Author Archives: Tonya

About Tonya

Hey there! I’m a friend of Jon’s based in Charlotte, NC and a fellow climbing devotee! I’ve only been climbing a little under 3 yrs and am definitely a newbie trad leader. My adventures are largely in North Carolina, but I’ve climbed ice two years in a row in Ouray and I’ve traveled to Red Rocks for some awesome rock climbing. I also made my first foray into alpine with a climb up Mt. Hood two years ago in October. There’s so much to learn and do in climbing! These days, I climb year-round — as there’s rock in NC most of the year, and when it’s too cold for rock, the ice is in!

Leading Classic NC Lines at Looking Glass

 

Looking Glass Rock, located in Brevard, North Carolina is famous for classic Aid Climbing routes like Glass Menagerie, as well as moderate classics such as The Nose.  If you’ve never climbed there, the unique “eyebrow” features and classic slab climbing are well worth your time.

It’s also a great place for a new trad leader like me to cut my teeth.  Moderate, but challenging, multi-pitch routes with generally great gear, bolted anchors (for the most part), and clean rappel stations allow for plenty of fun, challenge, and just enough fear to feel like a significant accomplishment.

Last Saturday was my first time leading a significant objective with my new female partner, Amy Glenn.  It was also my first time leading where I am the most experienced climber and there is no Ben (my crusty trad-master fiancé) to bail me out.   Amy and I targeted Sundial Crack, a classic, 3-pitch, 5.8 line located just to the right of The Nose.  I have led The Nose with Ben, so I have some experience at Looking Glass, but I had climbed that route twice before leading it.  Sundial Crack would be an onsite (meaning I’d never climbed it before).  After a read-up on mountain project, and studying the route description in the guidebook, I felt ready to take it on.

Saturday proved to be one of our first fall days to FEEL like fall (or maybe even winter).  Amy and I awakened at the crack of dawn to get our day started, and we got to the base of Sundial by about 8:00.  At just over 40 degrees, and in the shade, the wind was howling and I was wishing I’d brought more layers.  This was to be a consistent theme for the day!

I set out to lead the opening 5.5 pitch – which requires the same move over and over again as you move up the “eyebrows.”   I felt super-confident — right up until I started climbing!  Then, suddenly, I had a little of that scared feeling in the pit of my stomach.  It felt good to get my first piece in, and I started to remember how to climb on slab (I hadn’t climbed at Looking Glass since May and it was October!).

The last section of the first pitch includes two bulges, and when I got to the ledge before the first bulge, I regretted that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to place another piece of gear right before that ledge.  I had passed up gear because I had placed a solid cam about a foot below, but after looking all over the ledge for gear before the crux move – and not finding any – I was wishing that my last piece wasn’t 8 ft below me.  I finally decided to pull the crux with the gear I had.  Using the great handholds on the bulge, I went for it.  Once I got above the first bulge, I was happy to plug a piece before pulling the second bulge.

At that point, I was about 10 ft from the anchors and it was easy “slabbing” from there.  I was happy to clove hitch into the first bolt and call down, “Off-belay!”  I quickly got on the other bolt as well, and began setting up my ATC Guide in auto-block mode to belay Amy up.  While I pulled the rope up, I looked down and counted my pieces.   I think I placed five pieces of gear on the entire pitch, but I felt like each piece was really solid.  I was feeling like I was starting to get into the “Zen” of leading, and just in time, too.

The last picture you see shows me hanging on the anchor at the top of P1.  There were no more pictures through P2 and P3, because the wind kicked up and the climbing got more hairy!

Amy joined me at the P1 belay after uneventful climbing, and she asked if I’d looked at P2 (the crux 5.8 pitch).  I laughed and said, “Hadn’t even glanced up yet!”  I got her tied in to the belay system, re-racked the gear she had cleaned (did I mention that Amy is a meticulous second, re-racking the draws as she climbs – Ben says I could learn something from her!), and began looking at P2.  I was super glad I’d kept on my Nano Puff over my expedition weight jacket, because the wind was crazy and it was COLD!

P2 traverses up and right at a 45-degree angle until you reach the bolted anchors.  It looked like pretty tame climbing leading off the anchor, so I clipped into one of the anchor bolts as my first piece on the route and headed up and right.  I felt like I was moving efficiently, placing good gear, and ignoring the wind.   At about the halfway point, I made a couple heady moves up with no hands, and placed two bomber tri-cams.  I called down to Amy to tell her she’d need her nut tool for them.

Finally, I reached the crux, a point about 20 ft below and slightly to the left of the anchors.  My last gear placement was about 5 feet below me and to the left.  I could see the next spot for good gear, but, unfortunately, I had to make some hard moves through blank slab with little feet and no hands to get to the next gear.   I made the first hard move and stepped up to a decent stance.  I was still too far from the eyebrow crack I needed to reach to place my next piece of gear.  I had to step up one more time.

I studied the options carefully, and then moved to step up on my right foot.  I had really no hands to speak of to hold on with – just some slabby slopers for balance.  I got my weight up on my right foot and realized that I had put myself in “no man’s land”.  I looked down and left at my last piece of gear, and assessed the fall potential.  If I took a fall, I would swing about 10 ft down and left to below my last piece – not pretty.  I could feel that process starting in my mind where you start panicking, and I told myself to pull it together.  I managed to step back down and left back to my stance.  I studied the moves a while longer, stepping my weight up a couple different ways and backing down again.  I finally made a waist-high step up with my left foot, using my left hand to grip a side-pull and pushing down with my right hand on a high sloper.  I felt my right foot smoothly drag behind me and got it up even with my left foot on the ledge.  Yes!!!  I had made it!  I placed my gear, and was super relieved to clip into it!

Looking up, I had two easy moves to the anchors.  I made the moves and quickly got clove-hitched into the bolts.  Whew!  I yelled out a “Whoopee!” as I called down to tell Amy I was off-belay.

I set up the belay for Amy close to the bolts, and gave myself enough length on my rope that I could sit sideways and get my weight off my feet, which were killing me!  Slab climbing is super hard on your feet, and with the cold everything was stiff and my heels and toes needed a break.  I huddled into the rock wall while I belayed Amy up the pitch.

Amy was slow going up P2, but made it pretty efficiently to the crux move before the anchors.  She spent some time studying the moves after making the initial hard step up to the first stance.  Finally, she made the moves and joined me at the anchors!  Two pitches down, one to go!

P3 of Sundial Crack starts out with a 20ft crack just to the left of the P2 anchors.  What’s cool about this route vs. The Nose is that you totally switch gears on P3.  You move from slabbing up eyebrows to a full crack climb (unless you cheat and just climb the face to the left like Ben does).

I clipped the anchor bolt as my first piece, and easily traversed left into the base of the crack.  Like many cracks, getting into it was a little challenging.  The crack was about my fist width (I have small hands) and took yellow and red cams beautifully.  I felt really confident making the crack moves, as I always was able to get gear placements above me before making the next step up.  At one point, I hung off a fist jam to move both my feet up, and once I got higher, I walked my last cam up the crack.  I even pulled a piece out below me once I had good gear placed above to conserve gear for the belay I had to build at the top of the pitch.

To me, the crux of the P3 was at the top of the crack – as the crack ended, the slab blanked out and you had to make two steps up with no hands.  I did place a bomber little offset cam in the eyebrow above and to the right of the end of the crack.  I did the first hard step up, felt my foot slip, and weighted my piece as I stepped back to my last solid feet – also known as “an aggressive down climb”.  Finally, I made the two steps up, starting with a high right foot and a little mantle move.  Then I was finally moving back in the eyebrows.

The top of P3 is a gear belay in an awesome horizontal crack that sits on top of a bowl.  I kept looking for it as I moved up and up the eyebrows, placing sparse pieces as my gear dwindled and I knew I needed at least 3 solid pieces for the anchor.  Finally, I saw the spot just 10 ft above me and I carefully made my way there.  I plugged my red, green, and yellow cams in the crack (for some reason the color coding works better for me than the sizes – maybe it’s a girl thing?).  I felt like I got three bomber placements, ran a cordelette through each piece’s carabiner, pulled the loops between down to equalize, tied them off in a knot, and clipped into the power point with my locking biner.  I called down “Off-belay” and felt super psyched to have made it all this way.  Just one more half pitch to the parking lot where the rappel anchors sit between The Nose and Sundial, and we begin the descent.

I got to work pulling the rope, setting up the belay using the “shelf” above the knot in my cordelette, being sure to clip into a strand going to each piece of protection, and called down to Amy to begin climbing.  Each time I set up the auto-block, I made sure to test that the line running to the climbing would correctly auto-lock if pulled down.  This is a critical step for a new leader – as setting up the auto-block wrong can be really dangerous if the climber takes a significant fall.

Amy took a little fall on the crack, barely weighting the rope, but I felt good knowing I was hanging on the anchor I had built with full confidence and that it had easily held her weight as well.  I watched my pieces as she climbed up and they stayed solidly engaged in the rock.

Amy finished the pitch in good style, and joined me at the belay.  I got set up to lead off toward the rappel anchors, and took off to the left.  I placed a piece in the crack to the left of the anchor, so if I fell I wouldn’t put my entire weight on the anchor, and moved left.  I chose to go left and climb up the crack toward the rappel anchors.  I was super tired of slabbing up eyebrows with no hands, and even though the crack might have required some harder moves, there was a great layback flake to hold onto all the way up!

Before I knew it, I was at the rappel anchors – meeting up with another party that was there, too.  I clipped directly into the bolts, leaving the rappel rings free for them to rappel down first.

This is where I made my first serious mistake of the day.  I should have clipped in, and just waited to bring Amy up after the other party had rappelled down.  Instead, I set up my belay feeling pressure from the other team to hurry.  As a result, I forgot to clip the locking biner into the auto-block slot on my ATC Guide, and as Amy starting climbing I felt the rope flowing a little too freely.  I quickly grabbed a locking biner and fixed the problem, but I think I would have avoided the mistake altogether had I simply been patient and waited.

The other team rappelled down, Amy joined me at the belay, and we clipped in on slings (me) and using a personal anchor system (Amy) so I could untie from the rope, tie the rope to the extra 60 meter rope Amy had carried up the climb using two overhand knots side-by-side with a long tail, and run the rope through the rappel rings.  I rappelled down first, feeling good about finally being on the ground soon and out of the cold and wind.

I got to the 2nd rappel anchor, clipped in to the bolts, and took myself off rappel.  Here is where I made my second mistake of the day.  I should have held on to the ends of the ropes, pulled them up and stacked them, running the yellow rope (which I’d already noted was the end to pull) through the rappel rings.  Instead I just hung out there, freezing, while I waited for Amy.  Had I done those things, we wouldn’t have had the consequences we were about to experience.

Amy joined me at the second rappel anchors, clipped in, and took herself off rappel, then proceeded to undo her prussik … and we both watched in slow motion as the wind whipped both ends of the rope away about 20 ft to the right.  We were hanging out at the anchors with no rope.  And, with no rope, you have very few options.

Luckily, Looking Glass, and particularly The Nose Area, is a high traffic area.  There was a guy to the left of us starting to rappel down the first pitch of The Nose, and a party of two at the top of P3 of The Nose getting ready to rappel down the anchors we came from.  We sent up a message asking the party of two to rappel down our rope, bringing the ends back to us.  They did so, we were careful to secure it, and the last rappel was uneventful.

I made it to the ground, feeling a sense of accomplishment for what I had done well, and grateful for an opportunity to learn a couple crucial lessons in a situation where the consequences only meant hanging out while freezing a few more minutes.

On Sunday, I came back with Ben, Wes, (the Tattooed Teddy Bear) and Barry (aka the Nature Boy) – my regular climbing crew – and I led the single, 200 ft 5.8 pitch of Gemini Crack.  The crux was much more strenuous than Sundial, but I was very proud to also bag that classic.  I placed a bomber Tri-Cam on the top of the crux that the team left for each climber to observe – and Barry took a picture.  They were so proud.

And so it goes in the life of a new trad leader.

The Bite of the “Tarantula” – Linville Gorge

My good friend Tonya recently climbed Tarantula at Linville Gorge.  She has kindly written up a trip report and I have to say that it sounds like it was a grand adventure.  It is trips like these that make climbing in North Carolina world class and makes me miss it all the more. Note: the above photo is an old photo and is not on the way to Tarantula.  -Jon

We set out this Saturday morning, August 27, 2001, for what we knew would be an extended adventure in Linville Gorge, North Carolina.

We met in the Table Rock parking lot at 9:30 am … an eclectic group of six climbers:

  • Me (Tonya) the newbie of the bunch and the only girl,
  • Ben – my fiancé and regular Onthesharpend.com star,
  • Wesley – our tattooed teddy bear,
  • Barry – aka the Nature Boy
  • Buddy – Old-time hard man who has put up many lines around North Carolina, and
  • Les – world-traveler, originally from Canada, and Buddy’s trusty partner for over 10 years.

Our target was a beautiful, but little climbed line in the North Carolina Wall of Linville Gorge called Tarantula.  The 3-4 pitch route was downgraded to a 5.9 in the newest guidebook, but the original 5.10a grade seemed much more appropriate (I’ll explain that later).

If you’ve ever climbed one of the moderate routes in the Amphitheater like the Mummy, the Daddy, or the Prow, you are familiar with at least the start of the descent into North Carolina Wall.  I knew I was in for a long day, because Wesley and Buddy kept asking me if I was “up for it.”  Plus, they all let me lead the pack as we headed out from the Table Rock parking lot.  (I am the shortest and tend to struggle to keep up on the approaches.)  Since they were letting me set the pace, I knew they were concerned I wouldn’t be able to make it!

Now, I’ve been climbing 2 and ½ years, and I’ve been lucky to climb very frequently and have been exposed to more multi-pitch traditional climbing than many climbers ever experience.  I’ve been following trad consistently, and am pretty confident up to grades in the 5.9, 5.10a range.  However, if you’ve ever climbed multi-pitch in North Carolina, many of the routes are sandbagged since they were originally years ago when 5.10 was the hardest grade possible.  So, I’ve learned that ratings can be deceiving …

We took the trail out of Table Rock toward Shortoff Mountain, but then we turned right at the 2nd turnoff point, and followed the trail down.  The descent gully is steep, has a few scary unroped down climbs, but was familiar to me as I’ve been down it several times.  However, when we reached the point where we stood under Bumblebee Buttress, we moved left and began bushwhacking through barbed brambles and ivy trees, and tromping through waist-high brush as we moved left along the bottom edge of the rock face.  Eventually, we came to a 50-60 ft rock face that we had to climb up, again unroped.  It was easy climbing, but we were already high up on the side of the Gorge and it felt very exposed.   The views from that remote point across the Gorge to the Gold Coast and the Linville River are breathtaking.

Once we reached the top of the rock face, we hit another section of bushwhacking through briars. (I was glad I wore pants and I still don’t understand why Buddy insisted on shorts – you should have seen the bloody scratches on his legs – you’d think he’d learn after doing this for 30+  years!)  Then, suddenly we came into a little clearing and found ourselves in front of the route.

So, the intention was to lead off in teams of two climbers – Wes and Barry, Buddy and Les, and Ben and me.

The first pitch is definitely 10a in my book, but it’s a very short pitch.  It’s a traverse left under a roof, and it’s easier if you stay low.  It’s about 3 strenuous moves in a row, then eases off and you’re suddenly on the belay ledge.  It didn’t seem too bad on 2nd (although I did weight the rope once on those first strenuous moves), but on lead it is heady.  Part of the intimidation factor is that the strenuous section has some very loose rocks above you, and you have to be VERY careful where you pull.

Barry was the first to lead off, and he placed a piece of gear, proceeded to climb above it, reached for a hold that turned out to be no good, and took an immediate leader fall.  Wesley made a great catch, as Barry’s piece held and luckily Barry didn’t come smashing into Wesley who was standing on top of a huge boulder at the start.

Then Buddy decided to do the harder, more direct start to the left of Barry – and he struggled, made an aggressive down climb, and we all decided we’d follow Barry on his rope!

The 2nd pitch is some of the best crack climbing you’ll ever see in North Carolina.  It’s definitely a stemming problem, but there are two distinct sections where you absolutely have to fist jam and hand jam, as there are NO other holds.  Wes led this pitch for his team while I brought Ben, Buddy, and Les up to the belay ledge for the first pitch.  Les did climb the direct start on 2nd, and he sailed through it.

Wes moved efficiently, but definitely stopped to take a long rest at the top section where you get a great “butt” rest.  He even stopped to drink water!  As Barry followed after him, the Tarantula ate the first piece of gear of the day – a nut that was the first piece Wes placed (which, of course, belonged to Barry).  Barry, Buddy, and Ben all tried to get it out.

So, the belay at the top of pitch 2 is a small hanging belay, so the plan was for Wes and Barry to already be leading off the 3rd pitch by the time Les arrived at the belay.  Les led off on Pitch 2 once Barry was out of site, and he moved efficiently.  Pretty soon, Ben, Buddy, and I were left at the top of the first pitch – and we could hear Les at the belay talking to Wes and Barry, who seemed way closer to the belay than they should have been by that time.  However, we couldn’t understand what they were saying, so we weren’t sure what the problem was.  Ben walked off left and could see that Barry hadn’t gotten very far on the first pitch, which was rumored to be a 5.7, but we couldn’t see what the problem was.  Buddy followed Les, trailing our rope and then put me on belay.

I headed up the 2nd pitch, supposedly 5.9+ (the infamous +), and it was super hard and super fun!  At one point I had to get a fist jam in all the way to my wrist and hang my entire body off it while I moved my feet up.  It was hand over fist over ring-lock, and I definitely hung on the rope a couple times.  But I made all the moves and got out of the crack and over the roof – and then made the awkward traverse right and up to join Buddy and Les at the hanging belay where I would spend the next 3 hrs! (Yes, I did say 3 hours.)

I belayed Ben up, and while he definitely stopped frequently, he never weighted the rope and joined us at the belay.  (He’ll probably want me to confess that he arrived parched with thirst and when he asked for a drink from the water I was carrying for us, I had drunk it all.  I am atoning for this by publishing my shame to the climbing community – so HA!)

By this time Buddy had led off – sort of.

Now, I need to explain a few things.  First, Buddy has been leading trad for over 30 years.  Second, Buddy is typically the one in our group who will lead something that someone else has backed off of.  I have seen him lead 5.11a/b trad.  Buddy is a very solid leader.  However, part of why Buddy has survived so long is that he is very good at mitigating risk.  As an example, when Buddy gets up to a gear anchor, it’s not uncommon for him to add 5 other pieces to the anchor.  In fact, the belay at the top of Pitch 2 must have had 12 pieces of gear in it.  Additionally, Buddy is very good at finding and placing gear – even in tricky situations.

This pitch, which was supposedly 5.7, had Buddy stumped.  And, he had climbed it before.  Buddy climbed straight up, placed a piece, and down-climbed.  Then, he went around right, climbed up, placed a piece, and down-climbed.  Then climbed up again, got past the initial piece, and down-climbed.  He came back to the belay.  He finally led up straight, and very, very slowly, with much down-climbing, moving left, then right, then finally going straight again, he got moving.  Ben, Les, and I stood at the hanging belay for hours watching this delicate dance.

Finally, Ben decided to lead off behind Buddy on our rope – he decided he would clip our rope into the gear that Buddy’s left-running rope (they were using double-rope technique – another Buddy stand-by) was running through.  At this point, Buddy was so far above that gear as to make it no longer needed.  Les and I determined that I would belay Ben, tie into Buddy’s left rope and our rope, and climb on both, cleaning the anchor and all gear on Buddy’s/our rope.  Les would climb Buddy’s right-hand rope, as he needed to traverse waaay right in places to get gear Buddy had placed as he had searched for the path of least resistance (which was not to be found!).  Ben moved quickly, pink-pointing the route and adding gear where he could, and soon Les and I were alone.

Long story short – too late I know – I found myself alone at the belay, unable to communicate, with my kind belayers repeatedly pulling both ropes tightly on me while I took down the monstrosity of an anchor.  I finally started climbing.  The route had significantly overhung sections, most of which had good feet, but not always great handholds.  I came to one gear placement where Buddy had placed two TCU’s side-by-side in a horizontal crack.  The left-hand piece came out easily, but the blue one stubbornly refused to budge no matter what I did.  I hung on the rope, and beat on it with my nut tool.  As by now I was keenly aware of the sun getting closer to the other ridgeline, I finally left the piece.  Tarantula had taken another bite!

I kept climbing and reached a section where you had to make a huge step up to a shelf, but there were no real hands to pull up on, and it was extremely awkward.  I finally made the move, but I pretty much just flung myself up there.  When the pitch finally eased up as I hit this left, upward moving ramp, I found myself at an entry to what looked like a bush tunnel. This was the end of the route?  I had so much gear on me at this point that I could hardly drag myself through all the bushes.  Somehow, Buddy and Ben together had found plenty of gear on the pitch, as I cleaned about 15 pieces.  As I fought gear and slings hooking on branches left and right, I reached my climbing partners and stated that obvious, “That was no 5.7.”  It had to be at least 5.9.

You would think at this point that we were done, but we had one more little pitch to get through.  By the time I followed up an easy scramble of rock, and bushwhacked to the base of the final section of vertical rock, Ben had already let the section and Les was getting ready to follow.  This section was supposed to be 5.4 – but as I watched Buddy make the move around the big jutting flake, smearing with his feet on no footholds, I decided Tarantula had once again sandbagged.  Buddy left me two pieces of gear, but before I started to climb the first of those two popped out and slid down the rope – not exactly making me feel confident.  I calmly cleaned the piece and started up.  I decided NOT to make the move Buddy made, and instead climbed the mossy face.  There were tiny feet and tiny hands, and before I knew it I was up and back to bushwhacking and scrambling, and then, voila! I had topped out on the ridge.

We changed out of our climbing shoes and started the work of getting home.  Dusk had fallen and we needed to get back to the main trail before real dark.  We headed left, scrambling over deadfall and bushwhacking through the brush.  Ben led, then Les, then me, and then Buddy.  Wes and Barry were long gone by this point.  After about 10-15 minutes of moving steadily up and left, we hit the main ridgeline trail.  We followed that trail all the back to the main descent trail, and found our backpacks just in time to put our headlamps on.  Just about 10 more minutes uphill and we turned left onto the main trail back to Table Rock.  I checked my phone, as I heard it ringing (yes, Verizon works out there), and had a missed call from Wes.  It was 9:00 pm – so I called and left the message that we were back at the main trail.

Finally, we trudged into Table Rock parking lot and met up with Wes and Barry about 9:30.  I will say that it could have been a longer day – we did not get lost finding the climb or hiking out, and that is a definite possibility for anyone attempting that climb.

Tarantula makes for a very fun adventure – with varied climbing.  Pitch 1 is very short, but is a strenuous, left-moving traverse.  Pitch 2 is an awesome crack that never lets up (think Triple S at Seneca, but with less feet and longer).   Pitch 3 is hard to protect and overhung, with much stiffer climbing than the rating suggests.  And the little Pitch 4 is worth protecting and roping up for.  If you’re up for an adventure, Tarantula will deliver.  Just beware of the bite!!