The southern charm of Tennessee was my home for many years, where I immersed myself in the diverse climbing terrains across the region. From the crack-climbing heaven of T-Wall to the daring sandstone faces of Lookout Mountain’s Sunset, the South is a climber’s paradise. And who could forget the varied charms of Looking Glass, each face offering its unique climbing challenge? Think about the adrenaline rush that must have surged through Excite Steve Longnecker when he first scaled the Nose. For thrill-seekers craving long routes, daring runouts, and jaw-dropping exposure, Whiteside’s towering walls are a must-visit.
In this climbing wonderland, my Tennessee partners and I began a Thanksgiving tradition of driving the 6 to 7 hours to Stone Mountain that soon caught on among local climbers. Our annual climb morphed into a social climbing fiesta, culminating in a grand feast, complete with turkey, at our campsite. Despite waking up occasionally to fresh snow, the southern sun shinning brightly on the Great Arch never let us down.
Stone Mountain, a massive and gorgeous granite dome, tucked away in the foothills of North Carolina is a siren call to climbers seeking unparalleled friction climbing adventures. The South Face is the star attraction here. Don’t be deceived by The Great Arch from afar, which offer casual climbing up a very prominent formation with gear placement at every move – it’s an exception. Most of Stone Mountain’s multi-pitch routes offer minimal protection, few handholds both of which lead to heart-stopping runouts where trusting your shoe rubber, balance and mental edge is more important than how many pull ups you can do. While the routes are bolt protected, don’t confuse them or sport routes. I’ve slipped here and end up 70 down only to have to repeat most of the pitch.
Let’s journey back to the vibrant 1960s, a time when climbing legends such as George DeWolfe, Tim McMillan, Jim McEver, and Bob Rotert etched their names onto Stone Mountain. Their pioneering ascents on iconic routes like “The Great Arch” and “No Alternative” laid the foundation for a climbing legacy that still resonates throughout North Carolina. By 1975, even formidable classics, including my personal favorite, the challenging 5.10 route known as “Rainy Day Women,” had been conquered, epitomizing the bold spirit of those early climbers.
Fast forward to the present day, and Stone Mountain has seen some modern updates thanks to the Carolina Climbers Coalition. Old bolts have been replaced, providing today’s climbers with a slightly less nerve-wracking experience on those demanding runouts. Make sure you show you support by joining your local climbing coalitions or the Access Fund.
Looking for some practical advice? Winter is the ideal time to tackle Stone Mountain’s sun-drenched South Face, when friction is at its best. Double ropes are a must for rappels, light racks will suffice, and bolted anchors ensure safe belays. Camping options are available in the park or nearby private grounds, but for those seeking home comforts, Elkin offers meals and motels.
Getting there is straightforward – Stone Mountain is just 70 miles north of Charlotte on I-77, near Elkin. Follow US 21, turn onto Traphill Road (NC 1002), and let the adventure begin all the way to John P. Frank Parkway, where signs will guide you to Stone Mountain Park.
Whether you’re a seasoned climber or a novice seeking new adventures, Stone Mountain offers an unparalleled climbing experience. While the challenging runouts may test your courage, fear not – they are an integral part of the exhilarating journey. Each season, except for the scorching summer, Stone Mountain unveils optimal climbing conditions, basking in the warm embrace of the sun. Today, Stone Mountain proudly stands as one of North Carolina’s premier climbing destinations, showcasing its true potential as a playground for climbers.
In conclusion, Stone Mountain, North Carolina, is more than just a climbing spot – it’s a testament to human resilience, a tribute to the pioneers who dared to overcome nature’s challenges. These tales of daring adventure echo through the granite, ensuring that the spirit of exploration forever burns bright in the heart of Stone Mountain.
Share your climbing tradition at Thanksgiving in the comments below! We’d love to hear about your experiences and favorite spots.