NC Climbing Trip Part 3a: First Climb at Table Rock

I’ve broken up the  two days & nights we spent at Table Rock into two parts. This first part covers the one long route we did here; the next part will cover what we did with the rest of that Saturday and our explorations before pulling out Sunday afternoon.

The rainbow at the end of a long and winding road…Table Rock.

We shuffled out of bed and made our escape from Stone Mountain by 8am, stopping only for coffee before pointing the car westward. We were told the trip should take an hour or so; I’d figured in another half hour for the rough road at the end, so we expected to be climbing by mid afternoon. We were mistaken. The drive from Stone Mountain to Table Rock takes at least 3 hours. We chose the northern route, which includes a hefty chunk of the Blue Ridge Parkway; while the scenery is breathtaking, one’s average velocity is not; the tourist route added another half hour to the affair. We missed a turn or two, adding another half hour or so to the trip. After missing the turn for Table Rock itself, we headed to Morganton to pick up supplies, effectively surrendering the day to the approach. Too bad, as it turns out: there is a lot of climbing available. We could have spent three lifetimes here, to say nothing of three days, exploring this and the surrounding ridges. There are cliffs all over the place.

We rose the next morning and got an early start, among the first to head up the climber’s trail. Our goal was North Ridge, the most-acclaimed 5.5 on Table Rock. I knew it to be on the far side of the mountain, so we walked past a lot of other enticing lines until we were obviously approaching the north end.

Looking north from the base of our first route. 

Past a chimney formed by a boulder and the main wall, the trail rapidly deteriorated, so whilst I wasn’t sure if this was the start of our intended route, I also judged it probable.*

The start of our 1st Table Rock climb. I think it is Cave Route. 

A large open book, with an easy initial ramp lay above us, to the left of an open area nestled between it and the chimney. The base was paved with flattish rocks, shingled at a slant so their ends were facing the main wall. I thought this matched the guidebook’s description of an “obvious flat spot” – although we had already passed half a dozen of those. In any case, the trail’s degradation beyond this area made further exploration unwieldy.

Looking down from a short way up the 1st route. 

I was somewhat unsure of things however, due to the bolts. North Ridge supposedly has few fixed points. I could see a bolt not far up this line. Perhaps it was the exception to the norm? I shrugged and began racking up. The climbing was easy enough, and enjoyable. It was also easy to follow: Table Rock is festooned with moss, lichen, and assorted vegetation; any clean stripes are the routes. I wandered up, occasionally placing a piece but mostly clipping bolts, staying on the face left of the dank-looking crevice to my right. The corner rose left at first then swept upward, tightening to decent proportions as it rounded the bend. There, I passed up a two-bolt anchor (one rusty and spinning), running it out over easy ground 190’ to trees on a large ledge. Ra followed with the same ease. We hadn’t found anything that seemed harder than 5.4 on the pitch.

Robin nears the top of our 1st pitch at Table Rock.

Near the top of the 1st pitch. Anyone recognize that big white pine?

Or this view to the southeast?

A well-beaten path led to another open area. To our right, the cliff dropped off abruptly, while above us, a wall swept up to overhangs, gullies, and corners far above. The one mark of North Ridge I knew we should pass was a peculiar fixed anchor – and we hadn’t seen anything like it below nor did we spy anything like it above us. We did see more bolts however, so after a bit of gesticulating, guesswork, and mulling, we decided to just give it a go, and go upward.

Looking down on our 2nd pitch. Is this My Route?

The pitch began on low angle face which gradually steepened; above a small overhang, it was near-vertical for a bit, leading to a series of ledges, flaps, and steep bits. A few of the moves felt 5.5ish. There seemed to be multiple options along the way, so I was able to pick and choose what seemed appropriate as I ascended. Just below a big, right-slanting overhang, I reached a pair of belay bolts, about 150’ above the pitch’s base. I clipped in, pulled the remaining rope, and Ra followed without a hitch.

Nearing the top of the 2nd pitch, which began (I think) off Lunch Ledge.

She wasn’t thrilled with the belay, which was a standing one, situated on a sloping ledge, and quite exposed. But the bolts appeared solid, and we couldn’t be sure of a higher belay option. It certainly offered great views. Behind her, to the south and east, forested mountains rippled away toward Morganton and the Linville Gorge. Behind me, a fantastic vertical arête clipped the view of the upper gorge, framing nearby Hawksbill Mountain.

At the standing belay?

…and looking the other way.

The patch of rock just above us had a definite cruxy look to it. Above the anchor, another bolt lay on a smooth face below right-rising overhang six feet higher. The available holds were sloping or small or both, but we could see that under the overhang there was a decent crack. In any case, there appeared to be no other options than up. A dirty, bottomless chasm separated us from any escape to the right, while the face to the left was filthy and steep. We organized gear, snapped a couple photos, and I headed up.

Getting above the belay ledge was tricky. I shifted left, clipped the bolt, zigzagged across the face and back to the crack, then ducked around a bend up and right to a stance where the overhang, jogging upward for a moment, allowed an airy step left around it. It led to a small ledge under a bulging, dirty face. From this point, the clean line appeared to move directly left quite a way before heading upward to a larger ledge 30′ higher. I didn’t see any inspiring placement for protecting Robin, and the climbing beyond the step didn’t appeal, so I reversed the traverse, returning to the corner above Robin.

Moving farther right beneath the overhang, I reached a notch that broke the obstacle for a few feet. A well-chalked jug indicated this was a real route, but climbing it, I felt it might be a bit on the stiff side, so once more I downclimbed to consider the last option.

Tightly beneath the overhang, there was no gear and poor holds for traversing farther right. But a few feet below me, an easy ledge led to an arête that ran up to meet the lip of the overhang. Beyond that, the traverse looked very difficult, but above it, there might be a feasible path. I decided to check it out. The step down was a bit dicey – I didn’t want to place gear Robin would have to climb up and down to retrieve – but once on the ledge, it was easy going. I climbed up onto the very exposed outside corner, moved out and up to its highpoint, where sure enough, an easy ramp led back left to the large ledge I’d seen earlier.

Arranging a gear anchor at the ledge, I was able to protect Robin for the entire traverse, shifting the rope rightward as she climbed. She must have come to terms with the exposure, because she moved confidently up the line, directly through the smooth face at the start and straight across the final traverse, skipping the downclimb to the ledge altogether.

Finishing the traverse around the 3rd pitch overhang…

…and reaching the easy ramp to finish the pitch.

Once more we searched our surroundings. It looked like we were near the top, but the technical terrain wasn’t finished quite yet. Our ledge ran about 20′ left, to a large, brush-filled and overhanging corner. Directly above us, the wall bulged and was baby-butt smooth, while to our right there was nothing feasible without wings. I traversed left and saw bolts on the wall above me as I rounded the bulge. A clean strip led diagonally up right, circumventing the bulge Ra belayed under and the overhang blocking a direct assault above me. It didn’t look easy at the apex of the rising traverse, but nothing else looked easier, so I headed that way.

Ra pops over the initial bulge of our 4th pitch.

She finishes the technical climb, up a steep, juggy face.

The final pitch was short, seemed about 5.5, maybe brushing into 5.6 at the point where we moved around the final overhang, but the steep wall there was studded with big holds, providing an airy, exhilirating finish. A few blocks and knobs and there on a large protrusion sat two lovely bolts. Ra followed without difficulty – she’s getting good! – and walked confidently past me, scrambling up the final steps to level ground.

Anyone recognize this anchor?

We reached a small, open area with a great vista to the north. The sun had come out, crackling the mosaic of clouds with outlines of blue. We unroped, sorted gear, ate lunch, relaxed, and admired the view.

At the summit.

I couldn’t have asked for a better start to our Table Rock adventure. We had wandered into and onto the unknown, deciphered a feasible line over 400′ long through uncertain territory, and managed a safe, exciting climb. The weather was decent, we had plenty of food, and a sure place to spend the night. Who could ask for more?

* Postscript: After studying pictures on Mountainproject, I believe we started on Cave Route, a 5.4 that reaches Lunch Ledge. From there, I think we climbed portions of several lines, but mainly My Route, a 5.6. The notch through the overhang may have been part of Second Stanza, a 5.8.

<< Part 1, Moore’s Wall


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