The wind is blowing hard from the northwest but we are tucked into a site surrounded by aromic cedars. I hear the wind more than feel it. Earlier today, it looked like it would storm. Now, the wind appears to be pushing the storm clouds away. It will be cold tonight. Partially nested inside my sleeping bag, I'm just right. Later, I will probably need a long sleeve shirt to stay warm. Tomorrow, the climbing should be good. Many people think of sport climbing as a warm weather passion. Smith Rocks is different; the harder climbs need to be done while the rock is cold and offers the best possible friction.
While 'bivy' conjures up an image of roughing it, the bivy campground at Smith is like the rest of Smith Rock - it is definitely different. Our truck, loaded with gear, is 100-yards away. As a result, we have our thick mattresses, large tent (I can stand up in it without bending over!) and other essentials including my normal pillow. We have everything we need. For us, it is more comfortable to bivy here than in a motel in Redmond. We are not, in any stretch of the imagination, even close to roughing it.
In the parking lot a strange collection of people have gathered. They are cooking on Coleman stoves. A few climbers are using scented candles for light. Some have converted the tailgates of their trucks into miniature cooking areas. Others are more conventional in their choice; they have selected one of the few picnic tables scattered among the ancient trees. Beans and wine seem to be a popular evening meal. The burnt smells indicate some inexperienced 'campers' need more practice using their stoves. I doubt if they eat like this at home, but here, at Smith Rocks, this is the norm.
There are some hints of civilization. People are huddled inside their vehicles reading or writing, though I couldn't exactly tell. A person from France is doing charcoal sketches. Yet, others are doing things they wouldn't normally do in public. Some are walking around brushing their teeth, drying their hair, even doing the dishes at a public sink. But this isn't a public area, it is the climbers' bivy camp at Smith.
These people have made a commitment to their climbing life style. The standard apparel seems to be Prana pants, Marmot windshirts and vests, and Five-Ten approach shoes. Here, black is fashionable. At other campgrounds, such as The Bank at Shelf Road in Colorado, brighter colors are more common. I guess the people of the Northwest value the little extra warmth produced by black clothing on a rare sunny day. Polar fleece hats and down coats are worn even though it is 60 degrees. Most climbers arrived in new shiny vehicles Ð SUV's, pickups with camper tops, or plain cars stuffed with a large amount of gear. There are a few exceptions. A small contingent of climbers somehow made it here in near dead vehicles. A pair of women from Alberta think their rusted Toyota pickup had a stuck valve. It was smoking rather badly when it entered the parking area. Bikes and kayaks are attached to many vehicles. Two cars have spare tires tied to the top. Are their tires really that questionable or are the owners simply trying to make more room for other 'toys'? As a final decoration, shoes and climbing gear sit on the top of a few cars. They have come from all over North America to this bivy site at Smith Rocks. British Columbia and Alberta represent Canada. A few hardy souls drove here from Alaska and New Jersey. The stickers on their bumpers and windows tell of past adventures: Climb Moab, NRG (New River Gorge), and Alta. Other stickers express opinions: Trail Fees with a slash through it, Amnesty International and Free Tibet. One van seems to have a definite commercial slant; it looks like a moving billboard. Regardless of the vehicle and its origin, one feature of the driver is evident - parking skills are not valued! But this is Smith Rocks, the birthplace of American sport climbing. Things are done just a little differently here. Like those early pioneers, these people don't feel confined by past tradition. Here, at the bivy camp, they feel free. They are no different from other climbers in other campgrounds. Climbing is more than completing a route. It also includes meeting other people, sharing experiences, and enjoying a certain life style. If someone was to ask this group that famous question, "why do you climb?", there would be many answers. Yet, I suspect the real reason is to enjoy moments such as these. As I am writing, I can look out my tent door. It is facing west and the sun is setting. The high clouds are glowing a soft red. The Smith Rocks geese are honking. Over the screen on my laptop, I can see the white volcanoes of the central Cascades lined up on the horizon. Oh, I'm not writing this on my laptop. I am doing it the old fashion way; I'm using pen and paper. The laptop is playing a DVD movie. Like I said, the Smith Rocks bivy is different.