Dean Fry and Smith Rock Grade VII

March 8, 2010

My friend Tyler Adams is part Smith Rock historian, part old route restorer, and full on lover of the perversity that is Smith adventure choss climbing.  Tyler does a lot of work replacing old bolts and late last year he told me about a route he had re-bolted above the oft climbed moderate Bunny Face.  The route, Methuseulah’s Column, sounded like everything that Bunny Face is not: runout, dirty, scary.  In fact, Watt’s original guidebook describes it as, “Plagued by bad rock and poorly-spaced bolts, this unlikely line was the first bolted face in the Dihedrals.  Avoid Methusuelah’s if you want to live to a ripe old age.”  Perfect!

In late November I headed up Bunny Face with the intention of checking out Methuseulah’s. The runouts were intimidating from below, but feeling strong I headed up  and soon found myself clipping the anchor with relief.   The climbing was bold and serious, even with new 1/2″ bolts and modern sticky rubber.  The route was visionary when Dean Fry established it in 1973, on lead, well before bolted routes became the norm at Smith.  Fry established a number of other serious routes in the park.  Most have seen few ascents and many haven’t been repeated, while some have become very classic.  His most repeated first ascents include New Testament, Zebra and Moonshine Dihedral.  He also made the first free ascent of the ultra-classic Karate Crack.

In early February Tyler and I headed to Smith to attempt a new route.  A bird closure thwarted that effort and with heavy packs loaded we headed up to The Wombat to attempt an old Dean Fry aid route called C.L. Concerto.  The route takes an amazing line up the impressive Northwest face of the formation.  Not having much experience with aid climbing I found the thin crumbly seams of the first pitch a little worrisome.  Forty feet up I blew a large beak and lobbed twenty feet onto a cam , ripping an entire screamer.  Short February days and cold conspired against us.  The sun disappeared behind the Cascades and it was time to head down.  The following two days brought more cold and snow and no possibility to climb.  Two weeks passed and we headed back to Smith hoping to finish the route.  I completed the first pitch  and the following day Tyler began the crux A4 section.  Very thin, steep nailing on horribly hollow rock had me a little frightened just belaying.  I was happy for the new half-inch bolts in the anchor and cleaning the pitch I was deeply impressed by Tyler’s aid prowess.  Once again the sun began to set and we fixed ropes.  Another two weeks passed and we returned, jugging back to our high point.  I began to lead the final pitch.  A static fall onto a good pin when my third piece ripped hurt my psyche.  I was climbing slowly and the cold and wind combined to create a most unpleasant experience.  With relief I pulled over a bulge and began easy but runout free climbing to the top of the ridge.  As the sun set Tyler finished cleaning and  led off towards the summit of The Wombat.  It took us five weeks to make the third ascent of C.L. Concerto and standing on the summit was quite satisfying.

From Top: Nailing on the first pitch, A4 second pitch, finishing second pitch, Tyler raps, third pitch

Dean Fry was pushing the limits of Smith climbing during the short time he was active there.  Almost 40 years later his climbs remain an impressive testament to his strength and vision.  In 1973 heading back from Smith to his home in Corvallis, Fry was tragically killed in a car accident.  The routes that he left us are a gift and his memory will live on in the climbers who choose to follow in his footsteps.


3 Responses to “Dean Fry and Smith Rock Grade VII”

  1. wayne1112 Says:

    Bad ASS Report! Thank you for posting it, Wayne Wallace

  2. Jimablao Says:

    Great report. Routes like the ones he fa’d at Smith really make me curious about the first ascentionist. People like Dean Fry are inspirational, really refreshing to hear more about him and the time he spent here and re-visit those routes. Nice pics too. Cheers

  3. Tyler Adams Says:

    Bill you have a way with words!

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