A Quick Trip to Stone Mountain
February 26 - 27th
Submitted by Wayne Busch
"The weather is turning on us" was my opinion Wednesday evening when I ran
into my climbing partners, Jeff and Jason. "I'm still willing to go, but it
looks really sketchy" . We had hoped to make a run up to Stone Mountain, North
Carolina for the weekend. Early reports had been promising. But now the Weather Channel was predicting a chaotic mess
of clashing fronts, threatening rain and more freezing weather. Jason couldn't
risk the sacrifice of time. Jeff and I agreed to go home, check the weather in
the morning, and make the final decision to cancel the trip then.
See larger photo of Jeff and Chris
I went home and turned on the TV. A strong low pressure system
was growing in New England. If it gets strong enough, I swear it
will suck the wet weather north. We'd at least get one good day
Friday, but beyond that, who knows. Jeff called within the hour.
"I think it's going to stay north of us" he said. We'll get in at least one
good day --" I cut him off. "
"When can you leave?" I asked.
"I'll see you then".
Enlarge view of Jeff
Jeff and I rolled out of Gainesville in my Caravan as the sun set.
It was going to be a long night, 10 hrs on the Interstate, with
a stop in Columbia, South Carolina, to pick up Jeff's brother Chris.
The three of us pulled off the road to catch a few hours sleep just
before we reached the locked gate to Stone Mountain about 3:30 AM.
Since the area was covered in a few inches of snow, the three of
us stretched out in the back of the Caravan to spend a very comfortable
night. We were awakened by a ranger at 7:30 who assured us we'd
be more comfortable inside the park. We agreed, and drove in to
the picnic area for breakfast.
Ours were the first footprints in the few inches of snow coating
the access road on our hike in to the base of the rock. Most of
it had melted from the faces of Stone Mountain, though the surrounding
hills still carried a load of snow and ice, slowly melting with
the warming temperatures. I discovered on our hike in, that Jeff
had never been here before. That made it easy to decide who would
lead the first climb from the base of the rock to the Tree Ledge
a hundred feet above. Jeff had been scanning the guidebook, and
was lured to "Entrance Crack 5.4", as are many who first visit Stone
Mountain. The beautiful granite slopes are predominantly devoid
of any features suitable for handholds or gear placements. A gaping
off-width crack snaking up the cliff promises security. It's a trick.
While the crack offers a chance to wedge an arm or foot in, it is
too big for most of the gear you have. The classic position finds
the leader with one leg buried to the hip, a long way above his
last piece of protection, scanning futility for someplace to sink
in the next piece. It's a long shimmy to a pine tree 30 feet up.
The grade eases above, and it's a scramble onto the ledge. Your
followers, on top-rope, will probably discover it's easier to climb
the face next to the crack and don't get sucked in to it. There
are better ways to get to the Tree Ledge.
See larger image of the Great Arch
The next climb was obvious. Jeff chose the Great Arch 5.5, the
most obvious and classic line at Stone Mountain. It follows a crack
at the base of the enormous feature to a clump of pines at
the apex, 350 feet above. Jeff led all three pitches, then we hiked
up the lunar like bald atop the mountain to the summit. It was sunny
and warming nicely. A good start on a good day. We rappelled back
down to the Tree Ledge.
Chris would lead our next climb, the companion climb to the Great Arch,
called No Alternative 5.6. It follows a feature that mirrors the Great Arch and
defines the other end of the Tree Ledge. Between the two formations is several
hundred feet of smooth white granite with many popular routes. No Alternative is
a good preparation for the pure friction climbing that is needed to tackle most
of the classic lines at Stone Mountain. The crack beneath it's arch runs only
half way up the mountain. Above the last ledge lies an expanse of nearly smooth
rock rolling steeply to top. From the top most ledge, the leader is faced with a
single bolt more than 40 feet above, and nothing beyond that to the anchors at
the end of the pitch. If that pitch doesn't get your heart going, the next one
offers no protection at all. Get used to it, this is the norm at Stone.
View bigger photo of Wayne and Jeff
We rappelled again to the Tree Ledge, and it was my turn to get
on the sharp end of the rope. I chose Yardarm 5.8, the most obvious
route on the blank wall between the arches. There are a few features
for hand and foot holds on the route, and a couple bolts for
protection, but it also has some long steep slab sections requiring
delicate balancing moves a long way out from the last clip. I led
up for two pitches, the brothers following. It was getting late,
so we worked our way down to the trail and hiked out. It was a superb
We spent the night in the park campground, again choosing to sleep in the van
rather than set up a tent on the wet ground. It again proved to be quite
comfortable. Particularly enjoyable was the heat at the turn of a key. It makes
crawling out of the bag in the morning so much easier. Saturday morning seemed a
little warmer, though the sky was partly overcast. It took the warming rays of
the sun to get us motivated to load up our gear and hit the trail.
Enlarge image of Jeff
We suggested Jeff find a better route to the Tree Ledge this time.
He chose U-slot 5.7, a long and interesting route offering a few
good challenges for the leader. Today I wanted to tackle some of
the pure friction routes Stone offers. I selected Mercury's Lead
5.9, a classic stone route with heinous runouts between anchors.
It parallels the Great Arch, about 30 feet out on the blank face.
The is a single bolt for protection on the long first pitch, a pattern
repeated on the second.
"You are insane to be leading this stuff, does your wife know you
do this?" Jeff said to me as he joined us at the first hanging belay.
It was a great climb. The weather was holding. We took time at the
top to savor the views and bask in the sun.
Jeff's cold was starting to get the best of him, and he decided
to call it a day. Chris and I wanted to get in one more climb, and
I chose The Great White Way 5.9. Another must-do route at Stone
Mt. It follows a bulge of sparkling smooth granite to the left of
a dark rain dike atop the Great Arch. These enormous streaks have
formed over the eons from runoff during heavy downpours. The climb
starts at the extreme left end of the Tree Ledge, beneath a nearly
vertical bulge. A couple shiny bolts protect the bulge, but
getting to them is the crux move on this climb. The
trick is to clip the first, then step down and traverse to the left
about 20 feet on a tiny edge. The slope eases slightly here, allowing
for a few delicate moves traversing up and then back over to clip
the second bolt. Once over the bulge, a beautiful rolling sea of
featureless white granite stretches 300 feet to the top of
the Great Arch. There is one more bolt on the face about 50 feet
above the bulge, then a long runout to the 2 bolt anchor atop the
first pitch. The next pitch has one bolt for it's entire length,
and again two more at the belay point. The last easing pitch goes
unprotected until near the top.
See larger image of Wayne
View bigger photo of Chris
We spent an hour or so at the top of the mountain, waiting for
Jeff to join us via the hiking trail. The three of us rappelled
to the base of the mountain, and packed up for the long drive home.
Rain was predicted to move in this evening, not much sense in staying
around. We'd had some superb climbs. The weather cooperated. We
shared good company. What more can you ask for.
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