This is a guest post by AJ Dexter, climbing photographer and author of We Are: Smith Rock, a community collaboration and passion-driven project on Smith Rock. We offered AJ a spot to talk about why he put together this project and what it means to him personally. We are pretty psyched about this book too – so many of our community experience great things at Smith Rock; plus, all proceeds from the book go to the Access Fund who works diligently on keeping our outdoor climbing areas open for us to enjoy. Interested in supporting the project? Check out the website, join the mailing list, share it with others and pick up a copy of the book!

What is this all about?

Originally, “We Are: Smith Rock” was a way to get the climbing photos I shot at Smith Rock out there to the world but the book took on a life of its own. It’s not really about the photos anymore, or about me. The book is about Smith Rock but more importantly, our climbing community:


  • All profits go directly to the Access Fund who include conservation tips for protecting our crags in the book
  • The stunning photos in the book are all from notable and up and coming photographers and are shot at Smith Rock
  • The writing, photography, layout and design were all crafted by climbers
  • It’s not just a photo book. Read stories from big name climbers you’ll recognize and some that you might not.

My Inspiration: The Forward of We Are: Smith Rpck

“It was during a trip here, standing atop the summit that inspiration hit me. I don’t know why, or what about it spoke to me, but I looked over the park and saw it in a new way. I truly saw the varied terrain and rock, the views, the many experiences made here. Smith Rock offers something for every climber, if you need a beating it can deliver. If you need a confidence boost… you got it. Short climbs, long climbs, trad climbs, sport climbs. Smith Rock inspires adventure and in that moment alone on the summit I realized I needed to give something back.


Naturally, I wanted to create something photographic, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that it deserved a lot more than just me. If I truly wanted to share the park and do something powerful I needed others too. I needed to share the story of Smith Rock, not just the story of my experience there.

The result of that idea is this book. It has evolved naturally and entirely through the support of the climbing community. Every image, word, and page was created by a climber because of the shared belief that it could inspire others and help protect areas that we all seek to find ourselves.”

There are a lot of really amazing climbers who contributed their stories about climbing at Smith Rock. Here are two of my favorite:

We_Are_Smith_Cover_Photo.jpgBrooke Sandhal (Metolius): “Smith Rock can’t be adequately described by words or image – it must be experienced in person…with all ones senses, the smell of sage in the desert air, the beauty of a raging sunset over Asterisk Pass, feeling the texture of Dzthe heinous clingdz (yes, the route is named after a single painful crimp edge) with your own worn finger tips, sharing beta with a group of folks from a far away country, the pain of depumping while you lower off some Smith tweakfest, it all has to be experienced first hand! One word: Go!”

Paige Claassen: “People describe Smith as very technical, even slabby. It does require very precise technique, but also significant power. Believe it or not, I always feel I boulder best after a trip to Smith. The climbing requires immense body tension, because if you aren’t in close to the wall, you’re falling off. My core will be sore every single day from climbing at Smith, whereas when you’re upside down in a cave you can let your body sag and relax to rest. At Smith, it’s pretty on from the bottom to the top.”

Behind the Scenes

This is the first book I’d ever printed or published. So I’ve had to learn a lot along the way:

    1. To Self Publish or Try a Book Publisher:
      Most books come from conventional book publishers (think Mountaineers Books, or Falcon Guides) while some are self published. When I started I really didn’t know whether this book would be successful or even get off the ground so that informed my path. Using a book publisher isn’t a guarantee; there are a lot of requirements to just get in the door. I wanted to keep it climber built, plus it’s half photo book, half story book so it might be tough to get in front of a conventional publisher. In the end, I chose to self publish. It meant I could create it exactly how I wanted and keep costs low (yay, more money for the Access Fund!) by not having to buy large quantities of books that would just sit in my garage. Also, if the project flopped, I wasn’t out much money.
    2. I’m Just Not a Writer: 
      I’m a photographer, not a writer. I can write but well enough to sell something. That is a whole other beast and it scared me. So I reached out to a connection in the climbing community, Julie Ellison of Climbing Magazine. I knew she was a rockstar editor, photographer, and writer. I gave her some insight into what I was working on and asked if she wanted to help. She was in. This was such a pivotal moment for the book and gave me confidence to pursue it. She helped with the interview questions, reached out to most of the athletes in the book, and brought on James Lucas to tackle the writing you see in the book.
    3. Help me!…But, I Can’t Pay You:
      The next step was gathering people. This is where the magic of the book really came together for me. One of the hardest tasks I had was to ask people to basically work for free and asking fellow photographers to give me photos to print and publish without paying them is awful. As is asking climbers to take time to answer interview questions from a no name climbing photographer in Portland for a book that doesn’t exist. The magical part though, and what I love about our climbing community, is that everyone understood the concept and believed in its mission. Hard core climbers and photographers donated time, products and services to create something I think is amazing. All to promote climbing conservation and the Access Fund.
    4. Design and Printing:We_are_Smith_Planning.jpg
      The design and printing stage was where I had the least knowledge. Fortunately, I had the impeccably professional and talented Alton Richardson to handle it and  take care of it. I gave Alton a little guidance about what I was looking for with the design and he nailed the look and feel you see in the final book first pass. He’s a rockstar. The printing was pretty easy; because I self published, I opted for a print on demand service for photo books that has worked really well. It’s dead simple and gives me the flexibility to print when there are orders vs. buying a thousand copies at a time.

And that was it! We Are: Smith Rock was born! I hope you’ve gotten a sense of the project and that it inspires you to climb more and help protect the places we have an impact on! 

Check out the website at, sign up for the newsletter for updates, buy a book at your local Planet Granite or on the site, and share it with your friends on social media.Smith_Rock_Climbing_-_Collage.jpg