Category Archives: .Areas

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 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!!

Hike to Spider Meadow on Phelps Creek Trail

To celebrate my wife-to-be’s birthday we decided to get out of the city and hike to Spider Meadow in Glacier Peak Wilderness.  I had heard that it was a wonderful trail culminating in a jaw-dropping meadow and that it was a mild 12 miles round trip.

We packed up a tent, a few beers, and our mangy canine trail partner and headed out to Wenatchee late on a Monday afternoon.  We pulled in to the first National Forest campground near Lake Wenatchee at about 10:00, set up the tent, drank a few beers, and celebrated her turning a quarter of a century under the clear night sky.  Her birthday present really was an “us” gift because I bought her her first real sleeping bag.  I found an REI Lumen +25 synthetic bag for $62.83 on sale and couldn’t pass it up.  She was absolutely thrilled and I am glad that we can now go on overnight trips.

We lazily woke in the morning, packed up and drove the 20ish miles on Chiwawa River Road.  In retrospect this was the most difficult portion of our little adventure.  While most of the road is well beaten in gravel there are a number of sections after the turn on Phelps Creek Trailhead Road that are really rocky and gave the tires and suspension on my little Civic a workout.

The trail winds through the forest and over quite a few shallow creeks.  There was a number of delicate rock hopping traverses but the creeks were no more than ankle deep and the consequences of a wrong step were simply wet socks.  It was actually kind of fun.

Some forests are mind-numbingly boring with evergreen, after evergreen, after evergreen.  The forest on the hike to Spider Meadows was surprisingly varied.  Some sections were overgrown with doug fir, while other sections had only a few towering trees with light ground cover.  Some patches had seemingly ancient timber downed by mountain storms, while others were fields of berries and flowers.  The subtle changes in scenery made the miles on the relatively flat trail painless.  There was just enough going on to keep me occupied, but not too much to prevent a carefree conversation.

The six miles to the meadow went quickly and almost out of nowhere the forest opened up and we were greeted with a sea of alpine flowers set against a backdrop of jagged peaks.  It was classic beauty and a sight that every PNW’er should behold.  Spider Meadow imbued a sense of serenity that allowed me to forget modern civilization, whatever that may be.  I had stepped into a holy place where the mountains were my cathedral, the streams my choir, and the breeze my salvation.  That may be a little dramatic but it was awe inspiring to the n’th degree.

We poked around the meadow for a while enjoying the sun and the breeze.  It was a perfect couple of hours but eventually we had to leave.  It was tough to tear ourselves away but we still had a 6 mile hike out and a couple hour drive back to Seattle.

All in all I deem it a +1 in the Jon category for celebrating the wife-to-be’s birthday in grand fashion.

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Pete Lake Hike in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Sometimes I just need to get outside.  Most of the time that means I want an adventure to shake out the monotony of day to day life, but sometimes I just want the company of my dog, pretty scenery, and a pleasant trail.  It’s sort of the difference between wanting to waterski and just wanting to sit on the beach.

The hike to Pete Lake is most definitely a meditative hike devoid of adventure.  Yes there are a couple of balancey creek crossing but if you know how to walk then they are fun surprises that nature has added to keep you awake.  That said I did see a guy donning Gore-Tex head to toe (including the $60 hat) with one of those super-fancy seam-welded Arc’teryx pack that crossed a stream as gracefully as jello rolling down stairs.  Don’t be that guy.

The relaxation starts on the drive there.  The road follows the shore of Cle Elum Lake which offers spectacle views at the cost of ten steps from your car.  Often times I am in such a hurry to get to the trailhead that I forget I am driving through one of the most beautiful states.

Once at the Pete Lake trailhead it is a short jaunt (about 5 miles) to Pete Lake.  I went in early July and the trail was just about fully melted out.  I didn’t really mind the early season mud or the random puddles blocking the trail because the forest is calming on a level that only an ancient place can be.  This is not a trail for solitude though; rather it is a trail to find a little offshoot, sit on a rocky perch, and just soak in the moment.

The trail had quite a few downed trees that required a bit of bushwhacking.  It was still early season so the downed pine trees had not had a clear path trampled through yet.  I was fortunate enough to meet two rangers out there doing trail maintenance and stopped to have a chat.  It was drizzly and gray in typical PNW fashion but all of us agreed that it was a beautiful day to be outside.

Pete Lake proper offered me solitude on a wet weekday in early July.  I highly doubt this is the norm because there are numerous well-established campsites and plenty of fire pits set up for drunken storytelling late into the night.  There are campsites all along the north side of the lake that are a little off the trail.  I didn’t check out the south side of Pete Lake but there may quieter camping over there.

Two final notes.  If Pete Lake is just a pretty view on your way to Lemah Valley or Spectacle Lake and for some reason you don’t want to wade Lemah Creek at the primitive crossing, the signs for bridge crossing aren’t correct anymore.  According the rangers two years ago an avalanche took out the bridge.  Also if you’re using a GPS with a map from the Pete Lake Trail doesn’t match up perfectly with the actual trail.  Use some common sense when trail hiking and you’ll be fine.  I have posted my Google Earth kml file that shows me wandering off trail trying to “find” the trail via GPS.  My GPS was also having issues with low batteries so if you check out the kml file I didn’t actually walk through the lake, though that could be kind of cool.

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Pete Lake Hike