Like most climbs at Linville Gorge the approach is an adventure in and of itself. Mostly a third class down scramble with a touch of fourth class to keep you awake. It took about an hour but that’s mostly because it so gorgeous in the gorge that it is hard to not stop and enjoy the views.
When you get to the base of Bumble Bee Buttress you look up and see an intimidating roof that makes you want to scream “oh God, what have I gotten myself into.” It took me a while to muster the courage to give it a go but I had faith in my partner Ben and more importantly in Ben’s anchors.
The first pitch is an awesome dihedral that can be tenuous and delicate at times but since the route is obvious it goes pretty quick. The crux is down low and there isn’t much protection before it. You definitely want to have a number 3 camalot to slot before you tackle the crux. Normally I don’t like spewing beta but the crux is almost the mirror opposite of Stone Mountain’s Great Arch only much more balancy. Have fun.
The first pitch ends right below the roof/nose looking thing. The guide book doesn’t tell you this but it is a full blown hanging belay on gear. Somebody before me left a nut at the belay ledge that probably could have been cleaned. While I was belaying Ben, I decided that they were good Samaritan type people and left it there to help the next party. After a long pitch there is nothing more relieving than to be able to quickly clip to something solid even if you have no intention of weighting it. When I cleaned my anchor I left the nut thinking that I’ll need all the Karma I can get. Note on the anchor: small gear is a must for this anchor. We found C3s, small C4s and small tricams to be quite handy.
The second pitch is up and around left of the nose/roof thing. DO NOT go right. It looks easy but the rock is rotten and it is an all around dirty, nasty line of nastiness. Hopefully those words were strong enough to discourage you from going that way.
At the top of the second pitch you reach a rather large ledge that is kind of cool to explore if you’re not in a hurry. Here we had some route finding issues because the route seems to disappear. It took us a while but Ben figured it out. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures but here’s a quick description.
Start from the boulder on the left side of the ledge and trend right towards the left facing block. Right before the block is your last decent pro for a while so you might want to double up. Continue trending up and right. Ben led the pitch and went over the bulge shortly after leaving the block. On second I took a little more time and traversed five-ish feet further right. It is a monstrous step/stem but if you can make it the bulge becomes much more manageable. The route Ben led was much harder than the overall route is graded while the way I took was a solid 5.8. Either way you go, once you hit the bulge you gotta gun it.
There isn’t much to say about the 5.5 scramble out except it gets dirty and wet and there isn’t a whole lot of pro.
All in all this is a superb climb that I will definitely be repeating.
It wasn’t until the Monday after the climb did I find out that in 2002 Bumble Bee Buttress was featured in Accidents in North American Mountaineering. (link) I am glad I did not find this out until after the climb. Climbing is dangerous and demands our full attention. Have fun and be safe.