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Time Capsule: Aging film canister reveals a glimpse of Smith Rock climbing history 

A film canister discovered on Smith Rock reveals a list of dates and climbing entries.

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For the Belden family - Chip, Julie and their three children - outdoor adventure outings are an integral part of family life. Over the past several years some of their outings have started with a canoe ride across the Crooked River to the Deschutes Land Trust property adjacent to The Ranch at The Canyons and Smith Rock State Park. Safely across, the family hikes up into the pinnacles area to, as Chip Belden puts it, "explore, see cool geological formations and keep an eye out for rare plant species."

While combing the area this spring, Julie Belden stumbled onto something unusual - an aged, yellow film canister. After discovering it and gathering the family around, Chip, a photographer, shook the canister to see if there was any film in it.

"It didn't sound like there was," he said, "but there was a noticeable rattling noise."

He opened the canister tipped it upside down and out fell a stubby pencil and nothing else. On closer inspection, he discovered a rolled up piece of paper inside. Removed and unrolled, the paper turned out to be a climber's summit register for "Geodetic Rock".

Dated 9/21/58, the register's first entry reads: "Gil and Viv Staender ascended the main pinnacle by ladder. Then, one piton and up from the west."

Ten days later and entry reads: "Jim Ramsey, C. De Shazer. Same route as above."

Jim Ramsey, then a Madras local, would go on to pioneer many Smith Rock routes over the years with his brother Jerry and friend Jack Watts. (Jack Watts being the father of Alan Watts who would put Smith Rock on the international sport climbing map in the 1980s and authored the definitive guidebook to the area.)

After Ramsey and De Shazer's ascent, three years elapse before the next register entry. That one, made on July 19, 1964, reads: "Phil Dean, Dick Stocking via ladder route and traverse to right."

A year later on April 17, an entry simply reads: "Tim Kelley and Cliff Fairchild - Corvallis"

Two years go by before an entry reads: "Ladder now off the route. Why did anyone ever use a ladder? Gerald Bjorkman, Eugene Dodd."

The last entry in the summit log is dated March 16, 1968 and reads: "First ascent of west side crack. I used a bong. Bong with the wife belaying. 1 hour. Gerald Bjorkman."

Bongs (wide aluminum devices with holes in them to accommodate carabiners) were, at the time, the latest in climbing gear as pitons fell out of favor among the climbing community.

The Belden's finding of the canister and its contents provides not only an important remnant of Smith Rock climbing history but also sheds light on Central Oregon's rock climbing pioneers like the Staenders.

The Staender name is key in Smith Rock climbing history; Vivian Staender was a member of the first successful party to climb Monkey Face on January 1, 1960. Her climbing partners that day were Lewis and Clark College students Jim Fraser and Dave Bohn who only had enough time to make the climb during the Christmas break from their studies.

Besides their first ascent, the trio came up with the name "Misery Ridge" for the long hauls they made ferrying gear across the river (no bridge then) and over the unnamed ridge to the base of Monkey Face.

For Chip Belden there was more than a bit of irony in finding the Staender name on the old register.

"Several years ago I was on my way to fly fish on the Metolius River and driving down a backroad outside Camp Sherman. I came on a pickup truck lying on its side. I was able to help what turned out to be an older couple out of the truck and get them safely back to town.

After getting them squared away, the man gave me a business card. It read Gil Staender. I put the card away for years and then remembered it as having been the same name as the person making the first ascent in the old summit register," Belden said.

He has his own connection to Smith Rock's routes. Belden came to Central Oregon in 1992 specifically to climb.

"I packed my old station wagon and left Ohio where I'd climbed on the Niagara Escarpment and came west looking for climbing buddies who had moved to Bend."

Living in a small studio apartment near COCC, Belden spent most of his days either climbing or exploring at Smith Rock.

Now with the old register and Gil Staender's card in hand, he set out to find out more about the Staenders.

During the height of their climbing exploits at Smith, the Staenders lived in Sisters where Gil taught school. Later, the couple homesteaded 160 acres near Camp Sherman. That homestead (Wildhaven) now belongs to the Nature Conservancy.

Vivian Staender passed away in 1997. Gil lives in Bend, although Chip has been unable to reach him to date.

Still, the Staender name lives on today at Smith Rock State Park in Staender Ridge, a group of pinnacles that were summited by Vivian and Gil during their climbing days. The spires include Adit Rock, Control Tower, Independence Tower, the Mole, Bette's Needles, Flattop and, of course, Staender Summit.

All of these spires feature one-to-two pitch climbs, ranging in difficulty from 5.9 to 5.12d. None require ladder assistance.


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