Words and photos by Jules Jimreivat
As a climber and adventure photographer, my pin on the map with a little “home” label carries a lot of personal meaning. That pin sits in central Oregon, in a town called Bend.
During business hours, my neighbors are your typical folk: parents, students, business owners. Catch them in their off-hours and your jaw drops: they casually run 20 miles before work or drop waterfalls in their kayak before the last light fades.
Many of us moved to Bend for its small town feeling and big mountain views. The wide range of activities keeps us here. From the casual gravel bike ride on a weekday to an epic long-weekend adventure in the mountains, we know access to natural spaces is a freedom to be cherished, and we pursue it. Aggressively.
To feel incredibly small in the presence of nature and one with it at the same time is to feel a sense of belonging in the outdoors. Those moments create a connectedness that bubbles up and fills your heart. These feelings of inclusion are what we live for in my hometown.
For the active soul wandering in pursuit of the next adventure, these emotions are often found deep in the backcountry, miles from cell service or paved roads. In Bend, it might be found watching the morning’s first pink light glow over the mountains before your 9am shift, or gazing at the moon as you float downriver back towards your house. For me, it’s found 30 minutes from home, in a little gem of Central Oregon known as Smith Rock State Park.
Today, my climbing partners Jacqueline and Max are heading to Smith Rock chasing challenge and presence in the outdoors through our sport climbing goals. It’s the beginning of the season, and our plan is to get back into the groove of climbing as we search for our own individual flow across the stone.
Since the season stretches from early spring to late fall, we have time to collect our puzzle pieces and put them together. As we chase our sport climbing goals, on a deeper level we’re chasing real challenges, and the presence those bring along the way.
If skiing is a ride, then climbing is a puzzle; mental, physical, technical. Mastering each of these aspects brings the climber one step closer to pure presence on stone; one step closer to sending the project. Bringing together all the elements takes time practicing physical fitness, overcoming fear or doubt, and muscle memory for aligning your body position with the smallest grooves in the rock.
Smith Rock is known as the birthplace of American sport climbing. Which is to say that here, the first bolted protection was drilled into blank rock faces once thought to be beyond what was safely possible to climb. As the first American adopter of this climbing style back in the 80’s, Smith became world famous and full of lore around the rapidly growing sport.
As Max, Jacqueline and I walk the path towards our crag, we pass the first sport climb bolted in North America, circa 1983. Over Asterisk Pass stands the first aided ascent at Smith Rock dating to the 1960s. Across the river, basalt columns stand as they have since they flowed from a nearby volcanic eruption many thousands of years ago. It feels as though our trail is a timeline, each step taking us deeper in and farther away from the work distractions pinging on our laptops back home.
Climbing carries a lot of personal meaning. It’s a lifelong pursuit of challenges and learning. The lessons this sport teaches are transferable to so many aspects of life back in Bend, like patience, dealing with failure, humility and motivation.
Today is a windy day. As we brave our climbs, we adjust our minds and bodies to fear amplified by the wind. Heady runouts here will feel natural as the season progresses—another reminder that progress takes time, so we might as well enjoy this moment here and now. As we dance up the cliffs, bald eagles soar up thermals over our heads and otters splash in the river below. I feel that familiarity and joy from this place much like returning home after a long time away. I’m reminded why I chose to settle down in Bend; this feeling—this mountain life—is a deep part of me.
After many hours of sends, falls, laughs, snacks, and our staple blue heron sighting, we walk the timeline in reverse back out of the park. As we step from dirt to pavement, we emerge back into the realities of modern life. Thirty minutes in the car, and we’re back in Bend in time for a home-cooked dinner and a slow evening before work tomorrow.
As I breathe the woody air outside my house, I reflect on the therapy days like this bring. We all have our own place that brings a sense of meditation and peace. When I was a kid, it was under a tree in the backyard of my parents’ house. Today, it’s in the mountains, and Smith Rock is my backyard.