Recollections of Carolina Climbing

by Rich Gottlieb

I first considered climbing when returning to Atlanta from a fiddler’s convention in Virginia. I was on the Blue Ridge Parkway and spied a massive, intriguing, dome of rock in the distance and ended up getting off and driving under its precipitous looming north face. Looking Glass caught me eyeing it and it stared back unflinchingly and with an authority that beckoned, or rather commanded me, to kneel before it. I have been groveling ever since.

The Southeast was incredibly kind to me and those I shared the rope with. From the sandstone crags in Bama to the massive granite in the Cashiers Valley. From the beautiful wilderness of Shortoff to the pastoral setting of Stone Mountain. From an unclimbed corner at Sauratown to the crystalline ice flows and pillars that played hide and seek with our eager imaginations.

Like the first ascensionists of the Nose at the Glass our early forays onto ice involved using gear that would today be considered primitive and not the least bit confidence inspiring. We didn’t know any better as these were the tools we had. My own confidence and courage were, in reality, a total fear of failure. It was an attitude that could get me in trouble if I didn’t gauge my ability versus my desire properly. Standing at the base I would tell myself to do it or else. Once seen a smooth sensuous or terrifying hanging column of ice cannot be unseen. Is it in, or more to the point are you all in? You can’t stop those night sweats until you’ve put that screaming baby to bed.

Tom McMillan and I did two ice routes on the north face of Stone Mountain way back when.

Southern climbing was in its infancy, the number of climbers was tiny, and we were all characters out of a ridiculously funny book. I doubt that having a place in climbing history was anyone’s goal but we were having the time of our lives and our lives were jumping from climb to climb, adventure to adventure. I don’t miss climbing because I still climb frequently though the adventures aren’t anywhere as adventurous as they used to be. But how can I let go of something that held me so tightly for so many years? I still regard rock and ice with awe and continue, with ever increasing gratitude, to acknowledge the debt I owe to the places and people of climbing.

Heather Phillips