Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Underworld- Linville Gorge


In August, Leah had a six week surgery rotation in Asheville, North Carolina.  She stayed there all week which meant if I wanted to see her (which I did), I had to make the two hour drive from Knoxville every Friday evening after work.

This didn't really bother me because I like Asheville.  Prior to Leah's stint in Asheville, we had only been there for a quick fourth of July weekend last year.  We got a brief tour of Looking Glass (we did Sundial Crack and some single pitch stuff on the North Face), and ate at a few nice restaurants.  Plus, the elevation makes it a good 10 degrees cooler than Knoxville during the Summer.

Thinking about The Last of the Mohicans
So I scoured Mountain Project for information on sport climbing in North Carolina, while Leah investigated which restaurants she wanted to try(our priorities are very different).  Unfortunately, I found way less information about steep, hard climbing than Leah did about places to eat.  However, one of the spots that kept catching my eye was the Underworld at Linville Gorge.

Can't stop thinking about The Last of the Mohicans.
I had heard of Linville Gorge through various people.  Most mention how beautiful it is.  Others rave about the long, traditional routes.  So when I found the Underworld, with it's Northern exposure and challenging sport routes, it seemed like a great option.

Although North Carolina is known for being tight lipped about it's climbing areas, the morale was high after using the information on Mountain Project to easily find Cathy's Creek the weekend before.  So we studied the Underworld page on Mountain Project and drove 1.5 hours Northeast to the Gorge.

Immediately things went wrong.  We arrived at sunset, and all the roads seemed to have different names than what the directions indicated.  This would have been fine except there is almost no 4G in the area.  So using Google Maps was not an option.  We drove down a winding dirt road for about 5 miles looking for specific trail markers, but never found them.   Lost and tired, we set up camp. Despite being frustrated, the free camping(very rare in the South), deafening cicadas, and remoteness made it completely worth it.

Nice campsite on the wrong side of Linville Gorge.
In the morning we packed up and decided to ask for directions.  Eventually, we ran into some folks that told us we were on the wrong side of the Gorge.  Oops!

It took us about an hour to get to the other side and then our troubles started again.  The online driving instructions were for approaching on the road from the South- not the North.  With no internet, our only option was to try to find the Rock Jock trail head without specific directions.  So we drove down another dirt road for about 4 miles until we came across the Rock Jock Trail.

Lost and consulting Mountain Project.  
This seemed like a good start!  The instructions promised a 30 minute hike so we packed up, looked at the time, and started down the trail expecting pink markers to help up find the turns.  What we found instead was nothing- just a million unmarked, random trails that offshoot from the main trail.  Unfortunately, I got obsessed with finding the area, and somehow convinced Leah to trudge on for an hour despite intense heat, humidity and a continuously deteriorating trail.

Don't you see the trail?  Totally obvious!
Eventually, I came to my senses, and we headed back.  Two plus hours later, we arrived back at the car completely wrecked.  This was the second time in 20 years of climbing that I hadn't found a climbing area.  I was annoyed, and vowed to return and find it.  Time to start researching...  But first, some soft serve at McDonalds- Asheville style!

Don't all McDonalds have vaulted ceilings and pianos?  Classy!
The next weekend I talked Leah into trying to find The Underworld again.  Armed with photos of landmarks visible from the Underworld we made a good guess at the correct parking spot.

Faint trail into woods.  A large rock 15 feet left of trail(can see part of it in photo).
Just across the road a faint, overgrown trail cut into the thick forest.  There were lots of fallen logs that had ax marks to help you find the way.  After about 30 minutes of hacking our way through downhill switchbacks in the thick forest, we hit the Rock Jock Trail.  We took a right and hiked another 10 minutes- keeping an eye out for a burn zone.  As the trees thinned at the top of a small uphill section, we saw a narrow, but distinct, trail on the left that headed towards the rim of the gorge.

Example of burn zone. 
This section was much less overgrown.  We headed down and left for about 10 minutes until we came to a rock outcrop at the rim.  This is the top the of Underworld.

Leah at top of Underworld.  Probably humming the theme song to The Last of the Mohicans in her head.
Anchors at top of Underworld.
On the left side of the outcrop is an obvious two bolt anchor.  It has been claimed that you can rappel to the base of the routes with a 60 meter rope.  I started this rappel, but stopped about 30 feet down because my 60 meter rope seemed about 15-20 feet short.  In the process of hauling myself back to the top, I dropped our stick clip, and accidentally dislodged one of the biggest blocks (maybe 200lbs) I have ever trundled.  It was terrifying!

With rappelling out now out of the question, we were left with option B- the down scramble.  Neither of us were excited about this because the description sounds a little scary, but it ended up being reasonable.  We walked left past the anchors and pushed along a very faint trail through some rhododendrons.  Eventually the trail heads downhill and you come to a large tree with a tattered rope tied around it.

Fixed rope.
Lower yourself down a few slippery sections of muddy, steep, overgrown slab and you will find yourself at The Underworld!

Leah lowering down easy slab approach on fixed ropes. 
First view of Underworld.
My general impressions are...

The views are amazing.

The feel is almost alpine.

Colorful lichen at base of Underworld.
The routes are steep, fun and shady.  However, the routes are still shedding choss- so beware.

First look at wall when approaching from slabs.
The effort to fun ratio was a little too high for a day of sport climbing.

Not having fun.
I am glad we went, but I am not rearing to go back anytime soon.

So, the directions are:

Driving South on Kistler Memorial Highway(dirt road), go about 6 miles.
1.  Pass the Rock Jock Trailhead, and head up a hill.
2.  At top of hill, look for a grassy pullout on the right that is big enough for three cars(pulled straight in).
3.  Locate a faint trail on the opposite side of the road.
4.  Hike downhill for about 30 minutes, following the occasional ribbon, and ax marked fallen tree until you hit the Rock Jock Trail(might be a good idea to break some branches of your own for getting back).
5.  Take a right and hike another 10 minutes.
6. At top of a small hill, look for burn zone on left.  Take left off of Rock Jock Trail towards gorge rim.
7.  Hike down and left for 10 minutes.  When you see a large rock outcrop on the rim with anchors on the left side you are at the top of The Underworld.
8.  Rap with a 70 meter rope or walk left of outcrop for 100 feet through thick foliage until you see a tree with a rope tied around it.
9.  Lower yourself down dirty, but mellow, safe terrain to the base of The Underworld.

Entire approach is about an hour.  The return trip is about 80 minutes.

***Keep in mind that trail is rarely used and the plants grow quickly.  So expect tough trail finding.  Bring pants, long sleeved shirt, a machete, and some ribbon to help you find way back more easily.

Hope this helps other people avoid the epic that we had.

Here is a link to Mountain Project info for The Underworld.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dayton Pocket FA- Box Turtle V5

I have put up a few boulder problems at Dayton Pocket.  Here is some footage of Box Turtle V5.  This thing is just uphill from 300 near the stream.  Sorry the video is sideways.  I don't have the software to flip it. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hard Knox

The rig we drove to Knoxville.  Impossible to reverse!  We know because we tried.
 I’ve got time.  That’s all I have these days.  That and loads of stress about money and a fruitless job search.  Sure I have been climbing a ton, but behind the fun are serious worries about the future.

On the first morning in Knoxville, we were locked out of our new apartment.  So we made breakfast on some abandoned furniture right in front of our place. What will the neighbors think!?
I knew moving wouldn’t be easy, and job searching was hard, but I was utterly unprepared for how lonely, scary and depressing change can be. 

Maybe it was because I had it so good in Boulder.  I had hundreds of friends that felt like family, a well paying, flexible job with a very cool boss, and lived in a town that had absolutely everything I wanted.

This is how the job search feels.
Fast forward to living in Knoxville, where I routinely stay at home all day, can count the number of people I know on two hands, and am slowly watching my bank account dwindle away.  Since we don’t have a good climbing gym and I am not commuting to work on a bike anymore, my newest job is making sure my jeans fit.

The most disheartening thing is failing to find work day after day.  Science jobs are few and far between in Knoxville.  I have tried thinking about this situation as a chance to reinvent myself professionally, but the right opportunity has eluded me so far. 

It's true, life moves a little slower in the South.  Except on the highway where everyone goes 20MPH over the speed limit!
On a positive note, the climbing down here is amazing and varied.  All the areas we have visited are sandstone and located on the Cumberland Plateau, but the diversity of textures, styles, holds, colors and angles is truly unbelievable.  

Rock Mushroom.
Josh on Shattered Minds V9 at the Minefield near the Obed.  Quality!
The Obed is the closest area, being exactly an hour away.  We sampled the area in September while it was still 90F and humid when we first arrived in Knoxville.  Doing 5.12 in crazy humidity is a proud achievement.  Everything feels 300% harder, and you lower off the warm-ups absolutely dripping with sweat.  It’s a bit frustrating, but taking a dip in the river at the end of the day makes it worth the struggle.  Although the roofy climbing is good, the Obed is not my favorite area.  Despite my unpopular opinion, it’s a bit too simplistic to keep my attention. 

This is what climbing in TN in September looks like.  Covered in sweat!
When the temps dropped, we went to the Red almost every weekend until mid November.  Then the weather got cold and climbing felt like a struggle, but we still had a good time.  This is where we first experienced the “coke bottle effect” which is an unfortunate phenomenon where the cold rock condensates water out of the warm, humid air- covering it with a coat of water.  Needless to say, this is still the best sport climbing I have done in the South.  We can’t wait to make the three hour drive when it warms up.

Thrasher on Charlie.  A rad 13b trad line at the Chocolate Factory.
Once it got too cold to sport climb, we transitioned to bouldering.  I started making the hour and twenty minute drive to Dayton Pocket during the week when I didn’t have anything going on.  I really enjoy 5 minute approach, the Vapor Roof and the wild feel of the boulder field near the parking lot.  It feels relatively unexplored and I have scrubbed and established a few really great lines.  The rock is a bit smoother than LRC and features lots of skin-friendly angular holds.

Leah on Torpedo V7 at Dayton Pocket.

Eventually, Leah and I made the two hour drive to Little Rock City AKA Stonefort.  This famous bouldering area hosts fine grained boulders with small, sharp edges that bite back.  Most of the problems tend to be just under or over vertical with all the cool features you expect from Southern bouldering like cool slopers, real topouts, water grooves, etc.  I really like this spot, but feel a bit stressed dropping $5 every time I visit.

We also made the two and a half hour drive to Rocktown for a weekend but got rained out after one day.  The rock seems pretty similar to Stonefort, but it’s steeper, and way more slopey.  In general, the grades also seem WAY stiffer.  I can usually make quick work of V6, but I struggled mightily on a few.  The Vagina also rejected my advances.  Typical.

Last weekend, we drove two hours to do some sport climbing near Chattanooga at Castle Rock.  This South-facing area is a really nice local crag that features slabby to gently overhanging routes with smooth, blocky features, and technical movement on edges and slopers.  I can’t wait to get back here and try some of the harder routes that tackle steep roofs on eldoesque rock.

Predator 12c at Castle Rock, TN.  Perfection!

That’s all the areas we have visited so far.  This is just the tip of the climbing iceburg, and I have a feeling there are three secret crags for every documented crag.   

I miss my friends in Boulder.  I miss having a training facility like Movement.  I miss the West.  I miss having an income.  However, I am with the one I love and life is pretty good.  Now, if I can just find a job… 

Why are we parked like this?  Well, every pump had a huge truck parked next to it and nobody was moving.  So we improvised.  The owners were all busy talking about hunting inside.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stuck at the Fins

Since we almost moved to Idaho, we thought it would be cool to visit the Fins,and see what might have been.

Rumors of rough roads and needing 4 wheel drive made me nervous about taking my tiny Honda to this area but I forced all this to the back of my mind as we turn off the interstate and started up a dirt road. 

Leah on the phone with AAA.
At first, everything was fine.  No huge rocks, giant potholes, or ridiculous obstacles.  In fact, the road stayed very reasonable, it just got progressively steeper until my car didn't have the power to keep going.  So, instead of backing up for two miles, I decided to reverse into a small pullout and turn around.    

Poor Barry :(
This was a fatal mistake!  Shifting into first, I tried to pull forward and instead of moving, the front tires dug into the loose grave.  My heart sunk.  We were stuck.  With no good options, I thought that pulling onto the bank behind us might give us some gravity to work with.  Unfortunately, this caused Barry(my car) to go up on two wheels.  Checkmate, we were officially stuck.

Barry getting some help.
 Luckily, Leah had cell service and was able to call AAA.  We quickly learned that they only cover tows if you are on a "paved and maintained road" and they estimated the tow would cost a minimum of $250.  So we ordered a tow, and waited. 

Two hours later, the tow truck finally arrive.  He decided to tow Barry downhill, over a small bank.  This plan required some digging so the undercarriage wouldn't get damaged by large rocks and debris.  So after Leah and I helped him move dirt and rocks for a half hour, he finally pulled my car free.  

A few minutes later, he gave me a bill for $490!  I was completely shocked.  What happened to $250?  So I haggled with him until he dropped the total to $407.  It was the most painful check I have ever written.

Luckily, Barry was fine.  As we drove away, we joked that if we knew it was going to cost $400, we would have pulled out our folding chairs, poured some wine, and sat in the shade watching him do all the work.  Although I hope there is no next time, that is exactly what I will do.

So, we never made it to the Fin and the superstitious part of me can't help but feel like it's a sign that our destinies were never bound for Idaho.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

First Stop- Lander, Wyoming

The day after returning from Maine, I continued moving our stuff into my garage.  Every trip lowered my stress level and brought Leah and I closer to being able to start our month long climbing trip.

The loose plan was to head up to Lander, then go to Yellowstone for a few days, drive down to the Fins, and then check out Logan.  At the end of August, Leah would fly out of Salt Lake to Knoxville to attend a manditory orientation for school.  I would hang out for five days, and then Leah would fly back to Salt Lake and we would drive home together.

So with the car packed with climbing gear, clothes, food, and camping gear we shot up to Wyoming for the first leg of our trip.  Our friend Jill offered to let us stay at her house, which seemed like a gentle way to acclimatize to living out of a tiny Honda Civic.  When we arrived, we learned that Jill's house was under construction(about 90% finished).  Luckily, her friends offered to let us crash at their cozy, western style condo.

 A few days into our stay at the condo, the owners arrived, and we set up camp in Jill's enclosed patio.  We literally slept in a tent on the patio, and woke up to workers arriving at 8am.  Since her place was still under construction, we cooked outside too.  It felt a little awkward to lay in the tent, cook breakfast and sip coffee while people were working but it was super fun to hangout with Jill.

Camping in Jill's patio.
Although Lander is at 8000 feet, temperatures still hit the 90's.  This is a problem since the majority of Lander's rock faces South.  We solved this problem by climbing at North facing areas like North Country, The Remuda, and The Erratic.

The Belly Ache.  10 scoops of ice cream, 10 toppings, whipped cream and cherry on every scoop.  Never seen anything like this before.
If you complete the challenge, you get a t-shirt, and your picture on the wall.  One guy ate the whole thing in 14 minutes!

I have climbed at Wild Iris a few times and am always surprised by the tweaky and savage style.  Fortunately, I had been training mono and two-finger pocket strength for a month so my tendons were up to the task.  However, a few days of trying 5.13 left my fingers traumatized, and by the end of the week my fingers felt like they were going to explode.

As usual, Leah wanted to see some wildlife- preferably a bear or mountain lion.  Unfortunately, we didn't see either of those, but we did have a rare Maggie sighting!  We love this dog, and threaten to steal her every time we visit Lander.

Irresistibly cute.
I also visited a 7000 acre family owned ranch with some interesting stuff on their property and met their pet sheep named Elkie.

Elkie eating dog food.
Bottle feeding Elkie.

Of course we got off the beaten path.  One day after climbing, Jill took us to Atlantic City for a quick beer.  This little coal mining town is about 5 miles down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.  They claim a population of "about 57".  However, they have a quirky bar with some friendly folks and lots of interesting stuff inside the bar.

With wrecked tendons and sore skin we rolled out of Lander towards Yellowstone National Park.  It was time to let our fingers heal and be tourists. 

Me taming a huge Jackalope.

Leah breaking in another Jackalope.

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