A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip down to North Carolina to climb with a couple of friends (Joe & Greg), and we stayed at another fellow, Skip's place. Here's a bit of a report of one route that we did; a version with photos (too lazy to stick them in, here) can be found in my blog, linked to in my sig (where one may also find pics of other climbing done during the trip, including looking glass, rumbling bald and table mountain). NC is awesome!
So Whitesides... Original Route. We got up around 6 AM, and with coffee and tea on board, rolled into Cashiers a little before 9 AM. Stopped for a quick bite at the diner, and were in the parking lot at Whitesides by 9:30 or so.
The hike in to the base of the wall is quite easy: since the parking lot is located on the back side of the ridge, you follow the hiking trail (which goes to the top of the ridge) up a short ways until it makes a sharp left turn and starts climbing more steeply. The climbers' trail is marked by a 4x4 post half hidden in the foliage, but the trail is easy enough to find. You descend steeply through groves of what they call mountain laurel but is really a species of rhodedendron, and eventually end up along the base of the cliff. The Original Route starts at the far other side of the cliff about half a mile down, so you end up hiking most of the length of the wall. The trail is easy enough to follow, if a bit narrow and winding. It's littered with carpet remnants which in retrospect are probably left over from people padding their fixed lines while working routes. The wall comes in somewhere in the vicinity of 1000 feet in height, and much of it is gently overhanging. It also is slightly curved, so the entire feeling is that of hiking in to a sort of amphitheater.
By 10:30 or so, we'd found the base of the 1st pitch, which is a ~150 foot 5.7 slab rated "NP" for "No Pro". It is helpfully described as "climb the black smear".... it took about 15 minutes of squinting up the face to eventually pick out the single bolt which is about 90 feet up. The rock at whitesides is filled with mica, so it all sparkles in the sun. Pretty, but difficult to pick out bolts. The guide book notes that one might be able to find pro depending on where one starts; It was Greg's pitch and he decided to start maybe 30 yards right of where the bolt was. The ground sloped up, and so the pitch would be shorter (about 100 feet?) and there seemed to be a couple of flakes above. Turns out that the first one - about 30 feet up, was almost decent, but the second was crap. The cam probably would have served to stop his fall just long enough to let the rock it ripped out catch up with him and knock him in the head.
Either way, he set off, and Joe and I followed up the pitch (which ends at a single bolt) together with little incident. We were carrying one pack between us, which carried our shoes, light shells, a liter of water, an empty bottle of water which I'd drunk on the hike in, the camera and some food (I'll admit: my lunch was two deviled ham sandwiches with american cheese... that shit is awesome when climbing!). Pitch two was rated 5.8 R, and Greg went ahead and led that one as well, as we'd had vague intentions of blocking our leads. It traversed out left a ways along a ledge, and the climbed up a some flakes, pulled a small roof with a long reach, and then headed up to some bolts on a ledge.
The third pitch, rated 5.7 - 5.8, was mine. I set off left along the ledge until I came to a left leaning crack about 20 feet long, which took fine gear. It then traversed straight right about 20 feet on smallish holds (no gear), until you get to another big ledge. I'll admit that I was a bit nervous on the traverse; I made one false start using the good holds for my feet before deciding that perhaps I'd be better off using them as hands - in the end I think I used them as both - the nice thing about being a girl and having good balance! From the ledge, you walk a bit further right, and then climb up another great hand-sized layback crack. The fun thing is that you can't really see where you're going, so you just climb. As the crack runs out, you can step left around a bulge and *poof* there is the huge belay ledge, shiny bolts and all.
Joe being the strongest climber of the bunch, the fourth pitch was his. Once rated 5.9, it's now rated 5.10c. It climbs up an upside-down v shaped crack to easier climbing above; there is one bolt at the crux. The key is to get gear in the crack as high as possible, but even with that it's hard to avoid a ledge-fall if you blow the crux - the "unfortunate incidents" referred to in the guide book. Joe grunted up to the bolt, but as he was going for the clip, fumbled it and lost his balance - he had to grab on the draw to keep from falling. The unprotected climbing above is no gimme, either, but that went fine. He left long slings attached to the gear going through the crux and thank goodness for that; I didn't even bother to attempt the moves and just french freed through the thing.
Up to this point, the route had not been very exposed at all, mostly climbing up slabs and ledges. The next pitch, however, was mine, and it was a little different. Rated anything from 5.5 to 5.7 R, it's the first pitch that really gives you a feel for how high you are and how massive the wall is. It traverses a bit left to some flakes leaning precariously against the rock (I got two pieces into cracks here), and then wanders upwards a ways. For all that is rated R, I never felt that it was really all that run out. By wandering a bit back and forth, I was able to find decent placements - I probably placed 5 or 6 pieces on the pitch in total. Though the climbing was easy, the one distinct thought that kept running through my mind was that I certainly would not send a new 5.5 leader up the pitch! I found a nice surprise at the end of the pitch; though the guide shows a bolted belay, I found nothing but a rust little stain in a small ledge and a couple of filled in bolt holes. Of course, there was also a quite decent crack, so the belay was not really an issue.
The sixth pitch, we all agreed, was the best of all - and it was Greg's. It starts with underclinging and a little step around a bulge to the right of the belay, and climbs up a set of parallel, left leaning cracks. As you climb, the cracks begin to get quite thin - until you realize the deep, hidden crack that runs parallel, just above them to the right - then she goes, no problem. A balancy maneuver gets you right again, above the belay, and then it's just straight up to four shiny bolts at the base of the seventh pitch.
The seventh pitch - 5.11a - starts off a mini-ledge - a theme to the route: the higher you climb, the smaller the belay ledges. The pitch is also rated 5.7R A0, and that's the way Joe climbed it. Pulling on three bolts will get you through the overhanging crux, and he went through just fine. It was at this point that I decided that it was my turn to carry the pack; it was hanging right next to me anyhow so rather than get it over to Greg, I told him I'd hang on to it while he followed the pitch. All I heard as he pulled over the crux bulge was Joe yelling down, "Where's the pack?". Indeed I should have let Greg carry that damn thing; though I did not fall on the pitch, it was a tremendous struggle to make the transition from yarding on the draws to getting on the rock, and it was all I could do to get the draws off the bolts. Indeed, I dropped one of them - but caught it on my foot with my super ninja skills and somehow managed to reach down and return it to my harness.
Pitch 8 is a full ropelength traverse rated anywhere from 5.0-5.4, runout, and Joe took it. He also took the last two pitches, just in the interest of saving time. There was little gear to rerack and reorganize, and so it was simply the quickest way to get things done. The traverse is really great because although it's easy and the holds are large, you're also over an overhanging bit of the wall so the exposure (something that is somewhat fleeting on this route) is really great. The last two pitches are easy, runout, nondescript slabs until you reach the top of the wall, with a nice fence designed to keep hikers from going over the edge. We topped out around 5:45, and while we were changing our shoes and having a bite, admiring all the other huge rock walls cropping out of the valleys around us, a hiker wandered by. "You guys rapelling?" he asked. Apparently that's quite a common occurrence on this wall. Thanks, but I'd rather hike downhill and then climb out than rap down and then hike up. Ick. We followed the trail to the right back to the parking lot, passing a crumbling concrete overlook perched out over the cliff along the way.
Joe and Greg were parched by the time we were on the road, but beer, it, seems, is not easy to come by in North Carolina. After stopping at several gas stations on the way back, the boys finally had to make do with good old King Cobra, but all was well when we got back to Skip's place where a huge meal and cases of Bass and Red Stripe awaited us.
Not a bad day, at all!