The Crooked River from the 3,360-foot summit of Misery Ridge in central Oregon. (Pierre LaBossiere/Peninsula Daily News)

The Crooked River from the 3,360-foot summit of Misery Ridge in central Oregon. (Pierre LaBossiere/Peninsula Daily News)

OUTDOORS COLUMN: Triumph in a place called Misery

Once upon a time, I climbed mountains.

Big, scary mountains. I climbed two 14ers in California, I climbed El Capitan, I climbed Half Dome, I climbed the tallest mountain in Nevada, the tallest mountain in Yosemite National Park, I climbed one of the Tetons. I climbed the biggest mountain in the Bitterroots.

Once upon a time, I thought I was invincible.

Then age caught up to me. A few health problems. Weight gain. A hell of a lot of aches and pains. Decades of climbing and hockey and baseball and a couple of big car wrecks have left me groaning like Dr. Smith in “Lost in Space” every time I get up in the morning.

I’ve slowly started to respect the concept of mortality. Two summers ago, I tried to hike a monster 8,000-foot pass in Banff National Park in Canada, got exhausted, got lost, fell down a cliff, broke my trekking pole, lost all my water and ended up spending the night in the wilderness. I wrote about it here.

Still, I haven’t given up and I know that simply plunking down in a chair in front of a TV all the time is the worst thing for my arthritic joints. Last summer during the lockdown, I was quite proud of myself for climbing Hurricane Hill three or four times a week. This summer, working more hours, I was down to once or twice a week, but I did my best.

Monkey Face on the back side of Misery Ridge at Smith Rock State Park outside of Redmond, Ore. (Pierre LaBossiere/Peninsula Daily News)

Monkey Face on the back side of Misery Ridge at Smith Rock State Park outside of Redmond, Ore. (Pierre LaBossiere/Peninsula Daily News)

Misery challenge

I took on a hell of a challenge in central Oregon last week on something called Misery Ridge in Smith Rock State Park near Redmond. I’d always wanted to go to Smith Rock. It’s absolutely legendary in Oregon.

The term “Misery Ridge” should have clued me in. The “extreme difficulty” sign at the bottom of the trail also was a clue that … once upon a time, I would completely ignore, to be honest.

This time, though, it made me nervous. I still remember very well that night I spent stuck on a ledge in Banff because I bit off more than I could chew. Still, the ridge is very busy, and if I fell, there’d be lots of people to help.

There was a lot of smoke in Oregon last week, but I lucked out with a clear and very hot day. I was smart and started at 9 a.m. There is absolutely zero shade.

The trail climbs 1,115 feet up the face of The Red Wall, a huge cliff popular with Oregon rock-climbers.

Initially, I didn’t think the trail was that tough. I made it up a dozen switchbacks up to what appeared to be the top of the wall, then saw that the trail simply curved to the left and kept climbing toward a higher wall. I passed one woman who had given up and turned around, saying it was too steep and scary. I didn’t need to hear that.

After an uphill grind along the cliff for another 300 or 400 yards, I hit a second series of switchbacks — 15 of them total. I was so wiped out that I missed a final little switchback at the top of the cliff and decided to show off with a 5.1 rock-climb up the final 15 feet or so, thinking whatever psycho who designed this trail decided to throw in a vicious little rock-climb at the end just to break my will to live.

A couple walked past me on the trail that I missed. As I clawed my way to the very top of the cliff, they said, “Why are you going that way?” And I responded in my best Jerry Seinfeld voice, “I don’t know!”

Despite my short, unnecessary detour, I made the 3,360-foot summit and was rewarded with an amazing view of Smith Rock and the Crooked River. I had made it. I went very slow, took lots of breaks and had plenty of doubts, but I had done this 1,100-foot “extreme difficulty” climb. The way down on the opposite side of the cliff takes hikers past an amazing rock formation called Monkey Face. This is an equally steep trail downhill and not for the faint of heart.

The final two miles takes hikers through a lush canyon along the Crooked River, a pretty desert stream that flows into the Deschutes River.

I overcame the trail, the heat, but most of all, my own doubts. I learned I can push past what I thought were my limits — that I’m not invincible, but I’m also not quite done yet.


Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at [email protected]

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