Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Whiteside, North Carolina

Dan and I headed down to North Carolina this past weekend for another "Smash and Grab" style road trip. We logged close to 19 hours in the car over a 48-hour period. Our destination: Whiteside Mountain.

In the climbing literature, much is made of the fearsome reputation of Whiteside. "With a reputation for loose rock, steep routes, skimpy gear, and wild weather, Whiteside Mountain remains among the most feared and revered climbing areas in the Southeast," reads the introduction to the wall in Lambert and Shull's Selected Climbs in North Carolina. Or, even more whimsically, Whiteside is "immense, scary and the closest thing to big wall, run-out adventure climbing you'll find in the south. This is the place for you if you wish to avoid the crowds and soil your drawers," quoth Thomas Kelley, author of The Climber's Guide to North Carolina. We didn't necessarily find the climbing to require multiple pairs of undies (at least not on the routes we chose), but there is some truth to the loose rock and runout-climbing rumors.

As is our custom, Dan and I debated for hours in the week leading up to our trip over which routes to attempt and in what style. We ended up settling on Arm & Hammer as our first adventure. We chose this route carefully. We knew that retreat on any route would be difficult given the long pitches and our choice to climb on a single rope. Yet we still wanted to challenge ourselves physically and mentally. A&H seemed a good compromise, as it is near our physical limit at 5.12a, but the most difficult pitches would be protected by bolts -- although they also happen to be the last three pitches of the climb. Bailing for any reason from the top of the climb would be "sporting," to say the least, as we would be several hundred feet in the air on an overhanging headwall. But at least, with the bolts, we stood a good chance of "failing upwards" (that is, admitting defeat yet continuing to make vertical progress by pulling on bolts and gear -- essentially finishing the route in poor style).