When most people think of rock climbing, they likely conjure up images of California’s Yosemite Valley, Wyoming’s Teton Range or even the European Alps. For the Southeast adventurer, however, there is no need to get on an airplane; world-class climbing can be but a short drive away.
The southern Appalachian Mountains are composed of some the earth’s oldest rock, most of which is hidden beneath lush forests. Scattered throughout the high country of the Carolinas and Georgia, you will find a few places where exposed granite walls protrude towards the sky. Most people will only look up at these walls in awe, but only a few will lay their hands on the warm rock and start climbing.
Rock climbing is an exhilarating and yet peaceful experience. It makes it possible to have the adventure of a lifetime within just 50 vertical feet. If you are not ready for the ropes, climbing destinations are certain to offer excellent hiking opportunities with grand views. So if you are in need of a fresh perspective, head to the granite walls of the Southeast and stand in awe of the high country.
Here are three amazing climbing destinations, not too far away:
Pickens (4.5 hours from Hilton Head) - SHOWN ABOVE
Table Rock Mountain is one of South Carolina’s only climbing destinations with its prominent 350-foot-high granite wall known as the “Blue Wall.” The type of climbing that can be done here is mostly “traditional” multi-pitch climbing.
Traditional climbing refers to the placement of numerous temporary anchors to which the climber clips their rope as they ascend. The second climber then removes these anchors as they follow up the rock face. This sequence is referred to as a “pitch.” Due to the height of the Blue Wall, climbers must complete multiple pitches to reach the top. This process of multi-pitch traditional climbing can take many hours to an entire day to complete.
Table Rock Mountain is an ideal place for fall and winter climbing for two reasons: the wall faces south and can be extremely hot during summer months; and more importantly, the area is closed to climbing from Jan.1 to Aug. 31 due to the peregrine falcon nesting season.
Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock, N.C. (4.5 hours from Hilton Head)
Chimney Rock earns its name from a prominent 315-foot granite rock tower that is the focal point of the park. The surrounding areas offer bountiful climbing opportunities, including a wall known as Rumbling Bald on the north side of Lake Lure.
If you have never climbed before and want to give it a try, Fox Mountain Guides (foxmountainguides.com) is a great option. Fox offers a variety of introductory rock climbing courses including a top-roping class at the entrance to Chimney Rock. Unlike multi-pitch traditional climbing, top-roping is essentially a simple pulley system where the rope shortens and lengthens as you climb up and down the rock.
Climbs are usually completed within 15-30 minutes and you can be gently lowered to the ground at any time. It is a fun and safe way to learn the ropes.
Roaring Gap, N.C. (5 hours from Hilton Head)
Stone Mountain is but one of many popular climbing destinations in North Carolina, with a 600-foot-high granite dome. There are numerous climbing routes that include top-roping, traditional climbing, and sport climbing.
Sport climbing is a type of climbing where permanent anchors or “bolts” have been drilled into the rock. The climber clips into these bolts as they ascend one or more pitches. Where many sport climbing routes have bolts that are spaces 8 to 12 feet apart, Stone Mountain is notorious for having 30 feet or more between each bolt; humbling ever the boldest of climbers.
One of the most popular routes at Stone Mountain is known as “The Great Arch.” The Great Arch is essentially a smooth crack that arches its way up the granite dome and takes three pitches to climb. The climber sticks his hands into the crack and creates a counter force by pushing off the rock face with his feet. Using this technique, known as a “lie back,” the climber inches his way up the wall.
The Great Arch, due to its simplistic beauty, is one of the most famous and sought-after climbs on the entire East Coast.