock to hike, but may have to wait till next year. Great view and great weather while you were there!

  2. Smith Rock SP is a very special place, you should go and visit. While the trail is steep over Misery Ridge, the loop is short, coming in at around 5 miles. Definitely a worthy hike, put it on "The List"