Stone Mountain Recollections

by Diff Ritchie

When we first started going up to Stone Mountain from the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area– it was very quiet up there and the only folks you would see were local families having picnics. We would camp at the base in what is now the park. There was an old petrol station not far from the rock – wood with the wood cover over the old pumps and inside there was one pool table and they sold beer and the odd food item. Not much. After climbing we would go there and it would be full of the local guys of all ages. Keep in mind we all had pretty long hair and outside of the odd climber, everyone else had fairly short hair even if they had the mountain guy type beards. That said they were always welcoming and really friendly.

The first time I went up we climbed the main route in the day – the dihedrial – and some families saw us and the word got out some climbers were around – something not common in those days. That night we hit the petrol station and it was a full house. The seats were stacked boxes of motor oil and the odd clapped out chair. We were drinking beer and playing the odd game of pool and two guys came up to us and asked if we were going to climb tomorrow and we said sure and they asked if we were going up the same way or another. We said we were going up the middle – via the “oasis” where the tree was and to the top = and asked why? They said their friend (who was in the bar drinking beer) had told them he climbed up there one night and drank a bottle of whiskey and left it up there as proof – they were welcome to climb up themselves if they didn’t believe it and would we bring that bottle back. You have never seen a sicker looking guy than the one that had told everyone that story for quite a while. We said sure and he looked sicker.

The next day we climbed the route and that evening returned to the bar. When we walked in the same crowd, and perhaps a few extra were waiting for the answer. They were surprised (not more than the teller of the story) when we told them that he was not strictly telling the truth but then pulled out a weathered bottle of bourbon and said he didn’t drink it all – there was a couple of shots left in the bottom. The friends jaws dropped to the floor and their friend took the bottle, drained it and immediately bought us a round of beers.

The truth of the story is that there was no bottle on the ledge rather we found an old bottle and washed it out and replaced it with a little in the bottom and took it up with us. We saw those same guys and others over the next few years and never let on the truth.

The other amazing thing about that crowd – when we were first going up there was one older man who smoked a cigar in a corn cob pipe upside down. We thought it was odd but it was only years later that I discovered that it was common in Civil War camps for the soldiers to smoke corn cob pipes upside down to keep the rain from putting out their smoke.

In the early days, Stone Mountain retained very much of the very old fashion North Carolina mountain ways – not so jaded by so many modern influences. Despite our long hair, college student background, they were never anything but welcoming and we shared more than one family picnic at the base after our climbs and bought (and were bought) more than one round of beers. It was a super special place for us back then.

The other really funny story was we were up climbing and after a hot day on the rock hiked down to the end to take a bath in Beauty Falls – there was that pool just about 10 feet off the bottom pool on the wall. Rather than get our clothes wet we hung our climbing equipment and ropes on a tree at the base, stripped off and climbed up to the pool = there were three of us. To our embarrassment while we were up there an entire fraternity and their dates from Wake Forest shows up at the bottom of the falls, coolers and all. After starting to shiver and it became clear they were settled in for the afternoon, we were finally forced to climb back down the small incline (not attractive from the bottom I am sure) completely naked and dress in the middle of everyone to serious laughter and cheers. At least once we got dressed they offered us a cold beer. It was the first time we had ever seen anyone at the falls if you can believe that.

Heather Phillips