Ice Climbing from Coast to Coast

Photo by John Quillen

I’m only fifteen feet off the ground and this third screw isn’t wanting to sink.  The ice is hard but thin, unlike the bullet tough walls from the week before in Ouray, Colorado. I’ve traded the austerity of the San Juans for the beautiful Blue Ridge of North Carolina. Around the corner are Cold Mountain and Shining Rock. Looking Glass flanks my shoulder in the distance. A small group has gathered on this open stretch of the Parkway to witness a Southern anomaly.  

My picks pound the wall as I begin to doubt the wisdom of this lead. Just because it resembles conditions in Colorado doesn’t mean she will climb that way. My nervous belayer—his second time ever witnessing a frozen ascent—assumes the “experienced” ice guy knows what he is doing. It is about that time my last ice screw blows out from its precarious placement. I’m now swinging like a barn door from a single pick and two crampons. It’s just too thin to hold proper lead gear. A hasty and careful down climb is now in order. I’m reminded of the adage, “There’s old climbers and bold climbers, but no old bold climbers.”

Safely back on the ground, two groups of prospective alpinists make the prudent decision to crawl through rhododendron and establish top-rope anchors. We were right on their heels. This is the first time I have ever swung an axe or kicked 12 point crampons anywhere on the east coast. This section of wall at 4,000 feet elevation now had three ropes dangling from hidden heath holes. We spent the remainder of the morning and afternoon swapping routes and topping out on 25 feet climbs.

Flying home the week before, my thoughts were solely on how to get back to the ice somewhere. Never did I imagine that opportunity would arise within my home hills.  My friends, Micah, Katherine and Charlie reveled in this rare alpine opportunity just two hours from Knoxville. As the sun set in the Pisgah National Forest we loaded up gear, sore bodies and big smiles as we dropped back into Canton, satisfied and appreciative. “Never sell the Appalachians short,” I mused.

Directions: Take Canton exit from I-40. Follow signs to Blue Ridge Parkway. Climbing is one eighth of a mile left from where 276 intersects the Parkway.

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