For those of you who follow my life through my blog, you will know that this past spring I moved to North Carolina to start guiding. You are probably thinking that we are getting tired of hearing this same thing being said in nearly every post. Well another reason why I came out here was to fulfill some of the requirements for the AMGA’s Rock Instructor Course. Some of the requirements deal with having to do a certain number of multipitch climbs. Being from Illinois, it is difficult to get in the number of multipitch climbing for the resume. It also requires one to have ten grade III climbs. Grade III climbs are generally described as taking most of a day of roped climbing. There can be other factors in that as well, such as approach length, bailing options, and of course the length of the climb. Yesterday, I had the chance to get another grade III route on my resume. We went to Laurel Knob.
Laurel Knob is said to be one of the tallest faces of rock east of the Rockies. For years, Laurel Knob was only climbed in secrecy. It’s not like Laurel is hidden in the backwoods of North Carolina in a place where only the die hearted can see it. From highway 64 just east of Cashiers, you have a decent view of the face. It would sit there taunting all climbers because it used to lie on private property. That didn’t keep people from stealthily going in and climbing. It amazes me that so many routes were put up in this stealth style. In the guide book it talks about a prominent first ascentionist putting leather over the striked end of his drill to make the strikes with the hammer quieter. While I can’t advocate trespassing to climb, it inspires me to read about how these men risked so much to climb this face.
Laurel Knob with Fathom in the center
These days, climbing at Laurel Knob is completely legal thanks to the Carolina Climbers Coalition purchasing Laurel Knob in 2006. They were able to do this thanks to generous climbers and the help of the Access Fund. Since then, the amazing granite routes at Laurel have been open to all climbers willing to embrace the challenges that the climbing there presents.
The climbing at Laurel Knob is very interesting. Like many other areas in Western North Carolina, you need to trust that certain laws of physics will remain constant. The main one is friction. The climbing isn’t exactly pure friction climbing for the entire route but unlike other places I have climbed, you have many sections where you are balancing over your feet on a smear that you are hoping will hold long enough to move past it. There are also many water grooves covering the face. These grooves offer places to stem and will have holds on them in which you can position your body in certain ways to apply force to either side of the groove so that your feet stay on the rock.
Besides the odd features, the protection can be somewhat limited. There are bolts throughout the routes and there are places for natural protection. Even still, you want to bring your A game. Blowing certain moves could lead to long falls down a slab. If you think you are up for that kind of challenge, I would recommend going out there and giving the routes a try. The climbing is fun, challenging, and offers a chance to really get some air under your feet.
Tracy following the third pitch
At the base of the route Tracy and I decided which pitches we would lead. I ended up with the odd pitches and she got the evens. Once I racked up and had gotten everything I needed, I headed up the first pitch. It follows the slab to the right of the dihedral up to a grass ledge where you can build a natural belay. It was a good warm up for what would come later in the route. Tracy led the second pitch which goes up the slab until it hits the crack again. From there it follows the crack to a ledge. I must clarify that even though there is a crack there, you are mostly slab climbing to the right of it. When you want or can get gear you take a step left and pug a piece in the crack. We now have two pitches down, a 5.6 and a 5.7 respectively.
Me following the fourth pitch
Me at the end of the fourth pitch wondering how much more slab climbing I have to do
Tracy leaving the belay on the fifth pitch
Tracy getting ready to belay me on the seventh pitch
Tracy coming up the last bit of the seventh pitch