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18 Months Prior
Steins Pillar overlook on January 9, 2005.
We stop by the Steins Pillar Overlook on Mill Creek Road while driving out to check out the Twin Pillars (Mill Creek Wilderness) with friends. That thing looks awesome! Huge and imposing, overhanging on all sides. After checking out Jeff 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
Yours truly on the summit of Steins Pillar following our climb of the Northeast Face (October 30, 2004).
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. Shirley 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
Looking towards the overlook parking lot in a brief snow storm that rolled over us.
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
Shirley at the belay atop P3 of Northeast Face route (October 30, 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.
Looking west from the summit of Steins Pillar during sunset under clearing skies. Shadow of the Pillar can be seen in the foreground (October 30, 2004).
It’s a fun and a rewarding aid 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).
Steins Pillar from Mill Creek Road just to the SW. Farms lying in the Mill Creek Valley provide a nice sense of scale for this 350-foot pillar. October 31, 2004 - day after our climb of Northeast Face route.
View of Steins Pillar from the overlook (from southeast). Much of the Northeast Face route is visible.
Shirley on our early morning approach hike to Steins Pillar (October 30, 2004).
Shirley admiring the southeast face of Steins Pillar from the approach trail. The Split Level Ledge is the obvious black knob on the right. Above it, the High Black Knob is also visible. These are the features (belays) crossed when climbing the Northeast Face route.
View of Steins Pillar from the approach trail. This is roughly the southeast aspect. I believe the large knob on the right is the Split Level Ledge on the northeast face.
Looking up at the northeast face of Steins Pillar from base.
Racking up at the base of the Northeast Face route.
Shirley at the base of pitch 1 of Northeast Face on Steins Pillar all layered up in down and ready to roll...it was a chilly day.
Shirley gearing up at the base of the Northeast Face route. Pitch one of the route goes up the chimney/OW directly above Shirley. It is rated 5.5 by Dodge (see main page) but has an awkward and hard opening move (October 30, 2004).
Shirley moving the belay from top of P1 to start of P2. This is an unexposed walk along the huge lower ledge system on the Northeast Face of the Pillar. Note the "cave" on the right. The first ascent party used this ledge for their camp (October 30, 2004).
Leading P2 of Northeast Face route - a 70 foot, diagonalling traverse pitch rated at about A2. Note the rusty piton. I've backcleaned some clean gear behind me including two cams placed behind the semi-loose, large block visible below (October 30, 2004).
Looking west from top of P2 of Northeast Face route. Off in the distance are the 300-foot tall Twin Pillars formation within the Mill Creek Wilderness of Oregon (October 30, 2004).
Looking back towards the overlook parking area on Mill Creek Road from top of pitch 2 of Northeast Face route on Steins Pillar.
Shirley jugging up to the top of P2 of Northeast Face route. This belay sits atop the Low Black Knob. Mill Creek Valley is below with beautiful autumn colored larch trees (October 30, 2004).
Starting pitch 3 of Northeast Face.
Leading P3 (~A2) of Northeast Face route just below the belay atop midway ledge. This 90-foot pitch goes from vertical to slightly overhanging near the top (October 30, 2004).
Fixed Ace Hardware special on pitch 3 of Northeast Face route.
Yours truly atop P3 of Northeast Face route. Another huge belay ledge and bomber new bolts (October 30, 2004).
Shirley at the belay atop P3 of Northeast Face route. From there you move the belay about 30 feet right along the huge ledge system (split level ledges) to the base of P4. Note that the second rap of the standard summit descent begins where Shirley is (October 30, 2004).
Shirley admiring the start of pitch 4 (& the fixed mank) from the huge ledge atop pitch 3.
Beginning the lead of P4 of Northeast Face (A1 5.8+....I'm guessing here). The pitch begins with a steeply overhung face section and you really will need to stretch to reach the first pieces (some thin webbing on an old piton) - I'm 6'7" and could barely make it (bring a stick clip or make some thin free moves or do a shoulder stand using your second...). Shirley is belaying me from the huge halfway ledge on NE face. All belays on this route are on very comfortable ledges (October 30, 2004).
Mill Creek Road and farm houses as seen from the huge ledge atop pitch 3 of Northeast Face route.
Fixed drilled pins somewhere on pitch 4 or 5 of Northeast Face route.
Fixed drilled pins somewhere on pitch 4 or 5 of Northeast Face route.
View down from start of pitch 5 (combined 4 & 5).
Looking down from the lead of P5 of Northeast Face route (A1+). The pitch overhangs a bit giving one a great view down of the lower pitches. Point where my ropes criss-cross (my screw up) marks the top of the "High Black Knob" (a wart-like, round protrusion on the face of the pillar) and top of P4 of the route. I decided to combine P4 and P5 given the deteriorating weather. Deck is about 300-350 feet below. Note the innovative fixed gear just below my feet: a rusty piton sticking out of the rock by 60% and a rusty wood screw (bent over into a loop). There's also a new bolt to take out the sting (October 30, 2004).
More fixed goodies on pitch 5 of Northeast Face of Steins.
Looking towards the overlook parking lot in a brief snow storm that rolled over us. Waiting on the summit for Shirley to jug up.
Shirley pulling onto the summit of Steins Pillar on the last pitch of Northeast Face route. Below in the background is the Steins Overlook pullout and Mill Creek Road (October 30, 2004).
Summit of Steins & Shirley's pretty new back then Feathered Friends down jacket...no it was not too warm.
Shirley on summit of Steins.
Summit of Steins Pillar. This is the "backside", i.e. facing the hill...looks as though you could just walk off.
Exploring the huge summit of Steins.
Yours truly on the summit of Steins Pillar following our climb of the Northeast Face....sportin' an El Cap rack (major overkill as it turned out)!! Given the lack of info. we had on this climb, went in loaded for bear. What is not showing is my home-made piton hammer (Home Depot sale item + duct tape + 1" webbing = a crappy piton hammer). This is looking roughly east (October 30, 2004).
Looking SE from the summit of Steins Pillar. Below (500-700 feet below?) are the farms that line the bottom of Mill Creek Valley as well as the Mill Creek Road (October 30, 2004).
Shirley on the summit of Steins Pillar getting ready to rap off.
Looking west from the summit of Steins Pillar during sunset under clearing skies. Shadow of the Pillar can be seen in the foreground; Ochoco Mountains of Oregon are in the background (October 30, 2004).
Shirley on the first rappel off the summit of Steins. One (double rope) shot to the anchors atop pitch 3. High Black Knob visible above (Oct. 30, 2004).
Shirley (on right skyline) on the lower of two rappells (a long 180 footer from the Split Level Ledge) in the setting sun. The photo should give a sense of the size of the pillar (October 30, 2004).
Tired Shirley (and Blondie) packing up at the base of the Pillar after our climb of Northeast Face route (no, the dog did not bag the route, October 30, 2004).
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