About a tank of gas away from Seattle lies the mythical town of Bend, Oregon. Okay, it’s not *mythical,* just full of beer and outdoorsy goodness, which to me is close enough.
After months of planning, the boyfriendo and I set off for a week of fun, sun, and hops in Oregon. Being the anal meticulous planner that I am, I researched for the best the outdoors had to offer, which led me to learning about the Misery Ridge hike inside of Smith Rock State Park, about 40 minutes north of Bend. Some said to not let the name fool you, others said it was a strenuous hike that sucked every second until at the top. Challenge accepted!
We got to the trailhead on a Sunday morning around 9-10am when parking was still available but filling up fast. Kiosks let you use cash or card to purchase a $5 day pass, or those who visit Oregon State Parks frequently may want to consider a annual pass for $30 (those cannot be purchased at the kiosk). There are cold water fountains for pooches and humans alike here–top off water and dunk your buffs and gaiters here, and thank me later.
Similar to Dungeness Spit, you then have a large steep downhill–remember this, as you get to climb up it again at the end. At the bottom is a flat valley, and you get to make your choice after crossing a small footbridge–clockwise, or counterclockwise? We chose clockwise, doing a flat sweep along the Crooked River and then ending with the intense climb, but we saw most people choosing counterclockwise, starting with the switchbacks from the get-go. Think about where the sun will be hitting when you make your choice, as you might be doing the most strenuous part in direct heat or in shade depending on time of day and route.
To the left we went, along the river. At all angles we were surrounded by towering rocks in the process of being conquered by climbers. Further into the valley, away from the boulders, another hiker pointed out a nearby bald eagle. With every step it felt like the geography and geology around us was changing. To say my head was on a swivel would be an understatement! We followed the river around the back of the rock, the air getting hotter by the minute.
Sadly, the gawking had to stop, as my eyes had to be trained on my feet for The Climb. Yes, capital letters, The Climb. For the 1000+ feet elevation gain this hike provides is not gradual, it is done in one fell swoop, right here. There was a sense of solidarity amongst the hikers navigating their way down as they heard me doing my best Big Bad Wolf impression going up, which I greatly appreciated. While there weren’t benches for resting, I made use of the many switchbacks to catch my breath (being used to sea level, even a mild 3,000 feet up felt massive, especially in the heat) and also take in the views, including the famous Monkey Face. I also appreciated the shade we were in and the cold water in my pack (having put our bladders in the fridge the night before).
The climbing feels like it will never end, until suddenly, it does. The sun enveloped us as we explored the surprisingly flat, large area at the top. There was a bench or two, but the best views had just rocks to choose from for a seat. As stunning as the top was, I preferred the whole journey over just the peak views–which is not something I experience often in Western Washington!
After resting and a snack, it was time for the steep descent down. Suddenly I was the one encouraging hikers, promising it was worth it to continue further. The sun here was direct, which was a great reminder to the both of us to reapply sunscreen. I could feel the sweat soaked into my pack straps, and knew despite going down that our work was hardly over–we still had that steep uphill to return to the car.
At this point, I’m sure I was going about a mile an hour as I slowly trudged up the final hill. What genius put the trailhead for a steep ridge hike on a ridge? I pondered. Despite it being a weekend, I was shocked at how many people were starting as we finished–it must have already been in the low 90s! I also tried to ignore all of the children who accomplished the ridge hike with far less sweat and gasping for air than I did, consoling myself it *had* to have been the altitude (uh-huh). I saw people of all ages and abilities (and preparations…) hiking along the trails, so don’t let me scare you off of Smith Rock–Skill level and training will play a great factor into how well you can handle Misery Ridge, and there’s other trails with plenty of stunning views, minus the elevation price tag.
Distance (Can vary, depending on route–we did River trail to Mesa Verde trail to Misery Ridge): 3.8 miles
Elevation: 1040 feet (I see multiple sources that say 700–I wonder if that is just measuring from trailhead to top, instead of low point to high point?)
Parking: $5 day use fee (can purchase from kiosk with cash or card)
Bathrooms: Flush toilets at trailhead (and cold water!)