WHILE WE CERTAINLY respect George Mallory’s reason for attempting Everest in 1924—“Because it’s there”—our criteria for choosing these prime climbing spots were a little stricter. When you live next to one of the country’s longest mountain ranges (that’d be the Cascade Range), they have to be. The climbs had to be close. They had to be breathtaking. And they had to appeal to the very thing that gets most people climbing in the first place: a sense of adventure. You may note that all of our picks are in Washington; we hope you don’t mind. After all, the rock—with its sublime climbing—was there long before the border. —Kasey Cordell
Driving time: 90 minutes
Nearest town: The Dalles
Activity: Bouldering and Roped Climbing
IT MIGHT BE a bit of a drive, but when the wet descends on Portland, this Columbia River Gorge treasure is still bathed in sunlight. Situated in the arid badlands just north of The Dalles in Columbia Hills State Park, the giant basalt butte stands like a sentry guarding 90-acre Horsethief Lake, whose dark waters conceal the spot where Lewis and Clark encountered a Native American village on their journey to the Pacific. After a half-mile hike through rugged meadows and a short scramble across a jumble of boulders, rock hounds will find themselves in a hidden amphitheater tailor-made for beginning climbers to top rope.
But Horsethief’s broken basalt bands also are short enough, and the landings generally flat enough, to merit forgoing the rope in favor of bouldering. Since there’s no guidebook to Horsethief, consider pairing up with someone who’s familiar with the area before you head out for the first time. On the other hand, it can be just as much fun to embrace your inner Meriwether Lewis and explore the endless chasms and bands that stretch out for more than a mile along the river. When you’ve had your fill, pick your way to the top of the butte and drink in the rare sight of a placid, blue-green Columbia as it pools just above the Dalles Dam before roaring, frothy and wild, to the west. —KC
Get there: From The Dalles, cross the Dalles Bridge on U.S. 197 to Hwy 14. Head 2.5 miles east on Hwy 14 to a pullout on the right at milepost 85, marked by a small trail sign. Maps: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Map
BEACON ROCK STATE PARK
Driving time: 60 minutes
Nearest town: Stevenson, Wash.
Activity: Roped Climbing
ASK MOST CLIMBERS to name Oregon’s best climbing area and they’ll probably say, “Smith Rock.” Well, they can have it. Because while the crowds queue up to battle the heat and each other, we’ll be scampering up the Gorge’s signature stone monolith. Home to some of the Northwest’s best climbing, the 848-foot-tall Beacon Rock has more than 100 routes, including classics like the moderate Southeast Face. (Note, some areas are closed until mid-July to protect nesting falcons.) In 1952 the Southeast Face became Beacon’s first established route, and little wonder: Not only do its seven pitches offer a variety of climbing challenges, but the airy views you’ll get hanging from belays at, say, 200 feet, simply can’t be matched. When you top out near the hiker’s trail that delivers less intrepid types to the summit, you’ll have earned every right to feel a wee bit smug. —KC
Get there: At Cascade Locks, take the Bridge of the Gods to Hwy 14 west. Follow signs to the park. Maps: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Map; Portland Rock Climbs
Driving time: 80 minutes
Nearest town: Trout Lake, Wash.
EVERY EVEREST DREAM starts small. It takes a little practice—and a lot of conditioning—to reach 26,000 feet. Enter Mount Adams, which, at 12,276 feet, is the third-tallest peak in the Cascades and a popular training ground for climbers with their eyes on the Himalaya. To join Portland mountaineering group the Mazamas on a two-day excursion up Adams’s beginner-friendly south side, you’ll need an ice axe, crampons, a reasonable degree of fitness, and a little experience. While the summit view of seven peaks (on a clear day) is certainly reward enough for the trek, it’s when you’re ready to head back down that the real fun begins: Glissading, aka sitting on your duff and sliding down the slope. That method of descent is so popular on Adams that, by July, chutes have formed in the snow, creating a kind of impromptu luger’s paradise. Simply remove your crampons, lie back, and schuss down 3,000 vertical feet in less than an hour. If that isn’t cause for a “Yee-haw!” we don’t know what is. —KC
Get there: From Hwy 14 east, take Hwy 141 to Trout Lake and veer right onto Mt Adams Recreational Highway. After 1.3 miles turn left on FR 80 and go 2 miles to FR 8040. Follow for 6 miles to FR 500. Cold Springs Campground is 3 miles ahead. Maps: Green Trails Map No. 366