Monkey Face, Oregon, June 1995

Monkey Face is an often photographed and climbed rock tower at Smith Rock State Park in Central Oregon. Linda Topping and I climbed Monkey Face on June 11, 1995, 26 years ago. The climb was an exciting and memorable experience. We fondly remember the climb when we see Monkey Face on our hikes or bike rides in the area. But we have never repeated the climb.

Monkey Face from the southeast in June 1995.
Monkey Face from the southeast in June 1995.

In the view of Monkey Face above, “Bohn Street” is the ledge just above the notch on the left at the base of Monkey Face’s neck. The “bolt ladder” leads up the overhanging neck to the right side of Monkey Face’s mouth. From there we climb out of the left side of the mouth up to the nose, a large rock block with anchors, then scramble up through an eye socket to the top. The overhanging rappel begins at the right side of the nose block.

My First Climb of Monkey Face

I first climbed Monkey Face in October of 1982 as part of a team of four climbing friends from Corvallis. Terry, Leah, and I joined Franz, a very experienced rock climber.

Franz leads low on the West Face Variation route beneath Monkey Face (October 1982)
Franz leads low on the West Face Variation route beneath Monkey Face (October 1982)
Franz approaches Bohn Street from the west (October 1992)
Franz approaches Bohn Street from the west (October 1992)

We took the West Face Variation Route (YDS 5.8) to Bohn Street below Monkey Face’s neck. From there we continued up the Pioneer Route to the summit. I was happy to follow Franz and see how he managed his leads, belays, and the aid pitches.

Franz leads our team up Monkey Face's bolt ladder (October 1982).
Franz leads our team up the bolt ladder (October 1982).
Franz arrives at Monkey Face's mouth at the top of the overhanging bolt ladder (October 1982).
Franz arrives at Monkey Face’s mouth at the top of the overhanging bolt ladder (October 1982).

It was on this climb that I first learned to climb a bolt ladder. In the photos above Franz leads our team up the bolt ladder from Bohn Street, following behind the last member of a team ahead of us. In the first photo Franz attaches a carabiner to a hanger bolted to the face. Then he attaches his aiders to the carabiner and climbs up the aiders to the next bolt. To conserve carabiners Franz removed several of the carabiners from the bolted hangers as he climbed. Still, the rope was securely attached to the face and any fall due to a blown bolt would have been short.

Terry enters Monkey Face's mouth cave in late afternoon (October 1982).
Terry enters Monkey Face’s mouth cave in late afternoon (October 1982).

The day grew windy in the late afternoon. We were we were slowed down by a team ahead of us but we eventually summitted as it grew dark. I remember rappelling in darkness, slowing descending the double rope, hanging in the void unlit by my headlamp, with stars outlining Monkey Face above me.

Linda and I Climb Monkey Face

I returned to Monkey Face with Linda thirteen years later. We took the Pioneer Route (YDS 5.5) to the Bohn Street ledge below Monkey Face’s neck. This part of the climb was routine for us, but I was apprehensive about what lay above.

Linda watches me prepare to climb the bolt ladder from the Bohn Street ledge
Linda watches me prepare to climb the bolt ladder from the Bohn Street ledge

Once at Bohn Street Linda watched me carefully prepare to climb the overhanging bolt ladder. After some review of technique and feeling the firm bolt attachments I gained confidence and started up.

I climbed the overhanging bolt ladder up the neck into the right side of Monkey Face’s mouth. This overhanging pitch has tremendous exposure but the bolts were secure and the rhythm of clipping the rope into a carabiner, clipping aiders (webbing stirrups) to that carabiner, climbing the stirrups, and getting into a rest position for the next move focused my mind on the details. I actually enjoyed the pitch as the technique became routine.

I belay Linda as she climbs the bolt ladder towards Monkey Face's mouth cave.
I belay Linda as she climbs the bolt ladder towards Monkey Face’s mouth cave.

Once inside and anchored in the mouth cave I belayed Linda up to join me. I left one of my aiders near the opening to provide a handhold for her to reach while entering the cave. I angled the belay with anchors so that should Linda slip she would not pendulum below me. As she climbed the bolt ladder Linda’s reason and focus gradually overcame her fears. She joined me in the cave.

Linda at the top of Monkey Face. The Smith Rock Group of cliffs, the Crooked River, and the Oregon Cascades lie behind her.
Linda at the top of Monkey Face. The Smith Rock Group of cliffs, the Crooked River, and the Oregon Cascades lie behind her.
Paul at the top of Monkey Face
Paul at the top of Monkey Face

From there we exited the left side of the mouth overhanging the slopes below (“Panic Point”) and climbed more bolts up to Monkey Face’s nose, a large block of rock just above the mouth. Here several anchors provided another good belay. Linda enjoyed this pitch much more than the previous one, and was sorry it was so short. We stepped around the nose, left a rope, and scrambled to the top of Monkey Face.

The Rappel

We descended back to Monkey Face’s nose and the rock anchors. The double rope rappel is mostly “free”, meaning one hangs free of the rock in space as one slides down the rope with a braking device. I carefully set up the rappel anchor so as not to drop a rope and strand ourselves on the tower. I set up my braking system on the rope. We discussed the details with each other to remind ourselves of the process.

Linda starts her free rappel off Monkey Face above me. The breeze blows the rope about.
Linda starts her free rappel off Monkey Face above me. The breeze blows the rope about.

When ready, I left Linda at the nose and rappelled to a ledge far below me. As I descended free of the rock the wind gently rotated me, providing me a panoramic view of the cliffs, river, and fields around me. I noted the thin metal friction device keeping me attached to the rope as I descended.

Linda and I are safely back on the ground. That was fun!
Linda and I are safely back on the ground. That was fun!

I reached the ledge below and held the loose ropes, then watched as Linda attached her braking system and descended to me. We were glad to have had so much practice over the years rappelling from cliffs.

From there one last short rappel got us back to the ground. We could finally relax and celebrate our climb of Monkey Face.

About Paul McClellan

I had the good fortune to have spent most of my life in the Pacific Northwest, where I discovered the joys and addiction of hiking and climbing in the Cascade Mountains and other mountain ranges in the Western United States.
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