The Man behind the Smith Rock Climbing Guidebook—Alan Watts
September 9, 2015
Getting ready to blast the old site into oblivion, we came across a few gems, like this article done for the inaugural launch of SmithRock.com. We felt it most appropriate to re-post it now, as Alan is being interviewed once again for a documentary here at the park--an upcoming feature. Enjoy.
March 2000 - For our inaugural launch we have a special interview with Alan Watts, the one climber most familiar with -- and responsible for -- Smith Rock's climb to prominence as an international sport climbing destination.
Alan's entire climbing career is inextricably entwined with the recent past of Smith Rock, the remote central Oregon crag that now ranks among the world's elite climbing destinations.
It was Alan and other local climbers that spearheaded the events taking place over the last twenty years, the events that put Smith Rock on the map and created the entirely new classification of sport climbing.
Alan Watts and Smith Rock are two of the defining elements in the birth of American sport climbing. Join us as we talk with Alan about his climbing and Smith Rock -- past, present and future.
SmithRock.com: Could you tell us a little bit about your climbing background and how you originally got involved in rock climbing?
Alan: My dad was a climber and he did a couple first ascents of some of the pinnacles of Smith Rock in 1960 or so-- and I just grew up around that. While I was growing up, my family went up into the mountains for family time.
As long as I can remember I was involved in climbing, mainly mountaineering at first. I climbed the South Sister when I was eight years old, and had done most of the Oregon Cascade peaks by the time I was twelve or thirteen.
Even by the age of ten I had a pretty good idea that climbing was something I really wanted to pursue -- I even bought my first piece of climbing hardware at theage of ten. It was a piton. It cost a dollar fifty.
SmithRock.com: How would you describe Smith Rock for someone who has never climbed there? It was the new and difficult routes that you and others pioneered that helped to get Smith Rock discovered, but what are some of the, other features of Smith Rock that set it apart from other areas and still draw climbers to Smith Rock?
Alan: The setting for Smith Rock is outstanding. It's truly a beautiful place to visit and to climb. It is also compact enough where you can see everything. It's not overgrown, and you can see many other routes and you can watch other climbers around you.
There's a whole feeling to the environment of the main area that is visually very cool.The other great feature is the variety of climbs. There are many micro areas within Smith Rock that offer amazing variety.
I'd say that there is more variety at Smith Rock than just about any other climbing area.
SmithRock.com: And when did you actually start climbing at Smith Rock?
Alan: I didn't really climb there when I was young -- beyond just hiking around with the family. In fact, I didn't even do any technical climbing there until early 1975.
Until that time I was more interested in mountaineering, but I was fifteen years old and had no way to drive up to the mountains. With the long winters here, I looked at Smith as a place to go to train for mountain climbing.
It was only twenty miles away from where I lived and there happened to be somebody at my high school who was a climber, and we ended up going to Smith -- and that's how it started for me.
I didn't have a tremendous interest in becoming a good rock climber, I wasn't real strong at all back then, and I really didn't think I had what it took to become much of a climber -- much of a rock climber, at least.
SmithRock.com: What role would you say Smith Rock played in your development as a climber?
Alan: In some ways, it WAS my development, it was that important. I wouldn't have been a climber without Smith Rock. There was a long period of time -- the first three or four years-- when I was learning by trial and error-- simply learning how to climb and progressing at a very slow pace.
I climbed for three years or so before I even did a route that was harder than 5.9. I was progressing slowly, and then I moved away and went to school in Eugene, Oregon. I started climbing at a little local Eugene climbing spot called The Columns.
I hooked up with the right people, and was in the right environment to become a much better climber. I progressed very, very rapidly after that. By the time I moved back to Smith Rock in 1980, I was able to push the standards there.
And, for the next decade, that is what my life was-- climbing. It wasn't just a part of my life, my life became climbing.
SmithRock.com: After all that has happened since then -- for you and for Smith Rock -- what are some of your favorite memories as you look back?
Alan: That's a tough one, to tell you the truth...there are absolutely countless great times and memories. From where I sit right now, I don't know if there's any one particular memory. But I do remember the lifestyle back then. It was a simple time in my life, and it was an exciting time.
In a lot of ways the best times for me probably came in '83, '84, '85 -- those years before Smith Rock became well known and when I was really advancing rapidly as a climber. During that time I was going from my first 5.10 in 1978 to doing hard 5.13s seven years later.
It was an exciting time for me personally, and the others climbing there. And then it became obvious-- as more and more routes started to go up -- that we were doing some-thing significant.
Significant not just for Smith Rock climbing, but for climbing in this country in general. We're talking about serious, significant routes; I would go and do the hardest routes in other places at the time and find that they were no harder than what we were doing at Smith Rock -- and often they were easier.
It was at that point that we knew...WOW, we have this place with all this potential, with so much to do and so many hard routes and NOBODY even knows about it.
And then it was even more exciting during the time the place was discovered-- when it went from being just a little climbing area off a road near Terrebonne, Oregon, to Smith Rock, the place European climbers would plan entire vacations around.
It happened in just a couple years. It was a very rapid transformation.
SmithRock.com: During that time when Smith Rock was starting to really take off, you were working on a lot of the major routes.
Of the routes that you put up at Smith Rock, or worked on, which ones are you the most proud of? And which routes are most memorable for you?
Alan: I would probably have to first mention To Bolt Or Not To Be. A lot of the routes I am most proud of I didn't have the first ascent of, to tell you the truth.
To Bolt Or Not To is one of those. It was the hardest route I have ever done, and it took a tremendous amount of effort for me to do -- at a time when was I climbing really well.
I was the first person to establish it; I cleaned it -- and that was quite an undertaking -- and I worked out the moves. It was a route that I had a long history with.
I started work on it in '84 and completed it in '89. The fact that four other people had done it in between wasn't that big a deal to me. For me, it seemed significantly harder than anything else I had done at that point, and I had done routes that were close to that hard.
Scarface, for instance, was considered a 5.14 at the time and I had done the second ascent of that a year earlier. To Bolt Or Not To Be certainly seemed harder than that.
It's like 130 feet long, and, for the most part, there is hardly a place on the route where you couldn't fall off. The lower half of the route, or lower two-thirds, is just extremely difficult the entire way. The upper part is easier -- but still hard 5.12.
By then, you're pumped enough that it's really hard to keep it together; it's hard to climb that great when you're that pumped. I'm also proud of Just Do It, on Monkey Face. It's the hardest route at Smith Rock right now -- and I never did do it.
But it is one of the routes there that is a creation of mine, one of the routes that I envisioned. I could see a route going up there, and I established it.
There also are a lot of routes in the Dihedrals that are very memorable. They aren't necessarily the hardest routes, but routes that for the time were significant.
Chain Reaction, for instance, was significant in that it marked the beginning of the whole sport climbing scene. Even though it's short and not especially difficult by today's standards, it remains special for me.
SmithRock.com: Speaking of the beginning of sport climbing, how did you decide to start putting routes up on rappel?
Alan: Well, there were two reasons. Part of it was just out of necessity to do the more appealing lines. The other reason was that it was just easier. Going from the ground up, doing routes that way, was pretty scary!
Part of it was just being a wimp, when it came down to it. But routes that we could climb from the ground up were becoming few and far between.
Smithrock.com: Were others placing routes on rappel before you, and did you know if it was being done that way in Europe?
Alan: No, I had no idea. It wasn't until '85, I think, before we started to understand what they were doing in Europe. Mainly when Kim Carrigan and Johnny Woodward and Jeff Weigand came to Smith in '85, they let us know what was going on.
Before that I really didn't have any idea. That's always the one thing in almost every interview I've ever done that people can't quite get. What happened at Smith Rock wasn't influenced by what was going on in Europe -- up until '86 when J.B. Tribout came. We just had no idea.
When I did my first route on rappel, the direct start to King Kong, I didn't know exactly how they were doing routes at Smith Rock. I was surprised, and I felt kind of bad, when I found out that Jeff Thomas wasn't...uh, real happy that I had done a route on rappel. I had just assumed that's what everybody did; it seemed logical.
In my opinion, when it comes right down to it, anybody who wants to climb and who is really interested in doing lots of climbing and new routes, and is not bound by any sort tradition or strong influences is going to put up routes on rappel.
That is the way that the majority of people would do it. It just makes the most sense. It might not make the most sense in a place like Yosemite where the walls are so big, but in a place like Smith -- certainly.
SmithRock.com: This type of climbing was also evolving in Europe at the same time.
After you had been putting up routes on rappel here, and then found out about it over there, did you ever consciously think you were developing something entirely new? Did you know that you were introducing sport climbing?
Alan: No. Not even in the least bit. I don't even know who coined the term sport climbing. My first trip to Europe was in 1986. It was later, at the end of the '80s that the term stuck.
All I was trying to do -- the only thing I was trying to do -- was simply do an impressive collection of routes at Smith Rock. The fact that they were influential throughout the rest of the country was a total and complete surprise. I would never have guessed that.
SmithRock.com: At what point did you realize the impact you were having on climbing at Smith Rock?
Alan: I'd start by saying that 1983 was the turning point for climbing at Smith Rock itself. After freeing a bunch of aid climbs, I was turning towards things that were more remote, more unpleasant, things that were for the most part OK, but...let's just say that they're routes that don't get done a whole lot today.
Routes like Midnight Snack, Tarantula, Tears Of Rage -- things like that. That's where I was headed. If I had kept going in that direction, just looking for cracks to climb and more and more remote cracks, I could have done quite a few more.
But doing those routes was only confirming the opinions of those who thought that Smith Rock was climbed out, and a LOT of people -- the majority opinion in the early 80's --thought that Smith Rock was climbed out, believe it or not....
1983 was the year when I started to turn away from the cracks and started to look at all the faces. Once I did that, and it became obvious just how featured those faces were, suddenly everything changed. So it was certainly 1983 when the big changes started for Smith Rock.
As for nationally, it wasn't until 1987 that what we were doing at Smith really began to register. It just suddenly happened. JB (Tribout) made his trip from France-- and that of course got tons of press -- and, at the same time, there were a variety of different articles in European magazines and an article in Outside magazine.
Enough things happened that, come spring of '87, Smith Rock was where every serious climber in the country decided to make a spring trip. Before that, in '86, I wasn't around very much. I was going to school and I was in Europe.
It was the spring of '86 that a few people started showing up, and then JB came over in that October -- and it really changed after that.
SmithRock.com: When did you realize the long-term effect this would have on rock climbing in the US; did you think what was happening at Smith Rock would change the way climbing was done in the States?
Alan: By the end of the 80's it began to appear that way. In '86-'87 there was the great debate -- at the AAC [American Alpine Club] meetings.
I think that was when I started to gain some converts, people I never would have imagined such as the die-hard traditionalists. At that point I knew things were going to be different.
Like when Ron Kauk (laugh) came over to the dark side, that told me that something was really going on here -- it wasn't just this group of renegades. I think Ron came over in 87, I remember we were both on Taco Chips at that point, and it was pretty new. He wasn't there when Scott was putting up Scarface, and that was early 88. He came back, of course, several times.
Looking back, it is kind of funny, I never would have guessed there would be such a strong sub-sport growing out of what we were doing -- that this "sport climbing" would become such a huge thing, and that so many areas around the country would become crammed with all these difficult routes. And that climbing gyms would become so popular. Climbing really branched out in a new direction that I never anticipated.
SmithRock.com: When you first started putting routes up on rappel, was there any discussion about the number of bolts and placement, especially since what you were doing was new -- and went against the grain of traditional climbing techniques? Like on Heinous Cling, for example?
Alan: Things were a lot different back then. I wasn't trying to equip sport climbs. I didn't know what a sport climb was. That was never what I was trying to do.
I wasn't thinking, "it sure would be convenient to have a bolt here and a bolt here, and have an anchor here where you can lower off with one rope," or anything like that. That wasn't the idea, the idea was still just trying to put up routes.
The reason Heinous Cling had three bolts on the whole route is that I could get in protection in other places the rest of the way. It was run out in places and there was a lot of weird stuff, like a #5 hex you could slide into a pocket -- a lot of small wires, and just the sort of stuff that I would never want to trust today.
I think I did feel sort of guilty...I don't know....I knew that people were critical of the bolts. And I knew that the whole attitude about bolts was that there was nothing bold about it, that it just took all the adventure away.
I think in response to that -- and in response to just how much of a pain -in-the-butt it was to hand drill -- if I could find a spot for an RP or a Friend, and if I could tell it was a good piece, I would NOT put in a bolt.
But the next year, I did Darkness At Noon, and there were all bolts on that. And the only reason that was all bolted is there were no places for suitable gear. It was hand drilled.
When I went back to school in '85 it was a good thing, that I was gone for a while and other people came and sport climbing got a boost from somebody other than me. I was actually headed in a misguided direction. I was putting up routes on rappel that were more and more run out. They just weren't any fun to get on, when it comes down to it.
I remember doing what later became French Connection, and the first time I led that -- and I never linked it back then because it was just too darn scary -- but once you left Sunshine there were four bolts to the top.
That would mean that the 10th bolt of To Bolt Or Not To Be and the last bolt on To Bolt Or Not To Be were not there. And that was just sick. You'd fall. You'd go 60 feet! It was just ridiculous. It was all I could do to get up the nerve, after hanging on a bolt, just to make the dash to the next bolt.
Eventually, it started to become more painful than pleasurable, and I think that's the reason I was kind of getting burned out.It actually helped to have the Europeans come and say, "forget this!"
They'd do a route like Powder In The Eyes, to the right of Sunshine, where there's a little crack at the start and obviously you could put cams in there, and they'd be like, "nope, let's just put in bolts..."
In a lot of ways it was kind of nice that it turned that way. That was a big part of sport climbing getting going. It was not just trying to go from three RP's down to two RP's and making things more and more dangerous.
SmithRock.com: Heinous Cling has been totally bolted now, right? Do you think that's lowered the grade?
Alan: Yes, it is totally bolted now, and it's easier to do. You don't have to stop and hang out, but it's still the same climb. Technically the moves are the same, but it was a little bit harder back then.
Psychologically, it was quite a bit harder. Just clipping those big bolts is easy -- I mean there's something just a little bit weird about stuffing a Friend in a pocket, and the cams are back there twisting around, and then going off above that. You tend to hold on quite a bit harder and not be quite as relaxed.
SmithRock.com: Did a lot of the routes that you put up go up after it became obvious that more bolts should be going in, rather than less?
Alan: I did a lot of routes after. However, the real difference -- apart from just being able to put more bolts and not be concerned about making things more and more dangerous -- was the power drill. That had a huge impact. It had as big an impact on American sport climbing as anything.
That's always been one of my regrets, and there's nothing I can do now, but I've felt that if in '83, '84, '85, when I was devoting every day of my life to the place, if I would have had a power drill...I think, though, even if I would have had a power drill, I wouldn't have quite had the balls to just spray bolts in everywhere.
If I would've had the power drill and a "let's just go to town and drill this place up" attitude, I would have probably done two or three times as many routes; they're so easy to do now with the power drill.
That's why, when the people came in '87, '88, and '89, routes were suddenly really pretty easy to put up. So I did put in quite a few after that.
SmithRock.com: What was happening from the early to middle 80's at Smith Rock, as far as new routes and new techniques?
Alan: In the early 80's I was the only person putting up new routes. After that, there were a few people putting up some new routes at Smith, but nobody was putting up routes that were anywhere close to the hardest climbs at Smith Rock at the time.
Other people like Jim Anglin, Mike Hartley and Kent Benesch were doing some routes then, but Jim and Mike's were all traditional.
Up through about'85 I figured that, of the 60 most difficult pitches at Smith Rock, 59 were ones that I had done the first ascent of -- and Alan Lester had done one. So, there was a time when I felt dominant.
And, it just occurred to me, that some of the routes actually were cleaned on rappel, but climbed more traditionally. Like Heinous Cling, for instance, I started with some RP's and Skyhooks; that was actually drilled on lead.
I knew what was there though [in rappelling the route]. I knew where I was going to be putting my hooks, but real soon I realized how stupid that was...
SmithRock.com: As far as you know, nobody else was doing routes on rappel?
Alan: There were routes in other part of the country that were going up in what was then considered to be in really, really bad style -- which is how they would have considered these new routes at Smith Rock. Other climbers that were climbing in "bad style" were climbers like Todd Skinner...and Christian Griffith was no purist, either.
And, even before that, people like Mark Hudon, Max Jones, Ray Jardine and Tony Yaniro -- and the way people like that were climbing, was new. But it was different. It wasn't like they were rappelling and bolting on rappel, or anything like that.
They were rebelling against an ultra-pure style, a Jim Erickson type of style out of Colorado where the ethics were EVERYTHING; a religion essentially.
They were doing a whole variety of things, hang-dogging, pre-placing some nuts, yo-yoing -- all sorts of different tactics that challenged the purists' methods of the day.
SmithRock.com: Speaking of methods of the day, what kind of training were you doing back then to get in shape or stay in shape?
Alan: I was pretty much just climbing, that's really what I was doing. I would< do a little bit of finger work, but there weren't any hang-boards back then, or plastic holds. If there would have been climbing gyms -- that would have been wonderful!
But there weren't, and I pretty much just climbed. If I had known to train, and could have devoted more time to that, I think it could have made a real difference. But back then, if I was climbing 20 or 25 days a month already and I wanted to get better, then the way to get better would be to climb 30 or 31 days a month. That was my attitude and what I was doing.
I did have some wooden blocks put up on the beams of my parent's deck and I would do all sorts of traverses and that kind of stuff. I got that idea from Chris Jones who had little blocks set up in his bedroom back in Eugene; that was the first time I had seen that.
SmithRock.com: What are the most significant changes that you've noticed at Smith Rock since the 1980's?
Alan: There are lots more people climbing now. You can see the impact of all the people that have been coming there.
SmithRock.com: Have you noticed a significant physical impact on the park and itself? Things like over-crowding, more garbage or other things?
Alan: There's probably no more garbage -- there might even be less than there was back in the early '80's. Things that I notice -- apart from the direct climbing impact of all these routes with bolts and chalk -- probably the biggest change is that the base of all the cliffs have changed so much.
It used to be vegetated right up to the base of the wall and now there's this whole big swath where the vegetation is pretty much gone. Visually, that's the biggest difference. It just seems really well worn. I remember when there was sagebrush below Moonshine Dihedral, for instance.
It was all over. Below New Testament and Revelations, it used to be a grassy hillside right up to the base of the wall. I remember there was a sagebrush right at the base of Revelations that people would sometimes tie into as a belay anchor. So, that's changed a lot.
But, for the most part, the area as a whole hasn't really changed much at all. If you stand back, or move from the main area, or if you go over to the west side there are very few changes. If you go to outlying areas it's just the same as it ever was.
SmithRock.com: What about the types of climbers at Smith Rock, has that changed?
Alan: Yeah. It has. There weren't a whole lot of climbers back in the early 80's and everybody kind of knew each other; it was a real comfortable scene just because we were all friends.
In the late 80's it became a real competitive scene where all the best climbers from the country -- and the world -- were coming to do the routes, and trying to put up new routes and trying to do the existing routes faster than their rival had done them, or whatever.
So it became a scene that was very top-heavy with really top-level climbers. It was like where doing Churning In The Wake would just be a warm-up. You'd be kind of embarrassed to even get on the thing.
And then, as other areas started to become more popular, the percentage of really good climbers decreased, and the percentage of casual climbers increased. And that's the biggest change.
For the most part, it's an area where -- because there are so many good, easy and moderate routes -- casual climber are the majority. There are some good limbers, but in the late 80's a lot of time fifty to sixty percent of the climbers would be climbing 5.12 or 5.13.
And now, there might be ten percent of the people out there on any given day that are climbing at the real hard grades. There are still people doing it, and there are climbers that are better than ever, but back then there wasn't much for the 5.8, 5.9, 5.10 climber. Now there's a huge amount of stuff for them to do.
SmithRock.com: In light of what you were doing in the mid-80's and 90's, how has that changed climbing over the last ten or 15 years?
Alan: There are so many different areas of climbing that anytime you start talking about how climbing has changed in general it's really difficult. People talk about who's the best climber, and there are all these arguments that miss the whole point.
Like arguments where people are trying to compare top alpine climbers with those who are winning climbing competitions and those who are bouldering really hard and those who are doing El Cap and Half Dome in a day.
There are just so many different disciplines...it's like arguing who's the best skier. Is it a cross country skier or is it someone who won the Olympic downhill? They're so different they can't really be compared.
In the area of climbing at Smith Rock, and the rock climbing that I personally was interested in -- which is just a narrow segment -- the biggest change has been the emergence of sport climbing. The routes, and the way the routes were put up in the 80's was originally very controversial. But now sport climbing is common and completely accepted and that has brought a lot more people into the sport.
That led to the popularity of climbing gyms and, in turn, brought more people into the sport and more money into the industry. Overall, that's the biggest change in rock climbing in general, the whole sport climbing movement.
It led to a variety of other things and it translates to an awful lot more people climbing and a lot of money generated in the industry.
All of the new people getting into the sport-- it's not like anybody is really getting rich -- but there's a huge number of people making their living now, either working for a company or having a climbing gym, or whatever. The number of people who are making their living climbing has increased many times over the last 15 years.
SmithRock.com: What can you tell us about the resurgence of new routes going up in the last couple years at Smith Rock? And, is there one person driving this, or are there a number of people?
Alan: There HAS been a fairly huge amount of new route activity at Smith Rock recently. Ryan Lawson has done a tremendous number of routes. He's bolted a huge number of routes -- he's actually kind of burned himself out, I think.
He was the main one doing new stuff, and then other people started doing them, as well. I don't know if Ryan got them started, or the fact that they heard there was going to be a guidebook and that got people going, or what -- I don't really know.
SmithRock.com: What do you think of the quality of these new routes?
Alan: I've done most of these new routes now, and I actually think it's pretty good. A lot of people just absolutely don't think that.
SmithRock.com: Why don't people think they're good routes? Is it too many routes, or overcrowding?
Alan: Well...there are -- and there always has been as long as I can ever remember -- a group of people who are critical of anything new or any change. The faces have changed but the attitude has stayed the same. They were critical back when I was doing some new things, and they are critical now.
And they don't really greet newcomers with open arms. I feel that if I had put up a lot of these new routes it would not have been very controversial at all.
But it was controversial because of the people that did them. They were newcomers, they weren't especially great climbers, they made some mistakes.
The routes were kind of crammed-in in some places, but that's not so unusual. I think the biggest issue is that they are newcomers. It's a bummer that there is currently such a negative attitude among some local climbers about new routes.
Thinking back to the mid and late 80's, I can remember that it started to get kind of competitive back then and it started to change a bit. It used to be that if someone would come in and do a new route or contribute to developing the area, people looked at it real positively.
Like when Brooke Sandahl moved in -- he was a newcomer back in 84 or so -- he started to do a few routes and it wasn't like "phew, who is this guy, who is this wanker...?"
It never would have even occurred to us, I never thought that way. So there was this real supportive "Yeah! let's just keep doing this stuff!," attitude. It was a very positive attitude.
This was in contrast to a place like Yosemite, where it seemed like there was so much of a negative attitude, where anything anybody tried that was new was looked down on. The attitude there at times wasso bad you could feel it in the air just walking through Camp Four; Ieally felt it. Smith was different.
But, over time, as Smith has matured, it has kind of become the same way. I think the local scene is similar to what Yosemite was like. I think it is indicative of a very mature area, an area where there are not as many new and exciting things happening. People are just kind of hanging on to the past...
SmithRock.com: Do you think that is also because there are just more people involved?
Alan: Yeah, I think that's a lot of it.Ryan, he's not the antichrist or anything, he a perfectly decent guy. A lot of the routes that he's done have been really good. He's done some great things and I think he's really contributed in a positive way.
Not all the new routes that have been going up are great...a lot of them are just not a whole lot of fun to climb --they're not that well cleaned...
SmithRock.com: Are these some of the ones that Ryan has done?
Alan: Well, both his and others. For the most part, his routes are probably a little bit better than average of the routes that have been done; he's pretty conscientious.
People now don't put a whole lot of time into cleaning routes because they've figured out that routes get cleaned over time just through use, and they don't need to spend all that time cleaning like I did.
I'd say one of the differences between now and then is the anti-new route attitude among the local climbers now.
SmithRock.com: So that's the local climbers' attitude?
Alan: I'm making a generalization, but yes. For example, I bolted some stuff last summer -- some really fun, fun routes -- on Rope-De-Dope. There are several new 10.a routes there now.
They're all good and fun, for the most part. They were all things that were top-roped. I did those, and I don't think anybody really knew who did them. Then something appeared on the bulletin board like "I was just over at Rope-De-Dope and there were bolts all over the place...When is this going to stop??...people are just getting so carried away..."
SmithRock.com: And these are climbers saying this?
Alan:: Yeah! And then I posted something to say that I was the one who bolted these routes and why I was doing that. It was sort of an angry post -- kind of as if to say "hey, part of the reason you're here doing these routes is because I was doing routes long before you thought about climbing..."
But, I think that the attitude was that these were probably just more routes that Ryan or somebody like that put up. I'm sure the guy who posted that, when he got the reply probably said, “Oh, shit, I wish I wouldn't have done that.” Let's just say that he sure didn't post anything else; there was no rebuttal.
SmithRock.com: That's an interesting anecdote reflecting some of the current attitudes among Smith Rock climbers, and how Ryan and other newcomers aren't accepted.
Alan: No, he's not accepted. In general, the local Bend area climbers just absolutely reject him-- they do not like him at all. They don't even give him a chance.
SmithRock.com: And there is nothing really being done differently than what you did?
Alan: No. When it comes right down to it, no, there is no significant difference. I did, however, have a history there. The other difference is that I was mainly putting up routes that were pushing the standard.
The biggest difference, I'd say, between these routes now and the routes done in the late 80's, when new routes were going up at a similar pace, is the level of difficulty.
Nothing is being done, from an area historical perspective, that is significant as far as difficulty is concerned. There is some historical significance in developing the Marsupials, for instance.
But, as far as difficulty, there is nothing whatsoever that's being done that is hard.
In a lot of ways, that's great. Most of the people who climb at Smith Rock are not doing 5.13 or 5.14 or even 5.12. They're doing the easier routes.
SmithRock.com: We've covered the past and the present in this interview -- how about the future?
Can you tell us about your guidebook? What gave you the inspiration to write a guidebook about Smith Rock? And what about the new edition?
Alan: As for how I decided to write it, it came down to a few things. I like to write, and I had some interest in doing it even before there was any need.
But then, there got to be such a strong need with all the growth and the fact that none of the sport climbing routes and none of the routes from the 80's were even covered in a guidebook.
The old guidebook had maybe 260 or 270 routes and suddenly there were 800 or 900 routes -- so the need was huge. And then there were the visiting climbers who would come in and do little hand-drawn topo guides.
When those started to crop up it became real obvious that someone was going to do something someday. I felt some pressure too...and it kind of irritated me when these people visited Smith Rock for a month and then they decided to write a guidebook while they were there.
I had done so many of the routes and was so familiar with the place that it just seemed like if anybody else would have done the book I would have been...upset, to say the least. I wasn't going to let that happen.
I kind of felt pressured to do it, and then I agreed to do it, and then it took me quite a while to actually get it done -- largely because for the first couple of years I didn't really do any work on it, I was just climbing. But once people knew that I was going to work on it, that kept the competition away.
Now, it's something that I like doing. Although, I don't climb there nearly as much, and it's been a bit harder to get back into the scene and do the new routes. Fortunately, the vast majority of the new routes are really easy, so I've been able work through them pretty quickly.
I still think that I'm the best person to write this guidebook at this point.Nobody has done as many of the routes as I have, and once again, it seems like a good time to do it. I don't know if there will be another one that I will do in the future after this revision. If I climb and stay involved I might. If I just totally go in a different direction I likely wouldn't.
A lot of people who write guidebooks don't really know that much about it, they don't even know that much about the area. They don't do the routes, they talk to people who have done the routes -- and that's the reason that a lot of guidebooks are not especially informative.
SmithRock.com: You really have amassed an amazing climbing career, and history, at Smith Rock. In looking back have you had any second thoughts about your chosen career path as a climber? Do you ever look back on your years at Smith Rock with any regrets, or was it rewarding?
Alan: There are a lot of people who make a whole lot of money and, apart from all the things that money can buy, it's not really deeply rewarding or satisfying -- and they haven't really made much of a contribution.
For me, I felt that in doing in what I really loved doing, and ignoring those who told me I shouldn't be doing that, it led to a lot of good things, not just in my life, but I think it had an impact on a lot of people's lives.
I feel like I had a real involvement in getting the sport climbing movement going. I feel that I was a significant contributor in the changes over the last 15 years that have occurred in climbing. Now there are climbing gyms, and so many more companies and people making a living climbing, and so many more climbers -- I feel that I was at least part of the reason why -- because I made the choice to do what I did at Smith Rock.
That is satisfying and there aren't a whole lot of times you find something in your life where that happens.You usually don't make a choice to do that. It's just a matter of doing something that you love and it might be an unintended consequence from what you decided.
But that's what I did, it's not what I do now. Climbing is not my career at this point. It's what it was. I've changed, and my interests have changed, although I'm still interested in climbing. I didn't want to work as a climbing guide, for instance.
I worked in the industry for a long time, I got kind of tired of it. What I'm doing now is, for the most part, totally unrelated to climbing except for the fact that I'm writing this guidebook. And I'm happy to do that!