Author Archives: Mike Reardon

Article on Why We Climb

Click here for the online article


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

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 ( 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

FIRST ASCENT OF THE NOSE, written by Steve Longenecker


The First Ascent of the Nose and Other Early North Carolina Ascents (to be published in an upcoming Southern Pisgah Rock and Ice guide by Ground Up Publishing)

Written by Steve Longenecker, based on a 1990’s interview with Boulderdash Magazine and rewritten by Steve and Ground Up Publishing in 2015.

Robert John (Bob) Gillespie, Bob Watts and myself were three friends who wanted to climb the rocks around the western part of North Carolina during the mid-1960’s. The two “Bob’s” were from Hendersonville. Bob Watts was a woodsman and a bow hunter who knew the forests around Looking Glass very well. Bob Gillespie had done some climbing in the Tetons and was the only one of us three who really knew what the hell he was doing at the time. I had been a teacher in California and had recently moved to the area after a time with the Air Force Reserves.

In 1964, Bob Watts and I worked together at a Hendersonville summer camp (Camp Mondamin) with Bill “Wally” Wallace, who had started a rappelling clinic at the camp.  We learned how to go down the side of a cliff but had no idea how to climb, belay, put in protection, or find routes. We were anxious to learn but no one, including Wally, could help us. Bob Watts and I waited until the summer was over, went out West, then found a climbing school in the Tetons where they taught us that “other stuff”. After that, we knew just enough to join up with Bob Gillespie and start exploring the areas around Brevard for possible places to climb. There was a big rock face that was visible from one of the back roads in Henderson County. Climbing is not permitted on it now, because of liability, so I won’t tell you where to find it. Securing permission from a man who owned the property at the time, we started putting in some little hand-drilled bolts for protection. This was considered very “high-tech” in 1965!

We practiced belaying each other and catching falls with the rope simply wrapped around our waists for friction. Remember, there were no belaying devices (except our bodies) fifty years ago! We’d fill our packs with heavy stuff, then take up some slack and jump. This, of course, was very hard on the belayer, but it did build a high level of trust between partners and in our gear. We used laid (tightly-twisted) nylon rope called “Goldline”. Ours were 150′ long and 7/16″ diameter. The stuff cost seventeen cents a foot. Carabineers were ten for fifteen dollars, “Bedayn” aluminum ovals. Pitons were either soft steel that could be used only one time, Chromalloy steel that were removed and used again, or large aluminum pitons called “bongs” that, when hit with a hammer, sounded like their name! There were no harnesses at that time, so we made ones out of rope or flat webbing and called them “rock jocks”! When we rapped, we put the rope through a single carabineer on the front of our “rock jock”, then took the rope over the shoulder and behind the back. Talk about “rednecks”….we were that, in more ways than one! Our clothing was very personal and practical, sort of suited our backgrounds and personalities. As a woodsman, Bob Watts climbed in heavy pants and hunting boots with thick Vibram soles. My shoes also had stiff lugged soles and lots of insulation in them. Bob (Robert John) Gillespie was the only “real” climber, having been with people in the Tetons who knew what in the hell they were doing, unlike Bob Watts and me! He had knickers, knee socks, a leather-bottomed rucksack and shoes called “kletterschuhes” that had lugged bottoms that were thinner than ours. We all had helmets to protect our heads when we fell (which was frequently!) and to keep us safe from loose rocks that seemed to always be on the routes we attempted. Bob Gillespie’s helmet was an actual climbing helmet from Switzerland; Bob Watts and I both had big motorcycle helmets!

The first time I was ever at the bottom of the Looking Glass Rock was Christmas of 1964 while visiting Bob Watts, who introduced me to Bob Gillespie. We all hiked into an area now known as the “North Face” and scouted the place for possible starting spots. None of us knew anything about route finding, and had never heard of anyone climbing in the region. We were, very honestly, looking for the easiest way to go to the top! We spotted some cracks, broken by what appeared to be belay ledges, leading from the ground, up the face. This seemed like the place to begin, but we did not bring a route to the top in that area for another 5 years. In 1970, Tony Pigeon, Bob Gillespie, and myself completed the first route to the top of the North Face and called it “The Womb”.

In the time of our early falling, flailing, and failing exploratory experiences on the North Face, pilot Frank Bell, Sr. (“Chief”) flew us around the rock (sometimes coming so close that it appeared we were about to land on the damn thing) and gave us our first close-up look at what would become “The Nose” route. We drove up on the Blue Ridge Parkway and sat at the overlooks for hours (after the rock was wet from rain), looking through binoculars for places where the water ran down. We knew that, if there was a break in a water run, an overhang was involved.

Just after a fresh snow on a late December day in 1966, the two Bobs and I managed to find the base of what would become the Nose. Up the rock, spotted an intriguing flat ledge covered in snow about a rope’s length above us. We climbed to it, and placed two 3/16″ by 1″ bolts there. Anything beyond that ledge was brand new and intimidating but we were now ready to figure out how to go up the rest of the thing! There was a diagonal ramp above the belay ledge and that appeared to be a key to our success. As you face the rock, there is a flake (on the right) running upwards, towards the ramp. We knew that putting pitons behind the flake would probably break it off, so we chose to go left and up, into a bowl at the far left-hand edge of the ramp. I can remember inching along that thing, feeling like some guy holding onto a piece of glass and carefully moving to the right, afraid I would drop the glass and break it! Weird imagery, yes? Stopping about half a rope out, I found a good belay ledge with lots of places for pitons, completing the second pitch.

After everyone else had arrived, I tried to find a way to go higher. Just above and to the right was another little ramp. I couldn’t find any way to step up and on to it. I recall one of the guys saying, “Longenecker, we don’t have all night to do this. If you want to get up there, you’d better do something!” I banged in a Chouinard angle pin, hooked my right little finger through the eye of the piton and pulled up on it just enough to let me climb on to the move needed to start up. So yes, the first ascent of “The Nose” was actually an aid climb! A full rope-length later, I arrived at a huge ledge. I yelled down to Bob and Bob, “There’s enough room up here to park a Volkswagen!”. Since then, the ledge has been called the “Parking Lot”. At that point, Bob Watts grabbed my rack of pitons, remarking that “he hadn’t done anything all day”, then led up the very lichen-encrusted last pitch. He was the first person to actually reach the top of “The Nose”. By far, that was the most dangerous lead of the entire day. Climbing on lichen is like walking on ball bearings (If you don’t believe it, try climbing the last pitch somewhere other than on the established route!) and there was almost no place for pitons. Very scary!

Once we all reached the summit, we were so thrilled that we pretty much ran all the way down the hiking trail to the bottom. Frank Bell, Jr. was our back-up. He waited at the bottom of the route until we yelled down for him to drive back around to the trailhead and meet us with his Volkswagen. Four of us, plus all the climbing gear, couldn’t fit into his car, so we stashed our ropes, packs, etc. in the bushes, then let Frank drive us to my car. When we drove back, to pick up our stuff, it was gone! Meaning all of the photos of the first ascent, and all of the climbing gear currently located in Western North Carolina, gone! I remember the newspaper account starting off, “Three Hendersonville rock climbers took nine grueling hours, blah, blah, blah….”. We repeated The Nose many times after that ascent, then on Labor Day of 1989, we climbed Peregrine, a route considerably harder than The Nose.

I think all of us have been credited with first ascents in other areas, Linville Gorge, especially.  In 1971, Bob Gillespie, Bob Mitchell (Mitch), and I completed a route we called “The Mummy”, located in the Amphitheatre of Linville Gorge. Mitch was the one who named the climb before it was first done. Standing on “The Prow” (which didn’t have any name at the time), there was a place where we looked across the open space between the two faces and saw a piece of rock that looked-like the traditional sarcophagus associated with mummies.

On the first ascent of the Mummy, I was so thrilled to have topped out the last pitch and focused as the belayer at the top, that I didn’t even notice when Bob Mitchell topped-out wearing nothing but his climbing boots! Bob Gillespie, who climbed right-after me, had conspired with Mitch to observe my reaction when the last climber appeared in the nude. He says that I never even noticed anything until it was pointed-out to me that Mitch was stark naked!

Naming “The Daddy” has a completely different story. Art Williams, who wrote the very-first guidebook to climbing in the area, was a Brit. I’m guessing that he must have climbed “The Mummy”, then explored the area below and to the right of “The Mummy” until he found another place to start up the wall. His new route was longer and more-difficult than “The Mummy”. He needed an appropriate name, so being British and thinking that “mummy” is English for the word “mother”, it was obvious that “The Daddy” should be right next door to “The Mummy”!


Steve Longenecker


Southern Pisgah Rock and Ice Guide Book

Ground Up Publishing is currently working on a full color guidebook of the massive Southern Pisgah Region. Major areas covered:

Looking Glass Rock, John Rock, Cedar Rock, and all areas between. Ice crags as well.

Rumbling Bald Rock Climbs will be a model for how this book is designed and laid out. It will be just as much of a field guide as it is a visual and verbal account of the great climbers that have graced our NC cliff lines. If interested in helping with the endeavor, via photos, outlandish stories, FA’s, etc., please contact Thank you!

Expected 2017? Who knows, Looking Glass is BIG!

Buffalo Creek Park




Buffalo Creek Park Boulders

Buffalo Creek Park: The Town of Lake Lure, lead by town manager Chris Braund, has recently created a beautiful park located on the north eastern flanks of Rumbling Bald Mountain. Buffalo Creek Park is now equipped with a three mile loop trail perfect for mountain bikers. The Town of Lake Lure also noted sizable boulders within the park and has invited us, the Carolina Climbers Coalition,, as caretakers. This is an incredible opportunity because we can plan for mitigating user impact before it happens. It will also be a good alternative to Rumbling Bald, with similar rock. CCC board members and Access Fund members worked with the Town of Lake Lure to establish a trail that heads directly to the boulder field. There are about 6-8 sizable boulders and who knows how many problems, maybe 20-40.

Driving: has great directions from anywhere in the world. 30 minutes from the Bald, 45 minutes from Asheville.

Approach: The new boulder approach trail is finished and easy. Less than 15 minutes. Park, head to the trail head, hike 5 minutes to the loop split. 100 yards after the loop split, look right for a newer less defined trail heading uphill. See map


Low Expectations V1

Low Expectations V1


Two Faced Boulder: Rock Eating Tree, V5 climbs the left side of the arete. Collaboration V1 climbs the right.


Alesha inside the Tatanka’s mouth, above Tatanka Chin V5


Kids in the Chasm


First (known) ascents on NC ice

DSC_0095 DSC_0117 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  February 2015 has been a great month for North Carolina ice. Here are a few pictures of what we think were first ascents lead by Heath Alexander on fantastic iced grooves. Routes are called “Prudish Massage Parlor” and “Optional Teacher Workday”, both in the WI3- region.


Ground Up Publishing is working on a Southern Pisgah Comprehensive climbing guide that will include every known crag in southern Pisgah, ice as well!DSC_0118

Rumbling Bald Rock Climbs Corrections and Updates

We are only human! Please add to this thread as you see updates or corrections needed in the guide or email Thanks for visiting!


Pg. 108: #18. The bad bolt on Gumbies in the Roof has been replaced.

Pg. 129: #28 (name unknown) has been named Gusdefied, FA Gus Glitch

Pg. 134: #3 “Cave Arete” has been named Bulgus, FA Gus Glitch

Pg. 149 “Mad Dog Variation” has been named “Underdog” FA Gus Glitch

Pg. 164: The upper bolt drawn on #4 Rocket Science should drawn lower. #3 Co-Pilots also has two of its own bolts.

Pg. 166: FA on Z Crack should read Doug Matthews

Pg. 168: Cooter Bug Anchor has been removed. If climbing the 180′ to the top, it is now 5.8X without the anchor.

Pg. 176: That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles should be 120 feet, not 70 feet

Pg. 254: Slither and Flap should be 5.7+. It is marked correctly on the topo but incorrectly in the description.

Pg. 240: Lightning Corner should be marked 5.6. It is marked correctly on the topo but incorrectly in the description.

Left Field Area: In the photo topo, Huffin Cedar’s line should be drawn about 5 feet further left. In the photo topo for Knuckle Balls, the line should be drawn further right.



Pg. 168: An unknown 5.9 has been added by an unknown party just left of the 5.8 Crack in the Test Pilots Area.

Pg. 197: There is another unknown route just right of Obamanation climbing an arete flake past a high bolt.

Ground Up Donates for Climbing Access

Since the Cedar Rock guidebook release, Ground Up Publishing has donated original topos and books for auction, raising over $500 for the Carolina Climbers Coalition over the past 2 years. We donated Rumbling Bald Rock Climbs guidebooks to both the CCC and Friends of Chimney Rock to help auction fundraising on Dec. 12-13th at the CCC 20th Anniversary party in Lake Lure, NC and recently to the Rock and Rave in Atlanta.  Come join us next time!

Cedar Rock Guidebook Updates

Below are some corrections and updates from Cedar Rock and Satellite Crags. If you find anymore, please email  cedar covers for news_Page_1
1. There have been a few routes added to the Morning Glory Wall (AKA North Cedar) and Cedar Main recently. Check out the Mountain Project page and you will likely find them
2. The top pitch of North by Northwest is about 120 feet to the tree line, meaning you need 2 ropes to get down (unless you want to rap from a single bolt lower)
3. Approach directions to the Morning Glory Wall (AKA North Cedar) are a bit vague in the book. Follow directions to Stone Depot but before getting to the steep 3rd class ascent, you’ll see a campsite on the right. The trail to the Morning Glory Wall is on the left and leads 5 minutes to the Red Fern Area.
4. The second pitch to Black Swan/ Operant Conditioning does not have a bolted anchor, it is a tree rap
5. The parking lot for Cedar Rock, if coming from the Fish Hatchery, is about a mile further than written.
6. If coming from the Parkway, the parking for Victory Wall is at the second stone bridge (the one in the photo on the parking description page).

7. There is now a two bolt anchor atop the 2nd pitch of Oh! Mr. Friction

8. Here is a better map of Cedar Rock: Cedar Map