Wayne's Stone Mountain Trip Report
October 11 - 12th.
pretty much describes the state your nerves must be in to climb
at Stone Mountain, North Carolina. I've been more anxious
on climbs, but not for such long durations. Stone Mountain
hosts some of the cleanest friction there is on its' 600 foot granite
dome. Popular routes may be polished smooth, but those less frequently
climbed are still exfoliating with patches of "dixie crystals"
- tiny loose flakes of rock that resemble sugar and feel like ball
bearings under your feet. Notorious for a scarcity of bolts, the
featureless faces test a leaders composure as he ventures out on
a smooth vertical sea of rolling white granite. 30 feet to
the next bolt is well protected, 40 to 50 feet relatively common.
There is a 75ft. runout on the third pitch of the very popular No
Alternative (a lowly 5.6 - not), followed by an exposed
5.4 rope length climb sans pro ending with a walk to the
trees. This is a serious place to lead even the easiest of climbs.
I wanted to push my limits on this trip, take a ride on the edge.
Stone Mountain obliged.
I drove up to Elkin from Gainesville in a little
over 8 hours, which I thought to be a fluke. Though it is Interstate
Highway almost the entire route, the park is located near the Virginia
border, a long way from my flatland home. I recall it taking more
like 10.5 hours last trip. I must have miscalculated. I drove through
Elkin, stopping at the Pizza Hut for a large to-go, and headed
for the Stone Mountain State Park campground. It was full.
I drove the local back roads for a while looking for a good place
to pull off and spend the night, but found nothing. I settled for
a short pullout about half a mile from the gate, and slept soundly
in the van.
I returned to the campground in the morning to await the arrival
of Steve Longenecker. I made a pot of coffee and some oatmeal
for breakfast. He came in ahead of schedule, and we drove to the
trailhead. We sorted gear and finished breakfast. Our first climb
would be an ascent to the large Tree Ledge via Crystal
Lizard 5.8, an obscure route of essentially blank face. I slipped
a few times at the start getting used to the sugar crystals on this
little climbed route, and I believe both Steve and I harbored some
doubt I would arrive at that first bolt 30 feet up without losing
some flesh. I made it, establishing a momentum once I adjusted to
the rock. The next bolt was about the same distance higher,
then it got sparse. This next section also started with a few slips
caught by a small edge. I detoured to the right around the second
bolt (crux), then took off smoothly to the bottom of the Tree
Ledge, graced by one more bolt on the long pitch. I tied of
to a big pine tree, and Steve followed me up.
larger image of rock
A short scramble to the top of the ledge brought us to the Great
Arch area - home to many classic and popular climbs. Eyeing
the selection of routes on the stone wall in front of me, I was
drawn to Storm in a Teacup 5.9+ for my next challenge. Sandwiched
between the classic Rainy Day Women 5.10a and the popular
Mercury's Lead 5.9-, it gets less attention. Again a slip
at the start confirmed the presence of some loose spots, but I was
practiced now and the rest of the pitch went with a lot of sweat
and cautious, hesitant movements like a fly up a water glass. Steve
came up, joining me on the small belay ledge (more a step than a
ledge). He asked if I wanted to do the second pitch, and I responded
so enthusiastically I think it surprised him. The second pitch went
much smoother now that I'd learned to control my clutch a little
better on those loose starts. My partner came up, and I offered
him the third pitch to the top. He concluded the climb at the trees
atop the Great Arch. We had some snacks and chatted with
a family of hikers for a while, then hiked back down the Stone
Mountain Trail to our cars for lunch.
I must have been feeling funky, because when Steve mentioned Grand
Funk Railroad 5.9, it resonated for me, and I suggested we do
it next. "We won't need much gear for this one", he said
and we left the parking lot with a rack that would fit in your pocket
to do a six pitch, 600 foot climb. Grand Funk follows
two linear crystalline extrusions (dikes) spaced about as
far apart as railroad tracks which angle up and to the left from
a point at the ground about 100 yds. right of the Great Arch
to a finish at the trees above No Alternative. The crux of
the climb comes early with
a traverse across a blank face down low to access the diagonal railway,
then a tiptoe along the ghost rails to the top. You'll climb like
an express train on this route as there are few stops for rusty
old bolts or gear placements. Two bolt belay points are located
above or below the dikes making your train pull off the tracks at
the stations. I was cruising so fast I blew by the fourth belay
bolts never seeing them in a large bowl below the dikes, barely
reaching the bolts at the fifth station on a 200 foot rope. I'd
slung two broken rails and placed only two shaky pieces of gear.
I sweated a little on this long runout pitch as well, but it had
some solid holds now and then to boost my confidence. I felt a little
guilty about hogging all the fun, so I graciously offered
Steve the last pitch. He went on, then brought me up to the trees.
Good climb. Again we communed with some hikers for a while, then
hiked down to the cars.
View larger photo of the
top of the rock
I thought I recognized the car as I approached the turn onto the campground
road. Karen and Chris Braund from Columbia, S.C., had come looking for me to
climb with them tomorrow. I'd reserved us a campsite in the campground this
morning leaving a red milk crate with a note under it, but the site was occupied
when we drove up.
"I never saw any crate" the inebriated behemoth claimed, and since
possession is 9/10 of the of the law, I convinced the crew I knew of a
good place just outside the gates. I'd noticed a couple cars and tents in a
hidden rough field near where I'd slept last night, and I guided them to the
spot. Jake, the Braunds' dog, especially approved of the wild site. Karens'
suggestion that we check out the Stone Mountain Cafe was well received,
and we were soon standing in the crowded restaurant waiting for a table to open.
There was live music tonight as a mountain Madonna belted out tunes to her
electric piano and kareoke sound tracks. The fare was primitive but appropriate
to the setting, and we left as the place closed for the night.
larger photo of Steve
We parted company with Steve Longenecker Sunday morning. He had
a client coming in for a day of guided climbing. Karen, Jeff, and
I set off early, but arrived at the rock long after the initial
wave of climbers. This was my new partners first experience with
Stone Mountain, so it called for an introduction that wouldn't
scare them off. I started with an ascent to the Tree Ledge
via the Block Route 5.8. It would give them a serious taste
of a long friction pitch. Once at the ledge, the typical progression
is the Great Arch 5.5, followed by No Alternative 5.6
to get used to the friction and exposure, then on to the higher
grades. We'd hoped to start on No Alternative leaving the
Great Arch for Steve, but arrived at the ledge simultaneously
with another party who wanted it. Since I'd told the others about
the route yesterday, I felt obligated to let them have it. Climbers
were flocking to the rock today with more teams ascending. We jumped
on the Great Arch. Karen followed me, then Chris up the three
pitches of corner-crack / face climbing to the trees atop the arch.
They liked the climb a lot, it's a good one. We enjoyed the view
for a bit, then hiked down the trail to the cars. The lot was packed
today with people brought in by a country festival, busy with picnickers,
hikers, sightseers and more climbers. We returned to the base of
the rock to retrieve Jake, realizing that with this much traffic
we'd probably have to wait a while for No Alternative. Unwilling
to spend the afternoon waiting, I opted to hit the road back to
Gainesville after lunch. We had a great climb, we'll come back when
it's a little more quiet. I made the trip home again in 8 hours,
45 minutes, placing this challenging dome a little closer than previously
thought in my huge southeastern playground.
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