NC Climbing Trip Part 2: Stone Mountain

If you want to see how the climbing trip started go to: Part 1 Moore’s Wall

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Danger! Danger! 

After a long dark drive, a surreptitious night’s sleep in a town park, and a final decision to skip Pilot Knob Mountain (looking at this, I’m regretting that call), we headed to Stone Mountain.It didn’t take long to reach the State Park and reserve a campsite, still, by the time we headed up the trail it was well past noon.

The directions I’d gathered said to head for the Hutchinson Homestead; which we faithfully did. The park wizards, in their usual wisdom, have toyed with the trail system a bit, so the current path to the homestead is unnecessarily circuitous. We wound down to a drainage, up the other bank, then gradually up to a small bridge leading to the homestead – where we found the other trail would’ve led us directly. No great matter, but we utilized the easier option for the rest of our stay.

The field near the homestead buildings provides a perfect preview of Stone Mountain’s climbing. We were heading for the Great Arch, the most obvious feature on the cliff, and here we had the chance to look it over carefully before walking up to the base.

An obvious mowed swathe runs across the field to the woods below the cliff. With leaves covering the forest floor, we picked our way from the registration box directly up over boulders to the base. Once there, we could see the outline of a trail switchbacking up to our position. But the direct approach hadn’t been difficult, only fraught with copperhead fear. We would use the common trail from then on.

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Coming up our 1st Stone Mountain Route. FA? Doubtful.

A long slab, ranging up to 200’ or so, blocks the way to the tree ledge where Great Arch begins. There are several routes available, ranging from 5.4 on up to 5.ridiculous. Generally, the protection is sparse, poor, or nonexistent. True to my nature, I set up shop between two of the listed routes and began wandering upward willy-nilly. Somewhere around fifty feet, I got my first piece in. I’d picked a low-angle bit of slab, so the going wasn’t bad. The rock in most places is naturally clean, no wire brush needed, so although it was terribly run out, it wasn’t terribly frightening. Without a lot of trembling, I reached the tree ledge. Robin came up quickly.

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At the Tree Ledge

We shared the ledge with but one other pair of climbers, like us, Yankees; Mike and Ashley hail from Vermont. They had just finished Great Arch and were looking at other options – of which there are few, if good pro is desired. No Alternative, a left-facing dihedral 200’ to the right, is pretty much it. Everything else up here is at least R rated, in a way that makes death seem likely. The pair decided to set a TR on something on the lower wall and save the remaining sane option for tomorrow. Meanwhile, we set a course for the Arch.

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Ra at the base of The Great Arch 

 At 5.5, you might think this a gimme route – but The Great Arch is the most sustained 5.5 I’ve ever led. No move is really difficult, but there isn’t much in the way of full-stop rest, either: no place where you can relax physically and mentally. The slab on the right is too slick, the wall on the left too steep and featureless to provide a break from the work at hand. Gear placements are mostly one-handed affairs, the other forelimb is busy hanging on. The work gets done quickly enough, there’s no time wasted gawking at the view, so the effort is rewarded by a rapid arrival at the belay, two bolts on the left wall at about 100’.

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Ra comes up the 1st pitch 

Ra followed, struggling a bit but not falling, cursing her nemesis gear, the #1 C4, before passing it up in disgust and moving on. At the belay, we regrouped and enjoyed the view together.

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Nearing the belay. Late October, and plenty hot. 

 It certainly was impressive. There’s an out-west feel to the vast apron slab right of the arch; and the deep rills and sharp-edged peaks in the distance share that “real mountain” quality. Without two miles of glacier overriding them, the Adirondacks might look like these mountains. Who knows how much strata those ice sheets tore off? These mountains are perhaps a hint of that grandeur lost to our home range.

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At the belay. The big, featureless slab to our right will come back to haunt me.

After admiring the view, we got back to business. I headed upward, and after an initial difficulty where a flap of rock jutted out, pushing me away from the main wall, the going got easier. It was still sustained, but less difficult. I soon reached the next pair of bolts, but looking down, figured I could run it out with that 70m rope. Twenty feet shy of the last anchor, I reached a lone bolt and the last inch of my rope. A fortuitous #3 C4 fit in the crack under the flap, so I was able to arrange a two-point anchor to bring up Ra.

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Nearing the top of our 2nd (2nd & 3rd combined) pitch.
Hutchinson Homestead lies far below us.

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At our final belay anchor

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With only a few feet to go to the rappel station, Ra took the lead, passing by me to reach the rings. I followed up, we stepped right onto a ledge at the top of a tree island, and considered our options. We could rappel immediately. Or we could scramble up the tilted lake of granite beyond us to find the real summit. It was getting late, but it seemed a waste to come this far and not go to the top. We began walking. While easy enough, it was a bit scary, knowing that behind you, the world fell away at an angle and depth that would certainly kill. Occasionally, it was steep enough to warrant a handhold or two, steep enough to hurt if you slid, but in moments we were too far from real danger to bother with ropes. I dragged one for awhile longer in case Ra wanted a belay, but abandoned it a short ways past the last rolling rock swell. Together we walked about a quarter mile of pockmarked granite to the official top of Stone Mountain.

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The long, pockmarked walk to the summit

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After the requisite summit photo, Ra elected to walk the trail down and meet me back at the homestead. I returned to the anchors, collecting gear along the way, and began rappelling. With 2 200’+ ropes, it took three rappels to reach the bottom. Packing up the remaining items we’d left there, I lugged the lot down to the buildings and awaited Ra’s return. Together, we walked the road back to our car, chasing daylight and barely having enough.

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Day 2: Comeuppance

We got a good start the next morning, not alpine early but before 10am, we were roping up. Our fellow climbers from Vermont were already at the cliff, heading up a fairly-protected 5.7 en route to No Alternative. We had other plans.

Yesterday’s activity had bolstered my confidence. I’d onsighted an unlisted slab line, climbed a long, classic route, and hiked up to the mountain’s summit. Today was to be the challenge day, a day to pick something hard and go for it. I figured, why not start on something hard and unknown? Casting about, we walked right of yesterday’s initial climb. The slab was steeper here. Thirty feet to our left, a 5.8 snuck up a brushy niche to gain a triad of small ribs rising rightward up the rock. Twenty feet to our right, a 5.10c went up a steep, black slab.

I settled into a sweet spot below a circular pockmark thirty feet above me and began smearing upward. The slab rippled steeply near the ground, then relaxed a bit before turning steeply again twelve feet below what looked like potential for pro. I bravely churned upward a move or two into the steeper bit, then stalled. Twenty feet up, I daren’t advance another inch. Nor could I retreat. Greasing slowly off my tiny stance, I spent a long while fishing for progressive solutions before I finally committed to downclimbing, instructing Robin on the finer points of spotting a fall before beginning the ordeal. Somehow I managed to get down without testing her skill.

Slightly mollified, I traipsed left to the established 5.8, Crystal Lizard. This route starts in a bush & tree-choked, shallow cave. Thrashing past a prickly holly bush and around an oak tree, I lassoed the latter and began climbing. The start was steep enough to be more like real climbing, and was solid 5.8 before bringing me within reach of those little riblets. No gear here: the route’s sole bolt lay way off to the right. I believe the original line actually traverses out to it before climbing more steep slab. I couldn’t fathom the logic behind that bolt. The obvious line lay directly in front of me: another step up and I could see a line of notches in the ribs that would function well as holds. A seam running up to my left might take gear. The rounded nubbins leading toward the bolt looked ludicrous in comparison. I turned around, ratcheted my runner up the tree as high as I could get it, and began climbing again. It felt 5.8ish, but soon I was on a tenable stance, feeling fruitlessly along that seam for an opening that would accept gear. I managed a laughable pink Tricam, placing and tugging it four times before it didn’t pop out, and certainly never thought it would hold a fall. No matter, I could advance.

The ribs led up to a left-facing corner that turned and arched left, where I finally got real protection again, thirty feet above my runner on the tree and perhaps sixty feet off the ground. Past the corner, the angle lessened and the slab was dimpled in large, shallow scoops, perfect foot and hand size. No gear, but relatively trivial climbing. As I worked upward, the divots diminished, but not far away, a leaf-filled crack offered some hope. The angle was easy enough, but I was still happy to reach that crack, scrape out the stuffing and plug in a cam. The crack gaped open, shallow and useless for much of the way, but a dead pine sapling lent one more implausible placement before I finally reached easy ground and a solid belay tree. I slung a doubled cordalette, clipped in and settled down to belay Robin.

She hadn’t been going long before I noticed a buzzing beside me. Glancing over, I saw two hornets fly out from under the boulder my shoes were sitting on. At that moment, I felt the sting in my armpit. I had taken up residence next to ornery neighbors and it wasn’t working out. Fortunately, I had Ra on a GriGri, so I rapidly released myself from the belay and counterbalanced myself down to a lower tree, where I could tie myself off. One sting for my intrusion was no fun, but it was better than a dozen.

Ra arrived, we scuttled around the hazard, I snuck down from above and reclaimed all the gear without any more pain, and we were established on the Tree Ledge once more.

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One of our VT neighbors on No Alternative

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Mike and Ashley were by now on their way to No Alternative, so although I felt a bit chastised by the events thus far, I didn’t have much choice but to tackle one of the harder routes. I started on Mercury’s Lead, a “5.9-” with two bolts in its entire 95′ length. The first lay 35’ above us. Once again, I started out, got up twenty feet, and stalled. Another short eternity of vacillation before realizing that, even if I did make it to the first bolt, I would then have to climb another 30’ before reaching the second one – and another 30’ to the belay ledge. Once again, I played the downclimb card, and once again the gamble paid off, but this time I was shaken. Shaken and stirred and rattled.

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Well on my way to being drenched in terror on Mercury’s Lead

What to do now? Crowd in on the only other two people on the mountain? Looking left, I saw a line with two bolts in the first twenty feet. I knew this to be Great White Way, one of the most famous and popular lines here. Might it be so well protected the entire length? I was about to find out.

We shifted the belay, circumventing yet another hornet’s nest and walking out onto an exposed and dwindling ledge to its end 30’ left of the Great Arch dihedral. Robin patiently manned the belay once more. I climbed up, clipped the first bolt, then began fidgeting over the next move. Certainly the crux move, right? It was plenty steeper than slab climbing here, and the holds were minute crystals. Twice I lunged down and grabbed my pro, hanging dejectedly, before finally getting my head together and committing to the move. Somewhere in this turmoil, I remember Mike came over to wish us luck before Ashley and he headed down for lunch.

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The crux move of Great White Way

I made the move, nearly fell, but gripped hard and pressed hard and somehow remained attached to the Earth. The second bolt was a welcome clip indeed. And there, thirty feet above it, was the third. Egad. The route has four bolts. Two are in the first fifteen feet. The other two are in the remaining 95’. Do the math. Somehow, I managed to get up that climb. A dozen times I stalled, unable to make the next move, trembling and sweating before figuring out a way to go on. Another dozen times, I came unsettling close to horrendous falls. I haven’t been that frightened, that much, in a long time. By the time I clipped the anchors and finally knew I would live to tell the tale, I was exhausted. Without fanfare, I tied my lines together and rapped back to Ra. We immediately went down and headed out. The day, as far as climbing was concerned, was over.

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Ra enjoyed a thoroughly cowed companion for the rest of the day. We drove out of the park, hunted down a geocache, then went to the Stone Mountain General Store for dinner, ice cream, and Wi-Fi. It was a great relaxing evening, but I would wake up with cold sweats later that night, feeling once more those near-misses on the slabs of Stone Mountain.

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Mental recuperation on the very horizontal floor of the Stone Mountain General Store.

GETTING THERE

Follow Mountainproject’s Directions

or the State Park’s directions

STONE MOUNTAIN LINKS

The Great Arch

 Mountainproject

A Personal Account

Another Personal Account

Great White Way 

Read the Specacular First Episode, about Moore’s Wall

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