One of the most rewarding aspects of working on a comprehensive climber’s guidebook to Southern Pisgah has been getting to know the many visionaries that have enhanced climbing in this region over the past six decades. Southern Pisgah Rock and Ice will have many first hand accounts from the route’s pioneers, shedding light onto numerous idiosyncratic moments and personalities that have shaped our region’s climbing culture as we know it today. The time line below is just a small sampling of what will be in Southern Pisgah Rock and Ice, to be released early 2018. Pre-order Now
In September 2017, the Carolina Climbers Coalition (CCC) closed on a purchase of nearly 60 acres of boulder-filled forest in Vilas, NC near Boone. It is the Boone area’s first legitimized bouldering area and contains hundreds of problems on textured, granitic boulders. The boulders are plopped on ridge lines along stands of giant hardwoods with a ridge top spring that meanders through the boulder field to the streams in the valley below. If the CCC had not purchased the property when they did, the majority of the property would have been purchased by a timber company for logging, inevitably wiping out the forest, the habitats, the boulders, the streams, etc. The Buckeye Knob Boulders purchase is a perfect example of why the marriage of conservation and recreation can make magic happen. If you are not a CCC member, please join this group of dedicated volunteers! If you are a CCC member and wish to donate to the Buckeye Knob project or other great CCC projects, donate here.
In early November 2017, I was able to join Joey Henson (previous owner of part of the land and avid climber that can claim more hard FA’s in the area than anybody), Brian Payst (CCC President and overall access and conservation rock star), Megan (a local Boone climber who played a critical role in securing the sale to the CCC), and Charles Morris (climber and film maker). Mike Trew, CCC High Country Representative, was there in spirit and played a critical role in the purchase. Thank you Mike! Joey was gracious enough to give us a tour of a handful of the boulders and we spent the better part of a day following him boulder after boulder. The boulder fields are essentially split into two sections, The Barn Boulders, and then higher on the ridge The Buckeye Knob Boulders. A proper parking lot and trail are not in yet but once they are, The Barn Boulders will offer more “front country bouldering” and Buckeye Boulders more “backcountry bouldering”. It is estimated that there are some 100 boulders and 400+ problems in the surrounding area. For much more on the purchase including some boulder footage: Enjoy this video by Adam Johnson
The photos below show just what we walked past or climbed in an afternoon. People like Joey have spent decades on this mountain and are still discovering new gems. If you like unspoiled forest, crisp streams, and ancient boulder playgrounds, consider making a donation to the 100% volunteer-run Carolina Climbers Coalition. Your donation will go towards this:
This December (2016), Carolina climbing crosses a major landmark; the 50th Anniversary of the first ascent of Looking Glass Rock’s “The Nose”. In December 1966, Steve Longenecker, Bob Watts, and Robert John Gillespie completed the first full ascent of any route on Looking Glass Rock. It has now become one of the best known multi-pitch moderate rock climbs East of the Mississippi. For more on the route itself, and images of a 1966 ascent, click here. For a first hand account of the first ascent, click here.
On November 12, 2016, Ground Up Publishing was able to join Bob, Steve, and Robert John as they reunited at the base of The Nose to celebrate their achievement that has inspired generations.
Mike Fischesser, Stuart Cowles, Jess Daddio, several generations of the Watts family, and Joe Lackey with his children Jack (age 11) and Isla (age 13) joined us for the day as well. Jess will be working with Blue Ridge Outdoors to produce a short film (a few minutes in length) about the anniversary, the ascent, and the reunion.
To top the day off, the Lackey family completed a full ascent of The Nose with Jack Lackey, age 11, leading every pitch. It is very possible that he is the youngest person to have ever lead the entire climb, and he did so with confidence and skill. He was clearly taught well by his father, Joe, and belayed well by his equally talented sister Isla, age 13. Jack’s lead reminded us all that what Bob, Steve, and Robert John began 50 years ago now spans generations.
On December 10, 2016 at Black Dome Mountain Sports on Tunnel Rd, Asheville, NC, there will be a public 50th Anniversary Party. It will also mark the opening of the first ever NC Climbing Museum, located inside Black Dome. If you have anything to contribute to the museum, please contact Black Dome (828) 251-200. The short film to be produced by Blue Ridge Outdoors will be shown as well. We are hoping to make this a fundraiser for the Carolina Climbers Coalition but details still need to be worked out. All are invited to attend!
Ground Up Publishing is working on a comprehensive guidebook to Looking Glass Rock and all of the rock and ice routes in the southern Pisgah region, entitled Southern Pisgah Rock and Ice. It will focus not only as a field guide to the excellent routes within the region, but on the colorful history and characters that give these walls their personality. We expect it to be out in 2017 or so. Here is a sample:
We are excited that the Carolina Climbers Coalition are receiving a grant from the Access Fund/ AAC for replacement hardware at Hidden Valley. So excited that we, Ground Up Publishing, are matching half of the grant, totaling $1500 in replacement hardware for Hidden Valley. Thank you to all volunteers who have been replacing out there! Read here: Access Fund Grant
You may have also heard about the new parking lot at Hidden Valley. Special thanks to Kyle King for throwing a release party where funds raised went to parking lot built by the CCC. Ground Up Publishing auctioned two of the three advance copies of Hidden Valley Rock Climbs at the party, raising $160 towards the lot. Enjoy!
Thanks to the work of the Southwest Virginia Climbers Coalition, the Access Fund, and volunteer Kylie Schmidt, Breaks Interstate Park in VA/KY is now open to climbing. This map represents some of the original development at Breaks. It was first hand drawn in 1992 by Gus Glitch, then recreated by Ground Up Publishing. As you may know, Gus Glitch is working with Ground Up to produce Hidden Valley Rock Climbs, available HERE.
The area now has many more routes than what is shown. This should be seen and used as a “historic” starting point. Enjoy, and thank you to those who worked hard to get this area reopened!
In 2016, the ground up vs. rap bolting argument in rock climbing seems as dated as EB’s and painting knickers, but it could use some polish. Even here in North Carolina, where the ethic has remained with a strong traditional ground up backbone, the majority of route developers have embraced various ways to create a route. Each technique used to complete a first ascent has its pros and cons. Many misguided climbers don’t really care how a route was established and believe that each route should be equipped to their standard. This mindset also needs polishing. In areas with a traditional ground up backbone such as Looking Glass Rock, Whiteside, and Laurel Knob to name a few, the art form has remained strong, as it should. In other areas the tradition has more of a grey area and typically for good reason (soft rock, loose rock, lack of hooking placements, etc.) and other methods of route development have been embraced.
In line with the rest of the climbing world at the time, our region’s climbing pioneers stood firmly on clean climbing from the ground up. Bolts were placed minimally because they marred the rock and they were typically drilled by hand from hooks or stances. That ethic took patience and vision. Boldness was merely a product of the practice, but rarely was it the motivation. First ascents were hard earned, many involving several attempts and several down climbs before committing to unprotected moves or deciding to permanently change the rock and add a bolt. In a conversation last fall, Don Hunley recalled Jeep Gaskin’s several attempts to free climb The Odyssey at Looking Glass. As Hunley remembered it, seeing Gaskin climb up to cruxes, then back off, then back up several times before giving it a clean ‘go’ helped him prepare for physical and mental cruxes on the Odyssey and many of his other great routes throughout our region.
This slow process and hard earned strategy runs contrary to how the majority of people enjoy climbing in the new millennium. Most new age climbers want to be able to on-sight a route and/ or know that their potential fall is well protected. Many new age climbers feel that every route should have protection or bolts every body-length and every route should end with a two bolt anchor at 100 feet or less. Looking back at my “tick list”, I am no better. That said, I respect the routes that I will likely never have the mind or body to climb. Looking Glass Rock’s Legendary Nuclear Bomb is a good example. I love water groove climbing. They each have such different characteristics, varied and weird movement, and are typically the most aesthetic features on our region’s granite domes. The Legendary Nuclear Bomb is THE classic water groove of North Carolina, a beautiful black groove that ascends a 600 foot plumb line up the nearly vertical Sun Wall. It is rated 5.11bR and reportedly has several moves where a fall would result in hopping back to the car at the very least. Although I would love to climb it, I have never lead it and likely never will (but hey, I’ll follow you on it!). If it had known protection or bolts every body-length, I likely would have climbed it several times by now. That said, I much prefer the way the climb is now; less protected and surrounded by more mystique due to its psychological nature. A lead on this route is hard earned, nearly as hard earned as the first ascent years back. The leader must be ready for, and train for, several cruxes both physical and psychological. The term “boldness” in climbing should be replaced here with “mental preparedness”. I know I am not mentally prepared to climb the Legendary Nuclear Bomb but in no way would I ever desire that someone add a bolt here and there to lower the high standard of mental preparedness needed to ascend the route. That would be akin to screwing an artificial hold onto a sport climb. For example, I will likely never be able to physically climb Hidden Valley’s best bolted roof route named Godzilla, 5.13a. I am completely mentally prepared to climb the route; falls are clean. My lack of physical preparedness does not make me want to add artificial holds to Godzilla, just like my lack of mental preparedness does not make me want to add a bolt to Legendary Nuclear Bomb. Both acts would degrade the character of the routes and would degrade the hard earned efforts of the route’s architects.
The sense of both discovery and creativity is hallmark to all human endeavors and for many, an innate desire. Discovering, uncovering, or establishing a previously unclimbed route or climbing area is no different. When establishing a new climbing route, a first ascensionist has an untold number of decisions to make based on rock type, local ethics, accessibility, and overall intention of the route. As with all creative processes, there is not a single “correct” way to go about it. As with all creative processes, authenticity should be the goal. Personally, I prefer ground up first ascents because they highlight the aforementioned sense of discovery, and I believe they leave a finished product for others to use that is more genuine with on-sight climbing. That said, I do not dogmatically hold onto any style and prefer to employee the style that makes the most sense based on the history of surrounding routes and based on rock type. Ground up ascents involve no prior inspection of the route. In a ground up ascent, the leader must drill a bolt from a good clipping or hook stance, meaning it will likely be in the correct place for the next person clipping that same piece. It is a lot of work to put in a bolt on lead, so bolting is naturally used only where needed. If there is a run out on the climb, it means that the first ascensionist went through that same run out without knowing what was to come ahead, as will the next climber attempting the on-sight. Ground up first ascents tend to take the most logical path of least resistance, which admittedly can be either a pro or a con. There are downfalls to ground up climbing. Without prior inspection of a route, it is easy to botch the intended route or underestimate its difficulty, causing unwanted aiding. It is possible that bolts drilled from stances could be placed with uneven holes, causing the bolt hanger to spin.
Rap bolting, the antithesis of ground up climbing, certainly has its pros and cons. There are benefits to dropping into a potential new line on a rope from above, working out the moves on a top rope, cleaning loose rock or lichen, and figuring out each exact bolt placement and clipping stance. Rap bolting generally involves more engineering and planning and can make a better protected line in the end, if that is the intent. Glue-in bolts can be used on top down ascents and have a longer shelf life, but these are typically not necessary in our granite. A rap bolted first ascent can be as genuinely conceived as a ground up first ascent, but the technique certainly has its cons. You can often tell when a climb has been rap bolted poorly when the bolts are nowhere near obvious stances or holds and the bolt is at your knees after you pulled a move. In rap bolting, it is difficult to judge what an on-sight climber would need as far as pro when you have already worked the moves via top rope. For example, several “bold” first ascents were first head-pointed several times on top rope before attempted as a “bold” lead. I disagree with this technique. If the moves have been rehearsed, the climb should be created in a way that reflects an on sight climb. Often with rap bolting, since the person knows what is coming ahead whether it be a jug or a gear placement, they will forego placing a bolt whether intended or not, because they know what is to come. The next on-sight climber will not know what is to come and since the route was manufactured in a top down fashion, the next on-sight climber has been duped in a potentially dangerous way. In summary, if rap bolting, make it safe as it is more authentic to what you, the first ascensionist are experiencing. In a ground up ascent, do what seems necessary or intended as it is your neck risked first and clean what you can. If the ascent occurred in a known climbing area, hopefully you have done your due diligence of checking to see if it was ever climbed before, then after the FA report to others on the seriousness or quality of the lead. If it is in an unknown area, either make it known or keep it quiet; that is obviously up to you as you did the work to find the place.
All of the above comments and techniques of new routing assume a lot of responsibility for the FA party. After all, the FA party’s friends or even children may climb a route they have developed. This brings to mind a misguided philosophy that some climbers have carried as more of a burden to themselves than anyone else; the expectation that every climb should be at their level. Nearly a decade ago, I sprained my ankle on a lead fall in Pisgah. I initially cursed the FA party of the climb, claiming that they should have placed another bolt. Years later, I now see why there is a run out, and I see my philosophical blunder. The route was certainly done ground up by the FA party and stopping mid sequence to drill would have been nearly impossible. The FA party could have finished the route, then lowered down and added a bolt but they didn’t, they left it in the original state and that is completely their decision. This is not selfish, rather it is more reflective of the original state of the climb and gives the climb its character. The crux of the route was a mental one, and the FA party decided to keep it that way. If the FA party decided to add a bolt there, that would have been their decision to make. That decision was earned by the FA party because they put in the time, effort, planning, research, skills, and vision to develop the route. Thinking back on my misguided expectations, I should have either been thanking the FA party for the bolt that caught my fall or should have not taken the mental test that the FA party produced.
What I love about North Carolina climbing, its history and evolving culture, is that personality and authenticity run paramount to ego. You can learn a lot about this personality by seeing who developed what routes, when, and how. With the onset of battery powered drills, developers could have easily dropped in from the top of Looking Glass and bolted every conceivable line every body length for the entire 600 foot length. Thankfully, they did not. Not that I do not like bolts, trust me, I do, but this act at many of our gear friendly granite domes would have been short sighted. It would certainly have degraded the aesthetics of the cliffs, degraded the education needed for a climber, placed an unneeded burden of maintenance for future generations, squandered the efforts of our climbing pioneers, and would have increased the impact on the natural resource ten fold.
All of the above narrative circles through my mind when I have the privilege to find a new potential route. The hope and intention is to create something that is genuine for future generations of climbers to enjoy or avoid. Each active route developer that I know currently in the Carolinas seems to share that same sentiment.
Oh what a feelin’….
Dancin’ on the Ceiling is a three pitch, varied aid and free climb ascending the biggest part of the biggest roof (that I know of) in WNC, located on the Northern Aggression Wall on the North Side of Cedar Rock. The route was pecked away at over a period of 3 years. Many people helped establish this climb in its various stages including Rhon Manor, Jeff Heveron, Mony Mohrota, Nathan Brown, and Heath Alexander. Thanks for the patience!
Dancin’ on the Ceiling, 5.10 C1, 270 ft
FA: Mike Reardon, Heath Alexander, completed in a variety of styles 2015
Gear: Standard rack and bolts. Loweballs and brass optional.
Route: A technical slab, a GIANT aid roof, a groove, and a splitter crack. Varied and exciting. It can all be done with a single 70M.
P1 (5.9, 70 ft): The white slab pitch. Start directly behind the large dying tree with a suggestive hole at its base (just right of “Lightning Flake”). Begin on a mossy left facing corner, leading to gear in horizontals. After the first gear horizontal, work up and slightly left on quality friction edges looking for gear under the shallow roof band. From here, move back right to a bull horn hold below the first bolt. Follow the techy white face right of the lichen to the ledge under the roof. The single bolt anchor should be backed up with a #1 cam.
P2 (C1, 70 ft.): The roof pitch. Make a few free moves to the juggy crack. Aid on cams and possible Loweballs to bolts intermixed with a gear placements. Amazing exposure. This is equipped for a free climb for some superhuman. Hooks were attempted on the FA, resulting in broken rock. The “bolt ladder” is 4 bolts, gear, then 2 more bolts. The climber in the photo left is at the anchor.
P3 (5.10 C1, 120 ft): The crack pitch. Follow bolts and small TCU placements in a shallow groove with several interesting 5.10 stemming groove moves, same some energy for the 50 foot splitter crack. After the crack, there are two closely spaced bolts. We pulled on one during the FA, hence the C1 rating on this pitch. Likely goes at 5.11 friction.
Conditions: Typically dry. P1 may have some wet moss at the start.
Ground Up Publishing has worked with author and 30 year route developer Gus Glitch to produce Hidden Valley Rock Climbs, a guidebook to nearly 500 routes. Hidden Valley is predominately a sport climbing crag located near Abingdon, VA known for its steep roofs and well bolted lines. It is also home to many worthwhile traditional routes. It was recently purchased and re-opened to the public by the Carolina Climbers Climbers Coalition after more than a decade of being closed. Stay tuned here for the latest and greatest on the guide. Some of the proceeds from the guide will be donated to the CCC, including $500 towards rebolting hardware. 200 pages, full color.
3 options for ordering:
- Hidden Valley Rock Climbs $29.99
2. Hidden Valley Rock Climbs book signed by Gus Glitch plus a copy of Why We Climb by John Burgman. $46.99
3. Everything in option 2 plus a hand drawn original topo from Rumbling Bald Rock Climbs or any Southern Pisgah Crag. Email email@example.com to specify. $109.99
Table of Contents/ Sample Pages:
Photo Gallery to wet your Hidden Valley whistle:
Why do people put themselves up high on a steep and challenging rock face? Why would anyone want to do something that appears so challenging and dangerous to overcome and with no apparent practical use? Are rock climbers just adrenaline junkies, using natural areas to simply scare themselves or impress others?
Many questions such as these often surface when watching a climber for the first time. With centuries of climbing history behind us, we have discovered that the roots of why people choose to climb are much deeper than adrenaline or ego.
In his new book Why We Climb, author John Burgman investigates the physical, mental, spiritual, and historical underpinnings of climbing. He writes, “I would encourage the skeptic to find a pristine morning, tie into a rope with a willing and knowledgeable partner, and give climbing a shot. See if it stirs the human spirit the way it has for me and for generations.”
Rock climbing is a constant physical and mental puzzle that forces you to focus on both minute geologic undulations and grandiose views. You find yourself grasping onto one small handhold, breathing deeply as you shift your balance onto a foot ledge, reaching a thankful rest between physically and mentally demanding movement.
The next moment, you peer over your shoulder at a 30-mile view spanning a vast forest canopy. You look down at the rope below you to see your partner cheering you on and giving you a secure belay.
After taking in the view, you peer up the rock face like a chess master, planning your next series of moves and rests, deciphering your most efficient path to the top of the climb. After finishing, you yell to your partner “ready to lower,” as you rest back onto the rope and are lowered to solid ground, ready to switch turns and belay your partner so that he or she can have a similarly challenging yet gratifying experience.
When reflecting on the day’s adventures, you think about the camaraderie you had with partners, the challenges that you had or had not met, the sweeping landscapes and ancient geology, the flowing climbing movement, and the comforting rests when they were most needed. You talk to other friends about your climb, and then discover there are hundreds, even thousands of climbing routes and areas within a reasonable distance from your home. Each boasts different geological features, varied climbing styles and difficulties, and interesting climbing histories.
As you climb more, you realize the list of climbing routes you want to ascend or climbing areas you want to visit grows much faster than it shrinks. You create new friends from climbing and introduce old friends to the sport. You learn safety mechanisms and better techniques from more experienced climbers, and share some of your own tricks with novices. Welcome to the lifestyle that is climbing.
Here in the Southern Appalachians, we are graced with a bounty of climbing opportunities. Our forests are teeming with textured plutonic granite domes, such as Looking Glass Rock, that beckoned even George Vanderbilt to ascend its face (via a ladder, but the intention was the same). Looking Glass Rock itself contains more than 400 climbing routes suitable for beginners, Olympic-strength rock mutants, and weekend warriors alike.
Nearby Cedar Rock offers an equal amount of diversity. Rumbling Bald, located within Chimney Rock State Park, contains another 400 plus climbing routes, offering a variety of gneiss features such as cracks, roofs, slabs, edging face climbs, dihedrals, and arêtes. Rumbling Bald is also known for its 1,500 boulder problems strewn in the forest below the rising cliffs.
Linville Gorge’s bullet hard quartzite walls are graced with giant holds with routes ranging from positive angled moderates to severely overhung challenges. Climbers come from all over the United States to climb at these destinations. Luckily, here in Asheville, we are only 45 minutes away.
Are you interested in climbing but don’t know where to start? A great way to begin is by hiring a guide. ClimbMax Mountain Guides in Asheville offers a number of climbing options for novices and advanced climbers alike. The company also runs the Smoky Mountain Adventure Center on Amboy Road in the River Arts District, equipped with 50-foot lead climbing walls. For more information, visit climbmaxnc.com.
Or perhaps you’d like to get connected to the climbing community in the area? I suggest becoming a member of the Carolina Climbers Coalition. The CCC has 20 years of experience safe guarding access to area cliffs via purchases and conservation tactics. Their website (carolinaclimbers.org) is a great resource for climbers new to the area.
Mike Reardon owns Ground Up Publishing and is the coauthor of Rumbling Bald Rock Climbs and Cedar Rock and Satellite Crags. John Burgman’s Why We Climb was just released by Ground Up Publishing and offers a wide-angle view into the lifestyle of climbing. Learn more at grounduppublishing.com.