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Tommy Smith silhouetted in front of the total solar eclipse.
Photo by Ted Nesser

Total Eclipse at Smith Rock
August 21, 2017
by Bob Koen

This is not a cycling adventure, but Bob wanted to share his and Alex's unique experience of the August 21 eclipse. [Editor - EF]

You may have seen this picture (above). It became one of the most iconic and widely shared photos of the Aug 21, 2017 total solar eclipse. The climber is Tommy Smith and the photo was taken by Ted Nesser.

My son Alex Koen and I were there. This is how it looked from a different perspective.

Tommy Smith assumes the position for the iconic eclipse photo.

Alex and I had climbed at Smith Rock earlier in the year. As soon as Alex saw Monkey Face he wanted to climb it. Once we found out that the total eclipse would occur at Smith Rock in August a plan sprang into being. We knew that we had to be there.

To put this in perspective I am a 64 year old has been in the climbing world. Hey, it’s better to be a has been than a never was. Alex is a 16 year old gonna be. He has the spirit and the drive to become a very good climber. My goal is to do some classic climbs with him while I still can and then retire to my arm chair and watch him soar.

We got up at 4 am from our camp in the Smith Rock bivouac area and did the one hour approach by headlamp. As we approached the spire we saw headlamps already up on the bolt ladder. Then we met a woman on the path who told us she was a professional photographer who was there to film a new route ascent that would be completed under the eclipse. She bemoaned the fact that National Geographic had turned up and was filming some slack liners for the eclipse. They had poached some of her best sight lines. There was a camera drone already in the air. There was a helicopter buzzing around. The circus was in full tilt and it was just barely daybreak.

We carried on around to the back side of the spire where our climb would start. Here we met Ian who was about to head up on Spank the Monkey, one of Smith Rocks harder and scariest routes for some eclipse photos, also with his professional photographer at hand. I was beginning to sense a theme here. Why didn’t we have a professional photographer at hand? Were we the black sheep in this tableau? Would we be allowed to share the rock with all these superior beings?

One of the new route dudes muscling up the bolt ladder. Note the slack line exiting the mouth cave.

Once it became fully light we roped up and Alex quickly dispensed with the first 3 pitches of the climb by combining them in one long pitch. I followed and we established a belay on the Bohn Street ledge below the bolt ladder that leads up into the cave that forms the Monkeys mouth. Before we could get started on the bolt ladder the first of the new route folks arrived and politely asked if he could climb through. We cordially agreed and watched briefly (very briefly) how to climb a bolt ladder when you are really strong. After the second of that party arrived and climbed through then Alex started up on his very first ever aid climb using etriers that we had cobbled together from cordalletes. At this point another party arrived at the Bohn Street ledge. This was Tommy Smith who said hello and quickly started belaying his partner Matina Tibell.

Tommy explained that they were under a bit of pressure to get to the top because their professional photographer was getting antsy to make sure they were in position before the eclipse that was still a couple of hours away started. What? Why didn’t we think to get some professional photographer involved in our ascent of a classic 5.7 route? Tommy was nice, Martina was nice. We agreed to let them go by at the first opportunity which would be in the mouth cave at the top of the bolt ladder.

Alex did well for his first ever aid lead and arrived at the belay station in the cave in good time. I followed at a somewhat slower pace but still got there in reasonable time. Tommy was right on my tail. At this point there was still plenty of time before the eclipse. Everyone was very chill at this point. All the actors were in position. And the two non-actors were in position to watch the actors do their thing.

Alex below the bolt ladder.

The scene in the cave was something else. We had the two 5.12 climbers there, plus Tommy and Martina, plus the crew from National Geographic who kept coming and going via the slack line. I must admit that it was fun to be sharing the space with this crew of elite athletes.

We all hung out there for some time. From the cave to the top is a short pitch of reasonable (but extremely exposed) climbing. After a few minutes Tommy and Martina left. Alex and I soon followed. It was amazing for me to step out of the cave at the “panic point” to experience the jaw dropping exposure that is usually more the province of the 5.14 climbers than the 5.7 climbers. You go from a flat spacious ledge and step out and down onto a vertical wall with nothing but amazing amounts of air below your feet. The pull of gravity intensifies dramatically as you swing out over the void. Having a backpack full of camera gear pulling me backwards into space did not help. But I soon got to the top. There was still about half an hour to go until the eclipse.

Alex and me on top of Monkey Face. A few eclipse tourists doing a fence imitation on the opposite hillside.

A much better version of the above photo can be found here…

The above picture taken from the opposite hillside shows the whole thing in a nutshell. That’s me in the blue sweater, Alex in the black sweater, Martina in blue pants, and Tommy in position to be photographed against the eclipsed sun. Below we have a 5.12 dude posing for a photograph by hanging off the lip of the mouth cave, a slack liner in mid span, and there is Ian way down right on Spank the Monkey.

The actual eclipse happened very quickly. At 10:16 am it was still quite bright even though the sun was perhaps 90 percent eclipsed. After that it started to get dark very quickly. By 10:20 am it was very dusky. The full eclipse happened at 10:21 am. It never got fully dark. Some people saw a few stars, someone saw a bat flying around, and an overly excited tourist starting howling like a wolf at the moon. The birds stopped singing. At full eclipse the corona of the sun was still visible around the edge of the moon preventing it from getting fully dark. After 1 minute and 13 seconds (it seemed like a lot less time than that) the moon had moved away from the center of the sun and the whole process reversed.

In a few more minutes it was fully light again and the show was over. The tourists on the hillside opposite us started heading for the exits. We prepared to leave as well. Tommy and Martina knew the way off and graciously agreed to rap down with Alex and me. We did a short rap off the summit to the nose boulder and then tied our ropes together for an amazing 140 foot free hanging rappel from there to the ground.

Ian working on Spank the Monkey 5.13d R. I took this picture while rappelling.

Lots of ways to have fun. Tommy rappelling. Someone out for a stroll. Alex, Martina, and I at the rap station.

Go to: Bob's Eclipse Photos (53 Images - Google Photos)


September 9, 2017