So you are looking for opportunities to improve your lead climbing skills? Smith Rock can be a really intimidating place to tie into the sharp end of the rope as you are learning due to first bolts being high off the ground and stiff gradings. Not to worry, there are still plenty of good options in the park for the beginning lead climber.
The list of climbs below are not the easiest climbs in the park, nor do they represent the best climbs for someone who has never lead climbed before. It’s important to learn fundamental techniques in a safe environment, like a gym, before getting in over your head outside. In case you are looking, ClimbingTechniques.org has a good Sport Climbing Lead Basics guide to read up on.
Now that the safety meeting is out of the way, let’s talk about how the climbs below did make our list. Our top five climbs for beginner sport leaders is made up of easier climbs with the following attributes:
- They don’t require a lot of power or strength. The crux within each climb is typically more of a balance move rather than a pull-hard move.
- These are all single pitch climbs where visibility and communication with your belayer is good.
- The spacing of the bolts on these climbs is fair without any major runouts.
- The first bolt is not too far off the ground. That said, a stick clip is a great idea if you have any reservations.
- None of the climbs are graded higher or feel harder than 5.8.
- All the climbs have been heavily traveled, meaning that sussing out your next move nor rock quality (or lack thereof) should be an issue. Still, you never know with welded tuff. Wear a helmet.
This doesn’t mean you won’t ever freak out or get the Elvis leg shaking, in fact most of the climbs will have a moment that feels somewhat committing for the beginning lead climber. It’s all about managing your head, knowing your ability, and fighting through to the finish. That’s why you signed up to lead climb in the first place right? Without further ado, here is the list.
We can’t say enough good things about this climb for the aspiring leader. It offers up a great lower angle romp using nice pockets on solid rock the entire route. Getting to the first bolt is definitely the crux of the climb but is very doable with different options getting there. We consider this a 4-star climb given the grade, the flow of the climb, and the setting overlooking the park. While it requires a bit of a hike to make it to the base of this climb on Koala Rock it is probably worth it given that there are other beginner climbs in the area.
The other two climbs you could tick off your list are Round Here and the first pitch of Round River Direct. The first is the lesser counterpart to Round There, while the first pitch of Round River Direct ends in a nice scoop that allows for easy cleaning and rappelling.
Go to Round There route profile >
The solid textured and pocketed face of Round There.
Looking for a classic Smith Rock climbing experience without having to get out of your comfort zone? Then Bunny Face is a great option. By this we mean we are able to experience pulling on knobs and pockets while clipping the beloved glue-in bolt along the way. The route is less than vertical and has a nice flow that dances around the bolt line without much trickery. Being that this climb is in the main area of the park and beginner friendly, expect to wait in line or get there real early to beat the crowds. If you do find yourself waiting there are a few other easier climbs in the area to explore, or you can just sit tight and take notes watching strong wo(men) on some of the higher-graded classics in the park. Either way, you win.
Go to Bunny Face route profile >
Dancer offers another good introduction to Smith Rock climbing on smaller’ish holds while still climbing low angle rock. In the true spirit of Smith Rock, the crux of the climb is the first bolt which could feel a little awkward but once you find the moves, it’s a breeze. Moving up higher on the route blends some nice stems and a very mini-bulge to surmount. This is a shorter route that finishes up on a large ledge. After ticking Dancer off the list, feel free to try your luck on it’s slightly harder next door neighbor Jete, which shares the first bolt with Dancer.
Go to Dancer route profile >
This is one of the climbs in the park that everyone knows about for all the right reasons. It’s fun and easy but still puts the beginning leaders head and overall lead skills to test. Start out on huge sharp solid jugs. Those combination of words are not common for Smith, so savor them. Right before you have decided you are a god of lead climbing you will find the climb moves up and left following a thin seam. There is a move or two approaching the chains that you will try and talk yourself out of doing, but you need to do it. Are you listening to me? Just do it. Those god damned jugs to start the route turned your brain off and now your panicking because you actually have to make a climbing move. Clip the chains, lower, and smile the whole way down. That was fun wasn’t it?
Go to Hissing Llamas route profile >
Perhaps the easiest of lead climbs at Smith, Lollypop League offers a lot more than just an easy climb. The rock on route is strong, the movement is flowy and fun, and there really isn’t anything tricky the whole way. You are basically gym climbing outside given how large some of the pockets are and how straight forward the climbing is. If there was ever first-time introductory lead climb to be had at Smith, this is it.
Go to LollyPop League route profile >
Lollypop League is short and sweet climbing on solid rock.
Part of me doesn’t want to recommend Five Gallon Buckets because of the 2-hour wait you will have to endure rather than climb elsewhere in the park, but it’s just too damn classic given the grade. Not to mention the giant huecos are something you thought only existed in gyms. Stand at the bottom of the climb and tell me those huecos don’t beg to be climbed. This route does break one of our rules above in that the first bolt is a ways off the deck but the climbing up to it is very easy using huge handlebar holds. From there on out the whole route is pretty much wrestling huecos. While the flow of the climb isn’t always spectacular, the holds are mostly huge with clean falls given the vertical nature of the face. It even has it’s own little quirks like a bolt inside a hueco that is hidden from your line of sight and the grease that drips off this route on warmer days. Get to this climb real early in the day or tap into your inner DMV waiting skills, take a ticket and get in line!
Go to Five Gallon Buckets route profile >
Huecos for days on Five Gallon Buckets.
Once you are able to tick off these climbs, it’s time to move up the pay scale. Just remember that grades at Smith Rock can be sandbagged so seek out climbs that fit your ability and strengths. Lastly, climbing isn’t about chasing grades, it’s about chasing stars. Seek out the classics and keep it fun!