High Desert Climbers Alliance replaces Smith Rock bolts, marks 40th anniversary of sport climbing’s birth

TERREBONNE, Ore. (KTVZ) – The High Desert Climbers Alliance is a nonprofit group of rock climbers protecting and expanding access routes to sport climbing in central Oregon. And they were busy doing maintenance at Smith Rock on Saturday with more help than ever.

The group originally formed in 2017. HDCA travels to Smith Rock State Park once a month from October through May. During their trips to the park, the unit removes old bolts from rock faces and replaces them with new ones to ensure public safety.

During Saturday’s outing, re-anchoring instructor Stephen Gladieux told NewsChannel 21: “We focus and choose our priorities in different ways, often based on the age of protection of the bolts currently in the rock. Sometimes people are reporting dangerous, unsafe bolts and we prioritize and go through and try to hit a whole section at a time.”

Smith Rock State Park is the American birthplace of sport climbing, originally introduced in 1983. Adriana Boylan, one of HDCA’s board members, noted that the Alliance is celebrating this important anniversary.

“We’re actually celebrating our 40th anniversary tonight (Saturday) because the first bolts that were driven into rock in North America happened here at Alan Watts’ Smith 40 years ago,” she said.

For Boylan, college dance classes helped prepare her for sport climbing.

“I feel like climbing is like dancing on the wall, so it takes a lot – especially at Smith Rock – there’s a lot of finesse and grace that comes with climbing.”

Not only is sport climbing one of the largest outdoor pursuits in central Oregon, the Climbers Alliance is also beginning to attract a record number of volunteers willing to help with the re-anchoring.

Gladieux celebrated the occasion by saying, “Today we have 16 volunteers rebolding, that’s the most people we’ve ever had in a single day. It is great!”

Alliance board member Tyler Gates says other climbers re-anchoring specific areas and bolts make maintenance for HDCA much easier: “There are some scary bolts out there, but what’s good is there’s one here Smith has been such a great community for so many decades that generally if there’s at least one spooky flash out there, there’s a good Samaritan who will take the time to replace it.

Laurie Ponte, an avid sport rock climber since retiring in 2020, enjoys rock climbing at the state park with her husband and furry best friend Barney.

“It’s a great way to really be outside and interact with the rock in an absolutely beautiful place,” Ponte said.

Members of the Climbers Alliance attended a special gathering for Alan Watts, the man who founded sport climbing at Smith Rock in 1983, at Red Point Climbers Supply in Terrebonne on Saturday night.

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