The Back-Story on the Renaming of Free Man in Paris
by John C. Crotts & Dan Perry
The naming of routes has always been an art in its ability to communicate and inform. Learning of the renaming of Free Man in Paris to Dead Man in Pisgah a few years back not only gave us a chuckle, but brought back a flood of memories of that fateful day back in the fall of 1977 when Lee Carter, Dan Perry and I attempted a repeat ascent.
Though we had all started climbing together in 1974, we were still within our first 1,000 hours of climbing and by 1977 were hard at pushing our then limits in our EBs and homemade swami belts (no leg loops) stitched by Boone Shoe Shop. As with most climbers of the day, we modeled our style on Warren (‘Batso’) Harding making our rockcraft a bit harder than it needed to be with limited intake of food and water combined with copious amounts of coffee and herb. Always keen to take a shot on Bobby Rotert routes, we focused our eyes on Free Man in Paris after a few days of trying unsuccessfully to free the first pitch of Unfinished Concerto. The map and route description of the route in Buddy Price’s guide was vague but intriguing (FMP “ isa real classic of the Carolinas ”).
As we recall, we scrambled across a lateral flake avoiding the steep first pitch. Dan took the lead of the second short pitch that was fun and uneventful. The second pitch was mine (John’s) starting off with an upwardly sloping ledge to the left. Some 10 to 15 feet out I was able to place a 2.5 SMC wire cam that appeared reasonably solid. From there I began vacillating on the next moves up, not liking the steep featureless headwall above me. Looking back today at Buddy’s map, I likely was off route needing to head father out to the left to another belay. Wimping out and returning to the belay, Lee took over the lead. Soon after committing to the headwall, communicating became progressively more limited. Nearing the end of our 165 foot rope, Dan and I started adjusting our rope ends to give Lee all the extra rope he was signaling for. Then came the fateful slip and the rapid fall of the lead rope.
Lee had taken a screamer of 300+ feet, where my first and only piece of protection was his last, on a swami belt. The sight of him swinging out in space some 20 feet from the ground with a loud gasp for air sent shivers that is vivid with us today. I immediately took the second rope to rappel down to him. By the time I reached him, he had miraculously untied and dropped to the ground and was walking out down the trail towards the car knowing he was in trouble. Gingerly helping him down the trail for the next couple of hours, the three of us made it to the car, where Lee demanded a toke on the pipe to relieve the pain (not at all what the doctor would have ordered). An hour later, we had him at the Emergency Room at Brevard Hospital where they began treating him for a collapsed lung, and a few broken ribs.
Still in a state of surreal shock, Dan and I returned to the south face to retrieve our gear. Leaving at dusk, a deer darted in front of my VW that we hit and seriously injured. The only humane thing we could do was to put it out of its misery, which was a poignant end of the day. Later Dan shared this saga with Bobby whose main comment was why we attempted that route.
Interesting in writing this account, Mountain Projects does not include the route in its list of Looking Glass climbs which is fitting giving the problem with route finding up the third pitch and the lack of pro.
Dead Man in Pisgah is appropriately named (particularly our direct route). Lee, wherever you are buddy, you are the man! Lee kept that SMC cam on his rack the next 40 years of his many first ascents. The harness and cam now reside in the Carolina Climbers Museum at Black Dome.