If you’ve read some of my previous blogs then you know I’m really into alpine climbing and mountaineering in general. Since I’ve gained some experience over the last six years, I decided to up the ante, so to speak, and venture into the realm of more difficult routes. One of my goals for this year is to climb one of the following routes, all of which are in Washington state: Mount Baker North Ridge; Mount Rainier Kautz Glacier or Forbidden Peak West Ridge. All involve some degree of vertical or near vertical ice climbing. Sometimes retreat on mountains is not an option, thus you must fail upwards and achieve the summit. I did not want to find myself stymied on a hard route staring at a vertical pitch asking myself, “so now what do I do?”
I recently bought a matched pair of Black Diamond Venom ice axes from REI Atlanta Georgia. Chomping at the bits and following the rainy and extra cold winter here in the Southeast, I knew the ice in North Carolina would be fat. All I needed to do next was find a good ice climbing instructor near Brevard and the Pisgah National Forest which was my climbing destination. Well, I really lucked out and found Applachian Mountain Institute located in the Pisgah National Forest. After talking several times with the owner, Patrick Weaver, I decided to sign up for a full day of private climbing instruction. We drove deep into the Pisgah Forest to a highway cut on Hwy. 215. What an exciting day…so much to learn. Well, Patrick is a stellar climbing instructor, so much so that several weeks later I decided to treat my best friend, Stefan, for his birthday, to a climb of Sam’s Knob, a long ice gully route, also located in the Pisgah Forest. This climb was very enjoyable, rated WI3 and had a definite alpine feel to it. Multi-pitched, snow and ice intermixed with ice bulges and near vertical short pitches. We had a blast! As we topped out on the route, Patrick pointed out that we could see the appalachian mountain Blue Ridge Parkway nearby as well as Tennessee and Georgia farther out. As he said that, a falcon flew closely overhead with its’ characteristic schrill screech.
My birthday is in March, so Stefan decided to return the favor and so he contacted Applachian Mountain Institute to arrange a more challenging ice climb in NC. He and Patrick selected “Starshine” a/k/a “Sympathy for the Devil” located on Whiteside Mountain near Cashiers (Bottom photo,wider ice to right). Easily viewable from Hwy. 64, Starshine is a NC favorite WI4 ice climb. Believe me it did not disappoint! At over 200′ height, the lower half is moderate angle while the upper half is near vertical to vertical. We were graced with a cool morning, warm afternoon and bluebird skies. We will return to NC many times next winter to sharpen our skills. Now, I’m not so worried the next time I’m on a big mountain climbing route and encounter vertical ice. Now I say, “GO for it!”
The video below is highly descriptive of the Starshine Route and the climbing philosophy is one with which I agree. Enjoy!