Second Coming: An Example of How to Manage Risk when Climbing

A few weeks ago, another guide and I were climbing with guests and witnessed an experienced climber fall and break his ankle at the crux section of Second Coming. This is a popular 5.7 multi-pitch climb at Looking Glass Rock in North Carolina. We managed to get the climber to the ground, splint the ankle, and help him walk down the trail to meet with the local rescue squad. While the injury was not life threatening, it resulted in surgery and an estimated six months of recovery for the climber involved. While climbing is an inherently risky activity, this particular accident could have been prevented. Read on to find out how.

The Route

Second Coming follows a beautiful crack system for roughly 300 feet up the south side of Looking Glass. The first pitch starts off easy as 4th class terrain, but around halfway up it begins to steepen gradually. The top of the first pitch is guarded by the technical crux of the route which has some polished foot and hand holds and is steeper than the terrain below. Depending on conditions and overall comfort level, this is where you’re most likely to fall. This spot is roughly 80 feet off of the ground. In the case of the climber whose fall we witnessed, the rock was damp that morning from a storm that had passed through earlier, making those polished holds extra slippery. After pulling the crux bulge you end up on a decent-sized ledge for a belay. The remainder of the route is much easier and straight forward and is typically done in one long pitch. 

The Problem

Because of its moderate grade, Second Coming is particularly attractive to newer trad multi-pitch leaders. When preparing to climb the route, they are confronted with warnings from multiple sources. The first comment on Mountain Project states, “Second Coming has scored numerous injuries from people blowing it at the crux and tumbling down the slab. Make sure your gear is solid before you commit.” A popular local guidebook has a similar statement about Second Coming claiming the most broken ankles at Looking Glass and advising climbers not to be complacent with their protection.

While the recommendation about having solid gear is a good one, that is good advice for any climb you choose to do and doesn’t address the real problem with blowing the Second Coming crux: rope stretch. The climber who sustained the broken ankle a few weeks ago had placed solid gear, and the piece that held the fall was a cam placed just under the crux sequence. The issue wasn’t that he placed bad gear, but rather where his belayer was positioned and how much rope was in the system. 

The Solution

We use dynamic ropes for climbing because we want a nice, soft catch in the event of a leader fall. While this works well in steep terrain, it can be a problem when the terrain is lower angle or ledgy. The stretch of the rope during a lead fall is referred to as dynamic elongation and is measured as a percentage. Without getting lost in the weeds, just know that dynamic ropes are designed to stretch (hence the name dynamic) and that the stretch is a percentage of the amount of rope in the system. For example, if a rope has 25% dynamic elongation it will stretch an extra 25 feet per 100 feet of rope during a lead fall. This number is based off an 80 kg weight so it will depend on the situation and how much the leader weighs. The big take away is that the more rope out in the system the more it will stretch in a fall. So, how do we solve this problem?

Well, in the case of Second Coming, there is a safer option instead of leading all the way up onto the ledge above the crux. Splitting the first pitch into two smaller pitches reduces the amount of rope in the system thus reducing the length of fall and in turn keeping the leader from hitting the slab below if they blow the crux. The way myself and other guides manage Second Coming specifically is to lead up the 4th class terrain, stopping on a ledge just before the climbing starts to get steeper. We build an anchor here, bring up our guests, and then lead through the crux to the standard belay ledge (see topo below). We then may choose to split the last pitch into two pitches as well just to maintain a closer distance to our guests and to minimize static elongation in our rope. This protects our client from hitting a ledge below if they slip while following the pitch. Static elongation for single ropes is usually around 10%, so much less than dynamic elongation, but still something to consider. 

second coming topo

Final Word

As guides our job is twofold: we must provide a quality experience for our guests while also managing risk for ourselves and clients. Usually, the quality experience piece is straight forward – we take you climbing, and you have fun (of course there’s more to it than that, but you get the point). The risk management piece can be a bit more nuanced, requiring a comprehensive understanding of the equipment, terrain, conditions etc… So, next time you’re out climbing, think about how you’re managing risk for yourself and your partners.

I’m not saying that you need to be like a guide, but I am advocating for gathering as much information as possible and in turn applying that information to make good decisions while out climbing. Guidebooks and Mountain Project are great resources, but that is all they are. You must be able to use that information to make your own decisions in the field. Just because the guidebook tells you where each pitch ends doesn’t mean that is the only place to build your belay station, or necessarily the best. Try to avoid sticking with absolutes and think about the big picture. If you’ve heard that a specific route has been the location of many accidents, find out why, and then determine the best way to manage for that situation.  If you need advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our guides; we’re happy to share our beta and help you have a great day in the mountains!

Forrest Stavish
AMGA Assistant Rock Guide, Ice Instructor, WEMT-B

The Pre-rigged Rappel: What is it and Why Should You Use it?

Most people know what rappelling is, but are you familiar with the pre-rigged rappel, what it is, and why you should use it? Essentially “pre-rigged rappel” means that everyone who will be rappelling from the top of a climb sets up their rappel device before anyone leaves the rappel station. For example, if you are in a party of three at the top of multi-pitch climb, all three of you would set up your rappel devices on the rope before the first person rappels. Why would you want to do this? We’ll explore that below and also discuss how to set it up.

Rappelling Fundamentals

When I’m teaching newer climbers, one of the first questions I ask is, “what is our primary level of security when climbing a route?” Most times, people will answer “the rope.” Though the rope is certainly an integral part of climbing, it is only a backup to our movement. Our ability to climb is our first level of security, and then the fall protection system (rope, bolts, gear, belay, etc…) is in place to arrest a fall. While climbing up, the rope is just a component of the backup system we have in place. This totally changes however when it is time to descend: when we rappel, we are now fully trusting the rope as our primary security, along with some form of anchor.

For most climbers rappelling is a fundamental skill, and there are several ways we can go about it. When I first started climbing, I rappelled with a tube style device like the ATC clipped directly to my belay loop. I didn’t have any back-ups in place or knots in the ends of my rope. As I gained more experience and starting going through AMGA programs, I learned that backing up the rappel was critical. Remember, the rope is just our backup on the way up, but on the way down it is our primary, so it needs to be backed up. I also learned that keeping the system “closed” by tying stopper knots in the ends of the rope was essential to prevent you from rappelling off the end of your rope, which could happen if the rope ends weren’t even or you rappelled to the ends without paying attention.

Backing up Your Rappel

Before we go into the pre-rigged rappel setup, let’s first talk about how to back up our rappel as well as how and why we should extend our rappel. There are a couple ways to back up the rappel. The primary method is to attach a friction hitch to the rope strands below the rappel device. This back-up is also called a “third hand.”

The auto-block is probably the most commonly used hitch for a rappel backup. While its one of the weaker friction hitches, it’s certainly sufficient for a rappel backup and has the advantage of being very easy to tie. When positioned below the device, its primary function is to keep the rope strands down in the brake position, so it doesn’t need the holding power of a stronger hitch such as the prusik. Because it will serve as our back-up, it should be attached to a strength-rated loop, i.e. the belay loop, rather than to a leg loop.

Extending Your Rappel

Since the third hand is connected to our belay loop, we need to extend our rappel device, essentially creating another belay loop further away from our harness so that the the third hand backup doesn’t interfere with the rappel device. There are several effective ways to extend a rappel. Here is link to various options. This extension can also conveniently serve as a tether when making multiple rappels. (see my blog post on tethering for more information on this topic). 

Setting up the Pre-rigged Rappel

Now that we have discussed the importance of backing up our rappel, closing the system, and extending the rappel device, let’s dive into the pre-rigged rappel. Once we have arrived at the top of the climb it is time to transition from climbing to descending. There are several ways to go about this transition, and the simplest will be safer and more efficient. Since we’re tied into the rope ends, we need to be able to free up these ends in order to feed them through the rappel rings.

I start by rigging my rappel extension/tether while my partner does the same. Then I clip the tether to the masterpoint of my anchor and untie the rope from my harness. Now I can feed the rope into the rappel rings, either tying it to another rope or feed it to the center mark. (I prefer bi-pattern ropes because the center mark is easily identifiable.) I make sure to tie a stopper knot in the ends of the rope before tossing the them down the cliff.

After the rope is in the rappel rings and ready to go, I attach my third hand backup, load my rappel device, and then my partner’s device onto the ropes above me. Now we are pre-rigged, and we can check each other’s devices to make sure they’re loaded properly before committing to the rappel.

When I first started multi-pitch climbing, I rigged my rappel, rappelled to the ground or the next rappel station and then yelled “off rappel.” Afterwards, I waited for my partner to rig their rappel device hoping that they rigged everything correctly. Climbing is already a risky endeavor so why go with this “faith-based” approach? Instead of hoping that my partner is rigged appropriately, I would rather know beyond a reasonable doubt. 

With the pre-rigged rappel, we can increase the security of our team while also making the descent more efficient. When I rappel down and yell “off rappel,” my partner can begin rappelling while I give them a firefighter backup. I can also begin feeding the ropes for the next rappel. Again, climbing is inherently risky, so why take unnecessary risks? If I can increase the security of the team while also being more efficient, why would I do anything else? These are the questions you should be asking yourself the next time you’re out climbing. By building good habits, we can continue to do this fun sport for a long time. So, let’s make it a habit to pre-rig our rappels, back them up, and close the system.  

Forrest Stavish
AMGA Apprentice Rock Guide, Certified Ice Instructor, W-EMT

Gear Spotlight: Beal Dynaloop

It’s 2022. Climbing is more popular than ever before, and the increased number of users has ushered in a secondary revolution – innovation by equipment manufacturers has led to more specialized equipment intended to increase the margin of safety for us all. A quick Google search reveals how many new types of belay devices have been introduced in the last 5 years, from the ATC Pilot to the Revo to the Gri Gri+. All these devices are meant to add that extra layer of security so that we don’t hit the ground when we fall.  More on that in a separate post! 

I want to talk about another realm of materials innovation: soft goods.

 While ascending, we clove hitch ourselves to the anchor, reasons being:

A. We’re already attached to the rope with a figure 8 knot; 

B. We can enjoy the properties of that dynamic rope; and 

C. It’s easily adjustable to keep tension on that critical connection point.

Descent makes things tricky; we need the rope ends free to thread through rappel anchors. 

Historically, climbers have used a static tether when descending, whether it’s a designated PAS or a 120cm sling to connect themselves to the anchor/extend their rappel device.  Many of you will know the infamous DMM video that shows violent testing of slings used as a lanyard. There was a significant wow factor to it, as they were breaking 22kN slings with small falls – falls that are possible to easily replicate out on the rock.  There are some limitations, of course. We absorb force with our body, the harness, etc. That being said, taking a factor 2 fall (falling 2x the length of whatever tether we are attached with) would hurt, at best. Who can say what damage to our bodies that could have?  

 We lose those excellent dynamic and adjustable properties of the rope when we commit to static material. (Not the end of the world, and I’ve used those slings for years without incident, but I need to be thoughtful where I position myself in relation to the anchor).  

Using a Beal Dynaloop to extend a rappel device

Several brands have introduced easily adjustable dynamic tethers to the market, the most common being the Petzl Connect Adjust. It comes in several variations, and all are excellent for their intended purpose, being an easily adjustable & dynamic tether. (I have one. I use it often while rock climbing) More info on that here.   Nothing is perfect, and it has often been critiqued with being too heavy and only good for a single purpose. (It’s one of the first things I ditch when it’s time to be thoughtful about weight and bulk). 

Those are valid concerns, and for the crowd that loves to have all their gear have multiple uses, I’d like to introduce the Beal Dynaloop.  It combines the best parts of rope, slings, and tethers into one multipurpose tool. It comes in multiple lengths, but I’ve found the 120cm version to be the most useful. I use it for anchors on the way up, and I can use it for my rappel extension and tether on the way down on Looking Glass Rock, Cannon Mountain, or alpine rock in the Cascades. I’ll bring it along on a route where I’d leave my Connect Adjust at home.  It’s no more bulky than a dedicated tether system, functions as a simple and strong anchor, and has the dynamic properties that I’ve grown to prefer when connecting myself to an anchor.  I can use it anytime I’ve used a 120cm sling, plus a few spots where I don’t (slinging a rock horn, for example).

Some technical info:

Beal made this out of 8.3mm dynamic rope. The kernmantle construction keeps the load bearing portion protected from abrasion and UV degradation; which is neat(especially for higher altitude brutal sunlight). A 22kN strength rating keeps it at the industry standard and plenty strong for any part of a climbing system.  Here’s the best part: it’s less than 20 bucks! I bought mine from Black Dome Mountain Sports in Asheville, NC.  No pro deal, no discount. Straight off the shelf. Compare that to the $50 connect adjust, and it’s a no brainer.  

Nobody gets a kickback when you buy one of these, and Beal doesn’t know who I am (nor do they care, I imagine). I recommend the Beal dynamic sling for anyone who attaches themselves to an anchor – new climbers getting their first kit, the experienced multi-pitch climber who is updating their anchor rack, or the crusty trad climber who just used their last slings from the 90’s to pull their buddy’s Tacoma from a ditch (don’t use this loop for that, even though it’d probably work).

If you’ve had the opportunity to try this new tool, drop me a note and let me know your thoughts!

Dan Riethmuller, AMGA Apprentice Rock Guide and Certified Ice Instructor

Showa Gloves for Ice Climbing: Two (Blue) Thumbs Up

Shopping for climbing gear can be overwhelming, and ice climbing gloves are no exception. Most gloves designed for ice climbing are quite expensive and never seem to perform as advertised. Over the years I have gone through several pairs of gloves, and I felt like I was always searching for a pair that didn’t exist. During last year’s ice season I noticed several climbers including other guides wearing blue gloves that I found out were actually designed for fishing. At first I was suspicious, but I decided to give them a try after learning they were only $25 a pair. 

Those popular blue gloves are the Showa Temres 282. They’re a waterproof and breathable glove designed for people who work in cold and wet environments. They have a waterproof flexible outer layer with a rough grip. This works well for holding onto ice tools, minimizing the chance of dropping them. The inside of the glove has a warm, fleece-like lining that is soft and insulating. They have an ergonomic design which fits well to your hand. This is a huge benefit when clipping carabiners or tying knots . To top it off they are $25 per pair so they won’t break the bank. Instead of paying $100 for one pair of a name-brand glove, you can buy four pairs of the Showa Temres 282 without sacrificing comfort or function.

Our ice climbing guides have been putting these gloves through the paces at our annual New Hampshire ice climbing program and have given them a resounding two (blue) thumbs up! Give them a try, and drop a comment to let me know what you think!

Forrest Stavish
AMGA Assistant Rock Guide, Ice Instructor, WEMT-B

The Season Never Ends – The Secret Sauce to Winter Rock Climbing in and Around Western North Carolina

A question I am frequently asked during our busy season is, “when do you stop climbing for the winter?” Every time I am asked this question (more often than not in 85 degree heat with 100% summer humidity) I give a little chuckle because winter rock climbing in North Carolina can be the best rock climbing!

What’s going through my head is this: late fall with the onset of crisp air and no sweat, followed by blue skies and warm rock heated by the winter sun. I know this must sound a little odd for the folks who live up north, but down here in Western North Carolina, we really do have it good all year round. Winter is actually one of the best seasons for climbing rock! I’d venture to say our busy season (summer) is just that for a couple of simple reasons: 1. It’s when most folks take vacation and 2. It’s when most folks figure the climbing weather is best. The latter, in my opinion, is far from the truth. In the sweltering and sweaty heat of the summer, I spend a lot of time pining after fall and winter climbing conditions (just ask my wife!)

The secret sauce:

At the time of this writing, it’s February 1st, and I’ve just had a series of great rock climbing days, even when my fellow guides are out ice climbing just a few miles away! I’m a little stoked at the moment and feel genuinely authentic in sharing my winter climbing joys. The secret sauce that makes winter climbing in our area so good? South-facing rock. Most of our rock is south (or generally south) facing. This means lots O’SUN! Toasty rock only gets toastier when the leaves have fallen and the sun is shining. This creates a kind of micro-oven effect that can be the difference between wearing two puffy coats in the parking lot and climbing in a t-shirt at the cliff. Also, we have a variety of crags at different elevations (specifically low elevation) around Western NC and Upstate SC. This allows us to climb comfortably year round, no matter the season.

Now that you understand why I’m not full bologne, let’s get into the real reason you’ve read this far: the beta.

Rumbling Bald:

What I consider to be my home crag and favorite winter climbing location is Rumbling Bald in Chimney Rock, NC! The Bald has to be one of the best winter climbing destinations in the region. Not only does it offer an incredible south-facing cliffline with routes ranging from moderate trad single & multi-pitch to heady hard-man test pieces, but it’s also home to some of the best bouldering in the region. Boulder problems range from V-fun to double digit V-grades making it accessible for anyone willing to haul a pad and shoes on the 10 minute walk from the parking lot. RB’s cliffline creates little ovens blocking wind and cooking the rock that is unbeatable in January and February, leaving me often climbing in a tank top during the coldest months of the year.

Big Rock:

Although technically not in WNC, Upstate South Carolina hosts some fantastic winter granite climbing. Big Rock, near Pickens SC and around 45 minutes from Brevard, NC, is an absolute gem in my mind. My bias: I am in love with Joshua Tree, CA. Anyone who has climbed with me has likely heard me talk about this love. Big Rock is a winner in my book because it reminds me of climbing in JTree with one major difference, (besides being in SC not the Mojave Desert) it’s very safe and not sandbagged! Big Rock is definitely a modern mixed crag. It has routes ranging from 5.4 sport – 5.12 trad, and mixed climbs with friendly bolt spacing for the aspiring leader at the grade. Featuring similar micro ovens to Rumbling Bald and low elevation makes Big Rock another excellent choice in the cold months.

Three other secondary winter options (with their caveats):

The Southside of Looking Glass offers great winter sun, however, the gate to 475b is closed for winter conditions. This adds about a mile (15-20 min) to the approach. Also, keep in mind that if there has been a big freeze which is thawing, there may be some ice fall and seepage.

Fate Osteen stays warm in the winter, but offers fewer route options than Rumbling Bald and Big Rock.

The east face of Table Rock also gets good sun throughout the winter, but the forest road to the main parking area is closed for the winter, adding 15-20 minutes to the approach time.

Let’s swap winter beta!

What are your favorite winter climbing areas? Pumpkintown? Table Rock, SC? Eagle Rock?… Let me know if your top picks didn’t make it on my list!

Looking for more information about these places? Feel free to contact us at Fox Mountain Guides; we’d love to show you around our favorite winter rock climbing spots! And if you love these spots as much as we do, consider supporting the Carolina Climbers Coalition. It’s their hard work that gives us access to many of these crags!

Petey Guillard, AMGA Assistant Rock Guide

Tethering on Multipitch Rock Climbs

When multipitch climbing, it is imperative that we attach ourselves to the rock with some form of tether. After I first got into multipitch climbing, many people were using daisy chains as a method of securing themselves to the mountain. Due to my lack of experience at the time, I assumed that this was a standard and safe practice. Fast forward a few years, and I learned that daisy chains are intended for aid climbing and are not designed to be used as a personal anchoring system (PAS), and in fact can be dangerous if used as such. I ditched my daisy chain and started attaching myself with a sling, or sometimes two slings. While not an unsafe practice, I learned that this system is unnecessary, inefficient, and creates clutter at the anchor. Eventually I learned the practice of anchoring myself by tying a clove hitch into the rope I’m attached to and securing the clove to a locking carabiner on the master point of the anchor. 

Clove Hitch Tether

When I first discovered using the clove hitch, I felt stupid for not learning it sooner. “How simple but utterly genius!” I thought. By attaching yourself to the anchor with the rope, you are using one of the strongest components of the system. Additionally, the rope is dynamic which helps reduce shock loading to the anchor if, for instance, you had some slack between you and the anchor and slipped. Using the rope you are already tied in to keeps clutter at the anchor minimal and makes transitions more efficient. Finally, the clove hitch is adjustable, so that you can have more freedom of movement depending on your stance. With all that said, there are situations where I may opt to use some fashion of a PAS to make a transition.

Often, when multipitch climbing your party arrives at the top of the climb and in order to get back down you must rappel. This is when I choose to use a PAS or double length sling to tether myself. I know at this point I must rappel, so I need to free up the ends of the rope. I also know that I should have some sort of third-hand backup on my rappel ropes in order to rappel safely. When using a third hand backup it is important to have your rappel device extended. This extension maintains separation between the backup and the rappel device. Without separation the third hand can easily be defeated by riding up into the device. So at this point I can “kill two birds with one stone” by creating a rappel extension that also serves as a tether. 

There are many ways to do this with different types of materials, so I won’t go into detail about how to make a rappel extension (read our blog dedicated to rappel extensions here). Whatever rappel extension you choose, make sure that it has a leg that can be clipped to an anchor without removing the ropes from the rappel device. I’ve been using a Petzl Connect Adjust recently which I find works well as a rappel extension and a tether. See the photo below for how I rig my Connect Adjust.

                Rappel Extension and Tether using the Petzl Connect Adjust

Rappel Extension and Tether using the Petzl Connect Adjust

So, let’s break it down… I’m out multipitch climbing with a partner. We arrive at the base of the route, flake out the rope(s), rack up our gear, and begin climbing. I climb the first pitch, construct the anchor, and secure myself to the masterpoint of the anchor with a clove hitch. I then belay my partner up and clove hitch them into the anchor. At this point we are both secure to the mountain and can begin preparing for the next pitch. We repeat this process to the top of the climb, but now we need to descend. There are many ways to achieve this transition. I could rig my rappel extension as soon as I arrive at the anchor, or I could belay my partner up first and then both of us could rig our extensions. The big take-away here is that I am now transitioning from ascending to descending, which means I am also transitioning from tethering myself with the rope to tethering myself with a PAS or sling. 

One way to make this transition is to clove hitch yourself to the anchor that you will be rappelling from just as you have done on the previous pitches. You then belay your partner up clove them in as well. Now you both can rig your extensions, attach the extensions to the anchor, untie from the rope, feed it through the anchor, and rig your rappel devices. Once you have rappelled to the next anchor, you simply clip into the anchor. What I like to do when I know that my rappel station consists of two bolts with rings is have a quad anchor ready to clip to the rings. From here I have a way to create redundancy by clipping myself to the masterpoint of the quad rather than a single bolt. Another thing that can be helpful is to pre-rig every one’s rappel device. Pre-rigging is widely used among guides but rarely applied in recreational climbing. There are a couple of benefits to pre-rigging a rappel. First, the pre-rig allows everyone to check each other’s system which provides an extra margin of safety. Second, it can speed up the process of descending, especially if you’re bailing due to an incoming thunderstorm. Stay tuned for the next blog which will discuss the pre-rig rappel in depth.           

Forrest Stavish
AMGA Assistant Rock Guide, Ice Instructor, WEMT-B

The Misty Mountain Cadillac Harness

Most climbing guides have at least one piece of gear that they cannot live without. For FMG’s Petey Guillard, it’s hands down his Misty Mountain Cadillac Harness. As part of our “Things We Love Thursday” series, he tells you why he loves it, and why he thinks you will too.

Misty mountain cadillac harness

Misty Mountain Threadworks: it’s a local North Carolina climbing brand that needs no introduction. If you have been in the southern climbing scene for any length of time, you’ve heard of Misty Mountain Threadworks; they are known for their overbuilt, burly, and hand crafted harnesses that are made right here in NC’s high country. The Cadillac is the stuff of legend. For trad and multi-pitch climbing you just can’t beat this rig. Alright, lets get to it… 

My favorite piece of Misty gear is hands down the Cadillac. This beefy, cushy, masterpiece of a harness lives up to its name. With six gear loops, and a wide padded waste belt, one can comfortably rack a double set of cams, nuts, and draws with little feeling of being weighed down or harness sag. If you’ve ever tried racking a full kit on something like the Petzl Hirundos you know what I’m taking about (no offense to Petzl; they make great harnesses, but let’s be real here).

Gotta love all those gear loops!

Let’s talk durability. My second harness ever was a Cadillac. It’s been in my possession for about ten years. With some slight signs of wear and tear (mostly fuzz in the places you’d expect, belay loop/leg loops), this puppy still inspires confidence. (If it weren’t so old I’d probably still use it). Realize too, I’m no weekend warrior when it comes to putting my gear through the wringer. As a full time guide for seven years and some change, I put my gear through its paces. This harness is no exception! 

Now the true sell for me is racking space. I’m no large stature mountain guide with big burly hips. I’m just a mere mortal, smaller than average climbing guide, weighing in at about 5’4 inches and 125 pounds. I bring this up because in my guiding career, I’ve always had a difficult time cramming my guiding kit around my waist when not using a harness such as the Cadillac. I’ve used harnesses of varying styles from all sorts of brands like, Black Diamond, Arc’teryx, and Petzl but like coming home to a clean house after a long stint on the road, I prefer my Misty Mountain Cadillac. 

To further my point about how much I enjoy climbing in this harness, I currently own two styles of Cadillac the classic quick adjust and the F series. I use the quick adjust primarily for work when I may want to adjust the leg loops from time to time and the F for recreational use where I just want quick on and off. Honestly, my preference is the fixed legs of the F model. I hate having extra buckles and dangly straps, but I wanted to try the newest release of the Cadillac, and it wasn’t offered in the F at that time. 

Part of my quiver!

Alright, let’s talk about some cons of this pig. Well, actually it’s just that. This harness is not streamlined, light weight sport harness. Its a pretty bulky piece of kit. When it comes down to clipping bolts I prefer the Cadillac’s little little brother, the Bolt. If weight and bulk are an issue for you (if you’re on-sight trad climbing you’re going to be heavy anyway, its probably not the weight of your harness that’s keeping you from sending) then you might not enjoy this harness as I do. But.. I will say that this weight and bulk is what makes this harness a tank, and I love that for guiding and trad climbing!

Last but not least, SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESS! How cool is it that we have great climbing gear made right here at home in NC! Hand sewn North Carolina Craftsmanship. Thanks for reading!

Pete Guillard 
Assistant Rock Guide & SPI

The Grove Park Inn

When our guests book rock climbing trips, they often ask us for recommendations for other things to do in the area. Climbing may be their main objective, but they also want to know what other “must do” activities we suggest. We recently had someone who will be staying in Asheville over the Christmas holiday book a day of climbing, and he asked what else he could do with the rest of his family while he’s in town. We hands down recommend a trip to the Grove Park Inn, which is ALWAYS spectacular, but is particularly wonderful at Christmastime.

During the holidays, the Grove Park transforms into a winter wonderland. In addition to festive decorations, they host the annual National Gingerbread House Competition and even had a life-size gingerbread house last year, filling the entire lobby with the wonderful smells of the holidays. Between that, and offering some of the best views in the area from its Sunset Terrace, the Grove Park Inn is something everyone should experience.

Grove Park Inn at night.
Grove Park Inn Sunset Terrace
Whether day or night, the Sunset Terrace at the Grove Park Inn provides some of the best views in Asheville.

While it can be pretty pricey to stay there (especially during the holidays), you can still enjoy the best of Grove Park by just having lunch or dinner at one of their great restaurants. People with dining reservations can tour the hotel just like registered guests. You can grab a cocktail at The Great Hall Bar and enjoy it on the terrace, taking in the magnificent views; you see the entries for the gingerbread house competition that are dispersed throughout the main floor of the hotel; or you can relax in a rocking chair in front of the fire in one of the two massive stone fireplaces in their lobby.

If you are visiting the Asheville area, especially during the holidays, we definitely suggest that you check out the Grove Park Inn. It’s a great addition to any other activities, rock climbing or otherwise, that you have planned for your trip!

Choosing Your First Multi-pitch Climb!

We recently posted a photo of a party doing their first multi-pitch climb with us and had several calls from people wanting to do the same. While climbing your first multi-pitch climb with a guide is a great way to get started, not everyone wants to hire a guide; they would prefer to tackle their first mp climb on their own. With that in mind, we have some suggestions for how to choose your first multi-pitch climb because finding a route that is appropriate for a climber who is just starting to break into this terrain is a bit more complicated than finding a long, easy line: the YDS grade isn’t everything!

Following are some criteria to help you have a positive experience when you leave terra firma behind:

Easy Route Finding

Getting off route exposes the entire party to greater hazard. There may not be protection, the climbing could be much more difficult than anticipated, the consequence of a fall can increase significantly, and it wastes time (there are only so many hours of sunlight in a day).  Being able to easily follow a route saves time and frees up mental bandwidth to problem solve team protection and stance organization. It’s also less stressful and generally more fun.

Good Belay Stations

When choosing a route, look at the belay stations at the top of every pitch. Are they bolted? Are they on a big ledge? Is there space for everyone in the party to move around? Aim to answer Yes to as many of these questions as possible! Being comfortable at a belay stance increases our comfort and organization and is particularly important for newer multi-pitch leaders as rope management is often the most challenging aspect of mp climbing.

Having bolted belays is ideal when you’re starting out multi-pitch climbing because you can pre-tie quads and save tons of time on route. Ring anchors (which most bolted anchors are these days) also facilitate easy retreat if weather moves in, the sun gets low in the sky, or it’s beverage o’clock.  There is no shame in bailing, and retreating is often a good option. 

Ease of Communication

The ability to communicate with your partners is a big deal. I see many parties shouting across entire crags just trying to figure out if the leader is still on belay or not after leading a pitch. It’s distracting for other parties, disconcerting for the belayer, a time waste for the leader, and potentially dangerous if there is a serious miscommunication. Choosing a route where you can see and communicate with the rest of your party increases your efficiency, safety, and level of enjoyment.

Issues with communication can be mitigated by having an alternate means of communicating like using Rocky Talkies, so if want to climb a route where it’s hard to hear your partner, definitely consider getting some! I know several of us at FMG have been happy to have them with us when we needed them most!

Route Recommendations

With all that in mind, here are some routes we recommend to people when they ask us what a great first multi-pitch lead climb would be:

Table Rock

Jim Dandy & Cave Route

Climbing Cave Route as a first multi-pitch climb

With it’s generous belay ledges and bolts, the two-pitch Cave Route makes a great first multi-pitch climb!

Rumbling Bald

Fruit Loops (consider Rocky Talkies for this one)

Climbing Fruit Loops as a first multi-pitch climb

Fruit Loops has great gear and bolted belays, but the cave at the beginning of the second pitch can make communication challenging without radios.

Stone Depot

Dave’s Delight & Ruthie’s Commitment

And the corollary to that of course is what we absolutely would NOT recommend for a first multi-pitch climb! We get SO many calls from people asking for beta on climbs in the Amphitheater for their first multi-pitch foray, and we categorically try to dissuade them from considering them. With easy, approachable grades, the Mummy and Prow are alluring for the budding leader but their grades belie their actual difficulty. They are remote, route finding and gear placement can be challenging, communication difficult, and there is nary a bolt to be clipped. We give the same advice for Shortoff and even suggest people think twice about doing a climb at Looking Glass as their first multi-pitch lead.

Let us know what YOUR first mp lead was, and feel free to hit us up for beta on climbs you are considering. We hope to see you out there!

Dan Riethmuller, AMGA Apprentice Rock Guide

Unsponsored, Unaffiliated, Unbiased, and Unfiltered Gear (and Travel) Recommendations

Climbing gear is great. FREE climbing gear is awesome! I mean, who doesn’t love free gear? We all certainly do, but our guides also want to be able to make gear recommendations to you based on their personal favorites and not because they are sponsored by a particular company. With sponsorships and partnerships so ubiquitous in the climbing industry these days, it can be hard to know if someone making a recommendation “really” prefers a particular item or is perhaps making a decision that’s influenced by their sponsorship. Sometimes you even see recommendations on a forum where the person answering says, “Even though I’m sponsored by ___________, I really do think their __________ (rope, shoes, helmet, etc) is the best.” Really, I do. But how can you be sure?

Petey climbing in his Misty Mountain harness.
Petey in his Misty Cadillac harness

Because of this dilemma, we as a company made a decision over a year ago to forgo sponsorships so we can allow our guides to recommend their favorite gear without bias. We give them a yearly gear allowance to purchase whatever climbing gear they want to try rather than requiring them to wear and promote a particular harness or brand of shoes or rope or helmet because that company gives us free gear.

When you ask one of our guides for a recommendation, they will tell you what and why and will also be able to give you several other options from other manufacturers and elaborate details for why they prefer one over another. It’s honest and objective. And as you can imagine, they sometimes have wildly different preferences! For example, if you ask our guide Petey Guillard what his must-have harness is, he will hands down tell you it’s the Misty Mountain Cadillac. If you ask Doug Lutz the same question, he’d say the Petzl Sama. They both have great reasons for their choices and can give you advice that will help you make the best decision for YOU.

Want to know more about our guides’ preferences? Keep an eye out for our upcoming “Things We Love Thursday” series on Instagram, where every Thursday we will feature something we are crazy about. It won’t all be gear recommendations either, but also other “favorites” like favorite things to do when you are visiting our area: places to eat, stay, and recreate for example. We’ll post them on our blog too under the appropriate category (gear reviews, travel recommendations) because these are the questions our guests regularly ask us when they are booking a climbing trip; climbing may be their primary goal, but they also want to go mountain biking, or rafting, or eat at a foodie-worthy restaurant. We love sharing our unbiased recommendations with them to help make their trip to North Carolina awesome, and we are excited to share them with you too!