What follows is a quick-and-dirty, no big frills, no author-perogative embellishments of the oh-so-awesomely-most-excellently-fun trip to Stone Mountain, North Carolina I took this weekend. IE, yer gonna be bored. Best you hit the delete key now. Save yourself the misery, the time, the torture. This is mostly about that climbing stuff, anyhow...
The weekend of Sept 23rd, 1995, George's wife, Peppie, was driving back from a week long trip to Florida. She got to North Carolina, right in Rocky Mount, when the van broke down. George went to retrieve his wife and her friend, and the van was left in the care of the local dealership for repairs.
Sept 25th. George 'Mosca Man' calls me and says in his best Sherpa Voice, "Indy! I must return to North Carolina to retrieve the van. I need a ride. And Stone Mountain, which has a route featured in the great Ten Under Ten article in Rock'n'Ice this summer, is just a few hours to the west. You must drive me down, and then together we will climb like the rabid men we are!"
Gee, put a gun to my head next time, why don't'cha?
Sept 29th. I collect George that morning, and we stream off to Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Mosca Man worries about the van. They apparently have done many things to it, and never gave him the full story about the repairs they've done and what was still needed. It seems that they did a lot of non-essential repairs that fixed nothing. It turns out that the never really fixed the problem, though when George had called them they said they had fixed the van. Now the only way the van would go is with the exhaust detached. Which was the original problem in the first place. The van would not go with the exhaust hooked in. <sigh> George fired up the van (VRRRROOOMMM!! Very noisy sans exhaust system), and we headed west in our seperate vehicles. Along the way we got snarled in traffic, managed to (barely) avoid the 6+ mile backup caused by a couple tractor/trailer rigs that wrapped themselves around a bridge on I-40 outside of Raleigh (note: alternate route I-147 is workable, but gets convoluted when it meets up with Rt 70; the map doesn't seem to correspond with reality very well, and we got somewhat buggered up), and got caught in rush hour traffic in Greensboro/Winston-Salem. I found what turned out to be an awesome radio station transmitting from Charlotte: 106.5, various rock music, and I was able to retain this station pretty much most of the entire time we were in North Carolina, and a good 25+ miles into Virginia on the way home!. A quick stop for gas (with the Indy Mobile getting an obscene 39 miles per gallon - loaded most of that way with two people and assorted camping/climbing gear), and then another stop for food, and we arrived in the vicinity of Stone Mountain. It was dark, and I missed the turn-off at first, but we backtracked and found it (well, George noticed it when I drove by and flashed me down; I was looking the other way at the time). Driving into Stone Mountain State Park we sought camping facilities. The roads were closed to most of the park (they really do lock the gates up when they say they do!) and the only camping area we could get to was the family campground. Unfortunately, they were filled up. We departed, seeking camping elsewhere. Finding none, we squirreled ourselves away (somewhat illegal in North Carolina, it seems) on a small side/dirt/gravel road, and slept in our vehicles, out of the way of main traffic flow. It was a rough night of sleeping for both of us. I, for one, got very little sleep, tossing and turning. Just could not get comfortable (parked facing downhill which had me continually slipping out of the car seat onto the floor didn't help much). Finally, morning arrived.
Sept 30th. We got up (6:30a), milled about a little, and then drove to Stone Mountain SP. The gate was locked. So we parked, to wait the remaining 30 minutes before being allowed in, and cooked a quick breakfast. The gate was opened a couple minutes before 8, so we packed up, and headed in (George firing up the van causing all wildlife in the immediate 30-square mile area to flee). Some wandering around on the roads in the park (we had no map) eventually led us to a turn-off to Stone Mountain itself. We took it, and the road became a gravel drive. We followed it back. No one else was evident. Odd. here it's nearly 8:30am, it's pleasant out, and...no climbers?!? Wierd. Seneca they'd all be at the parking lot sorting gear and hiking up by this time, and Canon Cliff they'd be on the second or third pitch, with a serious queue having already formed on Lakeview. Odd....but no complaints - IF we were in the right spot! We did some quick scouting around, and a pickup drove in. Two guys got out and started sorting gear. We asked them about the area. They said this was the place, but not many people came here since it seemed most folks like crack climbing in NC over friction, so we wouldn't see much in the way of crowds. Oh, cool. Excellent. We'd almost have our pick of the routes (goal for this trip: The Great Arch (5.5)).
We geared up (what to take? Dunno; the guide says 'bring a light rack'. What does that mean?? Dunno; we'll just bring a set of nuts, some SLCDs of various sizes, some hexes, some tri-cams - we're loaded for bear and almost any contingency; we leave the extra webbing behind as the guidebook indicates there are double-bolt anchors at each of the belays), and hike up. The two guys we ran into are doing The Block Route (5.8?), so we do Crystal Lizard (5.8, one bolt; 'bring a light rack'). George does the lead. Gets to the bolt with not much problem, then slowly has to work out the crux moves right there (well-placed bolt). Not being used to the friction, he moves slower than usual. But he eventually speeds up to his 'normal' climbing velocity, places another piece or two, and gets to the belay - and the end of the rope! The guys on The Block Route indicate that their route is about 180-200 feet long, and that if we do that we'll have to set a belay off the tree ~40-50' up off the deck. We make a mental note of that.
From there we move up to do the Great Arch. The guys on The Block Route had finished and were already doing the first pitch of TGA. We waited a few minutes, and started up when they were doing the second pitch; it was my turn to lead (we basically just swapped leads straight the whole time). The pitch was great; wonderful! Extremely fun, never outrageous. Plenty of places for pro, but the route lent itself to be climbed in a continuous mode, as opposed to stopping every 5 or 10 feet to place pro. In fact, I had to remind myself to place pro! All I wanted to really do was just keep climbing! It was that seductive. And it wasn't like there wasn't any place to put pro; one could have stitched that route right up with tons and tons of gear. But there was really no need. Also, there were some trees on the route (one on the first pitch) that made for great bomber protection placements, but seeing as we had decided against bringing much in the way of webbing (ie, pretty much none at all beyond quickdraws and a few slings), it proved difficult to tie them off.
As it turned out, I got to the belay in ~140', and had only placed 3 pieces of pro and tied off one tree. I sat there, elated with the pitch. It was soooo nice, and soooo wonderful! George came up, grabbed the rack, and continued on the second pitch. Pitch 2 was somewhat easier (due to the angle of the rock easing off a bit), but not any less enjoyable. I decided as I seconded it that I could spend all day here doing laps on this route - it was that pleasant. And fun! Pitch 3 was mine, and I headed up. It wasn't more than 5.3 or 5.4, and pro was a wee little thin in the first half, but I did find a mondo-excellent pocket which absorbed a #0.5 tri-cam perfectly (nuts wouldn't go in at all and stay; this pocket was made for a tri-cam). Ran pretty much most of the pitch out from this point, stopping to place a final piece of pro near the top (and noting afterwards that there was a bolt right beside my feet), to slow George down, if nothing else. When George came up, he literally flew up the pitch like a rabid cockroach. I couldn't keep up with him. He got to the top and there was still some 50 or so feet of slack in the system, despite my best efforts to do fast belay (just can't do that with normal belay stuff).
From there we hiked up to the very top and followed the yellow-dotted trail down again. We got down to the road and walked back to the cars. We had started climbing around 9:15. We got to the cars around noon. ~3 hours to hike up (5 minutes), climb 4 pitches (almost all full rope-lengths - ~140-150'), and hike out again. We paused for a lunch break, dumped some of our gear (next route on the agenda: Mercury's Lead, 5.9-, with a run up The Block Route to get us to the base of the main face). We then took off a half hour or so later (ran into a 'local' non-climber while we were eating who bragged he could and was going to climb up the face without "all that there ropes and shit"; his girlfriend was against it, but he, in true fashion of the stereotype he is, had to prove he was going to do it, and talked a lot about it. Don't think he ever did; never saw them again after we went up for our second run).
We got up there and jumped on The Block Route, starting significantly higher than the guys we ran into earlier did. Another party arrived there about the same time we did (a Bill and Dave), and since one of them was a beginner, they graciously allowed us to go first. George smoked through The Block Route (pausing at the crux, but forgoing placing a piece) and got to the belay with just feet of rope left. I followed quickly (weren't much gear to clean ;), and paused at the crux, too. Tricky. Hmmm. Okay, just do it: do the belly-flop whale maneuver onto the corner from under the side of a 'roof'. >Flop!< There I was, on easy ground to the top. Zooom! We were there. Next: Mercury's Lead.
It's been said (by Dave below, who has climbed at Stone Mtn before; I think he's a local climber) that the crux is below the first bolt. There are 2 bolts on the first pitch of this friction slab - and nothing else. The first bolt was some 40 or more feet up. Urk! Well, it was my lead, and I really, really wanted to do this climb. And I wasn't feeling that badly about it. In fact, I was feeling pretty good. Okay, fine. 5.9 friction? No prob. 40' runout? MMmmm...well, we'll deal. I found a flake 7' off the ground that would accept a small nut. All it was good for was to protect the first couple moves, and barely even that. It really wasn't going to do anything other than sit there. And be that much less weight I carried up (oooooo, maybe 3 ounces? 10 with the quickdraw attached?). So up I went...la la la la....there were little 'steps' all the way up this thing. The bolt was dead ahead; all I had to do was make sure I didn't accidently slip with a foot anywhere (there were no handholds to hold onto whatsoever). Finally, I was up at the bolt. Quickly, but gently, I extracted a quickdraw from my rack, clipped the bolt, then clipped the rope. I felt somewhat better now. No ground falls from here. Well....maybe. Where was the next bolt?? Hmmmm...I thought I could see it - 40 or 50 MORE feet up! Urk. Groundfall potential, still (and this was a 'well-protected' route? I'm not sure I want to see what North Carolina climbers call 'run-out' routes!). I work my way up on marginally easier ground, going up easier and easier to see 'steps' (the largest of which was maybe a quarter of an inch wide). Upon reaching the second bolt I found a 'hold' that was almost half an inch wide, and I could use it to hang on if necessary (re: the angle of the rock here is around 65-70 degrees; not entirely vertical, but a slip would leave a lot of skin behind. Anyway, I clip the second bolt and search for the next one, assuming that there is a next one. I go up, aiming for a shadow I see that might be some spectra cord tied to a bolt.
Up, up, up I go, over the featureless slab, following the little incuts of steps, all the while aiming for the shadow. Finally, 15' away from it, I see it for what it really is for: a fat twig! Just sitting there on the side of the cliff, held on by the high-friction rock. Yeesh! Well, fine. I amble over to the first belay of Teh Great Arch (the guidebook indicates that this is where the route goes). and bring George up. He comes up in good time, and does the second pitch (which is short). He decides to continue on to the next labeled belay in the book (we had no idea why the second pitch was so short; turns out that the route doesn't cut over to the belay at all on TGA as the guidebook indicates, but continues straight up - this would be a full rope-length from the ground). He couldn't quite reach the next belay (ran out of rope about 40' shy), and so set up a temporary belay off of a lone bolt (new), so I could scramble over to the belay spot he passed by. Once I got there, he finished the last bit. After a while of waiting (Dave and Bill were coming up TGA; I wanted to get a shot of Dave leading the first pitch of TGA, which was very photogenic), I scurried up to George. From there it was a 3rd or 4th class friction walk to the end of the route (same spot TGA ends). Once George was up (again, flying faster than one can belay!), we headed due west (skipped going straight up to the top this time around) and eventually ran into the yellow-dot trail (cut off a couple hundred yards of hiking this way). Down we went! Back to the car, drop more gear off, and decide to finish the day doing No Alternative (a 4-pitch 5.5 that we turned into a 3-pitch route by soloing the first 20' of the route up this 4th-class ramp, and setting a belay there).
We hiked back up to the rocks, intending on doing the Entrance Route (5.4 offwidth; I hate offwidths), but found a party playing on it already (gee, what a bummer ;-). So we opted to do U Slot (5.6). This was another one of those more-than-165' routes. I got up to the U Slot and had no rope left (urk!). So I down climbed to a semi-okay belay, set up some temp anchors, and brought George up about 50' or so to a lone tree growing out through a crack in the rocks (he went up this part in his ratty approach shoes - a testimony to the high friction of this rock). Then I went up to the U Slot itself, moved between the rather large spiders (I've seen larger, but not by much!), pulled the overlap through the U Slot, and scurried to the treeline. Voila! Belayed George up and we moved over to the start of No Alternative. We examined the guidebook ('bring a light rack' again), and decided to move up to a higher point and belay (eg, the aforementioned 20' scramble). From there George led up (and actually placed more than a few pieces of pro! ;-), and went to the very end of the rope (seems typical of this area; don't climb here without at least a 165' rope!). I followed, and enjoyed this route, too (though it was not as much fun as The Great Arch - then again, maybe I was just getting tired).
My lead was next, up a 5.5 friction face with 1 bolt to some belay anchors (another 140' run). At this point I was getting tired. I found two places I could've slotted a #1 or #2 camolot unit (down-facing flakes; nuts wouldn't stay in), but since I didn't have them with me (thought I left them with George), I went on by them (but I had to stop and feel what awesome handholds they were first). I got up to the belay, and as I set up to bring George up, I realized I did have the camolots I needed/wanted earlier!! Duuuuuhhhh.... doofus. <sigh> Well, it was all said and done with at that point. I brought George up, and he kept going on the final pitch (which was totally unprotected - no bolts or any places for pro). He topped off in a few minutes and I followed, feeling kinda tired. This last pitch wasn't bad. But being tired, it still wasn't trivial.
Finally we were both up top. It was around 4pm. We had just finished 1700' of climbing! (all total for the day). Yeah, we were tired and hungry. Our only thoughts: get down, and then eat! We headed due west again, intersected the trail and started down. My knee, unfortunately, started giving me fits (on my good leg, not the once-broken one), and it was a painful hobble to the trail.
Along the way we decided that at Stone Mountain, 'well protected' means there are probably two bolts in about 140 or so feet. 'Runout' must mean only one bolt. And 'bring a light rack' must mean carry a handful of stoppers, a couple of camalots, maybe a small tri-cam or two, or a medium hex or two, and 6-8 quickdraws total. And even then, that's much too much for this place.
We finally got to the trail and started heading down, passing a large group of people just kinda sitting off to the side. A minute later we ran into three guys coming up the trail, one a ranger carrying a litter. The first guy asked if we had seen an old woman who had fallen. Uhhhh...there was a large group of people just up behind us maybe 100'. He ran up, huffing and sweating (definitely not in shape for this). We heard him call out and the group above respond. The other two guys below us (~100') were sitting, waiting. The first guy then called down that he had found them, and to bring up the litter. Oh, great. One of the group was injured. I asked if they wanted assistance. "Please!" was their response, so we dashed back up the trail. We got back to the group and learned that one of the women sitting off to the side (a 67-yr old grandma) had slipped on the gravel path and snapped her ankle. Great! Okay, no prob; I've evacuated worse. The litter came up a couple minutes later. She was in pain, but kept her composure nicely. We carefully (as best we could) got her on the litter, and the six of us (the three guys we ran into, one guy who was waiting with the group, and George and I) then began to take her off the mountain. I had used my rope as a support for her ankle so it wouldn't get jarred around too much while we were carrying her out.
Let me tell you, walking alone with gear is much faster than carrying a litter. And lighter, too. By the time we got down, we were all bone tired. She was holding up fine. The family with her was thinking about taking her to the local hospital, so we loaded her into the little Geo Metro car they had (urg!!) and away they went (with the woman saying something about just wanting to go home). Oy. What a way to end the day/trip.
It turned out that one of the guys helping with the evacuation was also the camp host, and he offered George and I use of the shower in his cabin/house. After a full day of driving the day before, a bad night's sleep, and a full day of climbing, did we want a hot shower?!? Hell, yeah!! Woo hoo!!! Most excellent (his name was Ron Heaven, btw, and he joked with the woman that she was in the safe hands of Heaven while we carried her down; little did she know his last name...).
We went back to our cars, stripped our gear, and drove to Ron's place. We offered him to share our dinner (Peppie had made us a heaping bowl of barley soup) so after we showered, the three of us sat around and had a leisurely meal of homemade bread (Ron supplied) and barley soup (Peppie-made), and then finished it off with some ice cream. Finally, we had to leave. George wanted to get back home asap, and I was going to follow him as best as possible (having at this point scrapped my plans to visit Mt Mitchell due to the time and how tired I was - and the fact that Mt Mitchell was in the opposite direction from home).
The drive back was fairly straight-forward and uneventful. I managed to hold onto 106.5 from Charlotte for almost 2 hours (at this point we were *well* to the north of Charlotte - some 25+ miles into Virginia!) and had good music to listen to. George had his van to listen to (though I think he was able to pull in a radio station to compliment the sonic symphony coming from his engine). I stopped at a rest stop around 2:15am to take a nap (4-hours) while George continued on home. I woke up at 6:15am, was on the road 5 minutes later. A little more than 2-1/2 hours after that, I was home. Unloaded the car, half unpacked stuff (well, it somehow got strewn about my apartment from the backpack and bags they were in) and passed out for another 5 or 6 hour nap. Totally missing another beautiful day in Baltimore.
But it was fun. :-) Definitely gotta go back. There are tons more routes I wanna do there.
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