An Overview of Summer Climbing Destinations
Labor Day weekend brought the slightest hints of fall; a myriad of changing leaves, gentle breezes, and a meager reprieve from the heat. Summers in North Carolina, like most of the southeast, are brutal months of soaring temperatures, sweltering humidity, and the humming of overworked air conditioning units.
Finding rock climbing destinations can be a challenge, but luckily there are a few remote places tucked away up in the Blue Ridge Mountains that offer north facing cliffs and shadowed rock nooks protected by overhanging precipices.
It just so happened that this very weekend I broke into leading solid 5.8 trad routes, in both elements of gripping fear and oozing style.
The Table Rock area of Linville Gorge contains both south and north facing areas, the northernmost being an ideal summer climbing destination. Two of the most popular moderate climbs meander two pitches up the corner of the farthest cliff edge from the approach trail, respectively the North Ridge and White Lightning. While I had both seconded and led the North Ridge a multitude of times, I had yet to even attempt White Lightning, a beautiful, vertical white dihedral etched into the rock beneath a massive slanting roof. It was equally daunting and desirable, for I had previously only dreamed of attempting it. On that particularly remarkable day in September, I decided I wanted to lead the first pitch.
The steep corner is rippled in varying sizes of cracks and near chimney-like features, forcing a sustained and definitive style of climbing. Luckily, I had the support of my climbing companions.
White Lightning is a solid 5.8 climb in every aspect of the grade, demanding an execution of sustained lieback and stemming movements. There were no rests on the entirety of the first pitch…
..okay, so maybe I took one rest before the crux section. But this climb did not let up!
Needless to say, as I clambered over the lip onto the ledge at the top of the first pitch, I was thrilled, beaten, and thankful. I had finished a solid lead on a very intimidating climb and could not have asked for a better start to the weekend.
The climbing crew was rewarded with an exquisite Table Rock sunset in true Linville Gorge fashion…
…and greeted back at the campsite with delicious remnants of our east coast journey.
Ship Rock is a glistening meta-sandstone bluff that overlooks the Blue Ridge Parkway near historic Linn Cove Viaduct. This 200ft face is a traditional climbing destination equipped with many moderate, protectable routes. It is a great place for beginning leaders to cut their teeth but extreme exposure lends an additional element of excitement requiring steeled mental fortitude.
The Boardwalk is one of the most classic 5.8 routes in North Carolina due to an exposed traverse that requires climbers to walk on a tiny rail across the face of the first pitch, suspended hundreds of feet in the air above the valley below. If White Lightning is one of the most physically challenging 5.8 NC trad routes, the Boardwalk is one of the most mentally challenging.
They call the climb the Boardwalk because you are required to ‘walk the plank’ along the sheer vertical rock face, the footholds being so tiny it gives the impression you are walking across the air. While having climbed it once before, this time I took the initiative to lead the intimidating mental crux.
My partner rewarded my success by leading the second pitch and allowing me to enjoy the short but beautiful summiting of our beloved Ship Rock.
At the end of the weekend we had successfully climbed across two of North Carolina’s most prominent summer destinations, and I was beaming on account of my accomplishments. Solid 5.8 trad leads in the bag, bring on the 5.9 challenge! It was a great holiday weekend concluded with excellent company, nature, and of course…
…a celebratory weekend’s end beer. Looking for a great local brew after a long day of climbing? Check out Appalachian Mountain Brewery in nearby Boone, NC.