18 Months Prior.
We stop by the Steins Pillar Overlook on Mill Creek Road while driving out to check out the Twin Pillars (Mill Creek Wilderness) with Brian Jenkins
and M and N Denyer
. That thing looks awesome! Huge and imposing, overhanging on all sides. After checking out Thomas' Rock Climbing Oregon
book and seeing the 11a rating I put it out of my mind. It'll be a while.
4 Weeks Prior.
While surfing cascadeclimbers.com
, I come across a Northeast Face TR
for Steins Pillar. Looks awesome. The TR is informative. I feel a strong urge to nail it. Given we have in-laws visiting for next 2 weekends we can't do it. I can however start planning and getting the necessary hardware. My wife and I make a trip to the local climb shop and pick up a few pins....then after re-reading the TR, I decide to pick up a few more pins (and a couple screamers). Always surprised how expensive this stuff can get. I make a trip to the Mazamas Library to check out the 1950 article on the first ascent of the Pillar.
1 Week Prior.
Packed and ready to go, we drive out to Prineville and the Steins trailhead on Friday evening after work. Just east of Prineville, the rain shadow effect of the Cascades disappears and we're driving through pouring rain. "Shit!" We know that it's just not going to happen the next day. Sleep at TH hoping to at least get some views of the pillar the next day. In the morning, Pillar is socked in fog and we don't see anything from the overlook. Spend the weekend at Smith.
October 30th, 2004.
Again go through the routine and drive out to the trailhead on Friday night after work. Wake up at 7am under clear, cold skies. We're on. Hike in with heavy packs bringing way too much gear (as it would turn out). Approach takes about 40 minutes. Start of climb is obvious - a short (~40-50) foot chimney
/OW. Start up P1 and find that getting INTO the chimney feels a lot harder than 5.5. Rest of pitch is trivial and tops out on huge ledge with a cave
-like formation. P2 starts on right side of ledge with a few balancy 5.7-ish moves to reach a piton. Mix of nuts, small cams and mostly fixed pro follows, including a traverse move around a large, shaky block
. I tell Shirley directly below to duck into the cave as I step onto a cam placed behind the block. There's a section with shallow holes drilled in that seem to accept nothing from my rack. I stick clip past this section. The pitch diagonals up and left over the huge lower ledge system and tops out on a good ledge via another 5.7-5.8 free move. This pitch is probably as difficult to lead as to follow and - like an idiot I back cleaned some trad gear behind me to conserve biners. Shirley follows and faces a long, blank traverse. A stream of profanity slices the crisp Ochoco Mountain air but she gets across just fine. This comfy ledge provides great views of the Ochocos including the oh-so-tempting-looking Twin Pillars.
There's a single bolt a few feet above the P2 belay ledge but a blank face (uprotectable 5.9-ish maybe?) of about 20 feet separates this bolt from the start of the fixed gear visible above. I search for options and find a shallow dihedral on left side of ledge. Aid up on some trad gear and reach the fixed pro ladder. The fixed stuff is interesting but there are enough good-looking new bolts to keep the stress levels down. One or two fixed pieces are missing and I end up hammering in some pitons into old, worn-out bolt sleeves. Pitch ends at the left edge of the huge split-level ledges. Shirley comes up and we again move the belay to the right side of the split-level ledge. Much like the low ledge (top of P1) this one is huge. Next pitch starts up a moderately overhanging wall. I stretch and am finally able to clip the "shoelace" hanging from a piton. Couple moves on OK fixed gear and again I hammer in a piton...and again I face a section with shallow, stubby holes that take nothing from my rack. Cheat my way across this section with the clip stick. Couple more pitons and old bolts and I'm face to face with the Upper Black Knob, a wart-like protrusion on the NE face of the Pillar. I girth hitch a roundish horn (more like a bump) and realize that it's time to again step out of the aiders. I find the initial move a bit tough, probably in the 5.8-ish range. Two moves and I'm at the belay bolts on what is the smallest belay ledge of the route so far (still plenty big to be comfortable). There's a snow storm moving in from the north. I decide to combine the last pitch with P4. First fixed piece is a piton a good 12 feet above the belay ledge. I'm rushing now and stick clip this one. The pitch is fun: slightly overhanging with views straight down to the lower belay ledge.
From here interesting gear and a couple of good bolts bring me to the chain anchors at the edge of the summit "plateau". The storm reaches us just as I fix the jug line. Pretty intense snow fall ensues for about 15 minutes - nothing sticks however.
There's a car in the overlook pullout below watching us for about half an hour. Snowstorm dissipates just as Shirley tops out.
We spend about 10 minutes exploring the spacious summit and unsuccessfully looking for the summit register (only to find an old, rusted food can). Nice views up and down the Mill Creek Valley and the farmlands directly below. We see a beautiful sunset
with the sharp shadow of the Pillar as the storm clouds begin to clear. Rappel is straightforward. One double rope (we used 60's, nice free air ride) rap brings us back down to top of P3. Second double rope rap brings us back to the ground just as the sun is setting. Hike back to car through a dark and wet night. Drive to Redmond for fried chicken take-out dinner and beer enjoyed over reruns of Law & Order in Hub Motel. This is heaven in my book! We wake up late on Sunday and initially plan on going to do some stuff at Smith but then decide to just take a leisurely drive back to the overlook (nice clear day) to get some shots of the pillar under blue skies.
It's a fun and a rewarding climb - not so much for aesthetic climbing but rather the unforgettable position and nice exposure. It's nowhere near the seriousness it used to have (i.e. A3 rating given by Dodge) given the amount of good bolts on it.
We brought way too much gear!! Ended up using green, yellow, red Aliens, 0.75 Camalot, a few small to medium nuts, and a red (Camp) tricam. Pounded in 2 or 3 pitons. Clip stick was useful for the three wimp by-passes I did (otherwise, bring a hook or two). All belays have new-looking beefy bolts (at least two each except base belay for P2 has one new bolt but it's on a huge ledge and you can back it up with gear). Two rappel stations described have either chains or thick, round bolts. Leave the screamers at home (IMO).