A Week in the Life of My Deuter Speedlite

I like versatility. I love it when my gear can transition between many tasks and suit each one with ease. In fact, as a guide, I NEED my gear to be able to fill multiple roles. This single best piece of gear I have that fits this bill is the Deuter Speedlite 20. To iIlustrate just how versatile it is, consider how it performed as I got ready for a climbing trip to Las Vegas recently.

Saturday – Sunday: I spend my weekends guiding guests who have waited all week to get out into the mountains and enjoy a carefree day of rock climbing in Western North Carolina. Often this is a multi-pitch, day and I’m meeting my guests in the Linville Gorge. Our objective is Table Rock on Saturday and the remote Amphitheater on Sunday. I put my harness on with my “Guide’s Rack” on my waist. In my Speedlite, I have climbing shoes and a chalk bag, first aid kit, 2L water bladder, single rack of protection, and an extra layer or two. Inside the small, quick access pocket, I put in my lunch, snacks and headlamp. On the outside, using the compression straps, I secure my helmet neatly on the outside. This pack goes from a full 20+L and compresses to less than 10 once the rack is on and we are moving over rock terrain! It is very comfortable no matter the load and stays secure and ergonomic when climbing. I sometimes even forget I have it on!

Monday: After a long weekend of work, I like to escape into the mountains around Pisgah National Forest by myself for some running. I often extend these runs for more than 10 miles, and I like to carry some extra items with me, so it is again time to fill the Speedlite. I carry my 1L water bladder, a long layer, sun hat, headlamp, spare map+compass, small first aid kit, as well as lunch and/or snacks. Given how the many straps on the Speedlite can be tucked neatly away and the compressability of the pack, I don’t notice it as I move over rough trails. My back may become a bit sweaty, but that may just be my fault for carrying so many things on a run. Perhaps this is why I’m much more of a climber! {Editor’s note: You can wash a Speedlite in a washing machine on warm and air dry it. I’ve done it more that 20 times with no damage to the pack.}

Tuesday: I head to the climbing gym to hang out with fellow guides and climbers and get a good workout in before my trip to Las Vegas. In my Speedlite, I carry a short gym rope, harness, shoes, chalk bag, belay device and water. It is sometimes nice to load it up with weights or water to help me train! This can really beat up a bag, but I have yet to tear any holes in it with the rough cargo.

Wednesday: Heading to a coffee shop downtown to relax, reflect, and write is a day we don’t typically associate with fancy backpacks, but I indeed use my Speedlite as my computer and town bag. Its size is perfect for my laptop, and it’s nice to stroll around Asheville with all of my office things with me. I will always have my thermos with me in one of the side pockets carrying that great dark roast from down the street.

Thursday: It’s winter here in the mountains and that means it’s time for some winter sports. Lately I have been honing my ski abilities at some of the local resorts. It isn’t exactly backcountry, but it is nice to carry extra things with me on the mountain so I don’t have to go back and forth from the lodge every time I want something. When I need to, this pack’s burly construction even allows me to carry my skies for short ski mountaineering jaunts. The pack definitely handles my falls better than I do at times!

Friday: Time to pack! Planes can sometimes be a nightmare for climbers as we love to try to cram what we can into carry-ons so as not to pay that checked bag fee. The Speedlite works great as a carry-on and I can fit pretty much everything from a guiding day in it and put most everything else I need for a couple of days into my second carry-on. The Speedlite’s compact size fits perfectly under the seat. When I arrive, I get everything to my hotel or campsite and head to the grocery store for some supplies and use my Speedlite as a reusable bag! Fits three days worth of food for two people very well!

Saturday: Time to climb! The goal is Epinephrine, a 600+M route in Black Velvet Canyon with several, pack-shredding chimney pitches. A route like this requires light packing, and I again load up my Speedlite with the essentials the night before and pack it in to the base. As the day gets warmer and we go in and out of the sun, the pack gets larger and smaller as items go in and out. Again, I sometimes forget I am wearing it! That is, until we reach the chimney pitches. With the pack dangling from my harness’s belay loop, I make my way up the chimney as the Speedlite scrapes and bangs into the rock. I tuck away as many of the buckles and zippers as I can and make sure the pack is compressed. By the time we are beyond the chimney pitches, the pack is no worse for the wear, spare a couple of dirty spots and we are halfway to the summit! Once on top, my body is prepping for the long descent back to the car, so everything comes off and goes back into the pack. With the ergonomic back design, even when full, my sore back barely notices the added bulk as we drag ourselves back to the car, fulfilled from another great adventure, and we prepare to do the week over again the next day, this time in Sin City!

Here’s to adventure!

Cody Bradford, AMGA Single Pitch Instructor and Assistant Rock Guide

What to Bring Cragging: Trad Climbing

In the time I have spent rock climbing, I have really loved going to crags that rely on the use of traditional gear. What I love most is the type of terrain and the areas that can be visited. You can challenge yourself on hardstuff or climb really fun, longer, moderate terrain too. Multi-pitching allows you to get higher off the ground, giving a greater feeling of exposure. It usually involves climbing with a partner, and you can develop strong bonds with those you share a rope with. Crack climbing has been my favorite traditional pursuit. I love the art of jamming! Cracks form striking natural features that catch the eye first. It’s an obvious path to the top, and they usually protect really well.

climbing-rattlesnake Trad climbing is gear intensive, requires a higher level of technical skill, and is a more thoughtful type of climbing. These places are rich with climbing history, can feel more adventurous, bold, and at times (especially on slabs, or here in North Carolina) downright scary. I recommend getting guidebooks because they are a great source for this information. They can be expensive, but they make a great souvenir, and help avoid unnecessary epics. I’ve learned that the hard way.

At first this can all be overwhelming. Give it time and you will learn the tricks to solving the puzzle. I wish I had a better idea of what I needed starting out. I bought a lot of gear that I really don’t use much anymore. So, I have put together some beta on what I find useful for a day of traditional style cragging in a single pitch, or short multi-pitch environment.

When climbing in these locations I typically pack pretty comfortably since there usually aren’t crazy long approaches. Besides, it’s good training weight for when you do tackle a larger objective! So go ahead, bring some extra gear, layers, water, etc. since you aren’t committing to a long route where being light and fast is advantageous. Having said that, I typically only bring what I need on the wall for a given route, and stash the rest at the base for when I am back down. This assumes you are rappelling back to the same spot though. Yup, learned that the hard way too.

personal-equipmentPersonal equipment: There is a lot of room to create your own style in this category! Experiment with different brands, and find what you like most! Here is the equipment I wear:

  • Helmet: No matter what, you will be safer by wearing a helmet. Gravity works! Rocks and gear can and do fall. Doesn’t it make sense to protect your squash?! I wear the Petzl Sirocco. It’s lightweight, breathes well, and I barely even notice I’m wearing it. Funny, considering it’s like wearing a traffic cone.
  • Shoes: I find that all rock shoes have a style of climbing they best prefer. It can take a while to find the proper fit that allows you to perform how you want too. I personally don’t believe in the foot binding myth. You want the shoes to feel snug in the store, but not make your feet hurt. Leather shoes will stretch so if you go with comfort in the store you will likely have space after they are broken in. Here is what makes my feet happy:

-La Sportiva TC Pros: I really like these on routes involving slabs, edges, and cracks. When I bought them I was looking for an all day comfort shoe for long moderate routes. I went a ½ size down from my street shoes, and they have been great for their At times they can feel a little loose though.

-La Sportiva Katanas: I recently bought a pair of these for technical performance, and I love them. I went down a size and half, and they fit like a glove! Awesome for edging, and the narrow profile of the toebox have made these excellent for crack climbing too!

  • gear-on-harnessHarness: We spend a ton of time in these, sometimes hanging. Some stores may have something to hang from to try a new harness out. Don’t be afraid to get creative with adding weight on the gear loops either! Make sure you find one that works well for you. I personally like having adjustable leg loops since my thighs don’t match the size of my waist. I am currently wearing a Petzl Hirundos. (That’s how I know I prefer adjustable leg loops)
    • Here is what lives on my harness:
      • 20 ft cordellette
      • A double length nylon runner
      • Gri Gri 2
      • Belay plate w/ plaquette (guide) mode
      • 5 in hollowblock (prusik loop)
      • 2 extra non-lockers
      • 3 extra lockers

This gear could help save yourself or a buddy; learn more in a self-rescue course! (http://foxmountainguides.com/bring-cragging-trad-climbing/)

  • Chalk bag: I was recently converted from attaching this with a non-locker to a piece of cord. It keeps it higher on your waist, and it is more mobile. I saw it benefit the first day as I was climbing a chimney!
  • Approach shoes: I love having a good pair of approach shoes. They are great for inspiring confidence scrambling up to or walking off a route. There are many styles, and like rock shoes they are designed for different uses. Some shoes are best for trails in the woods. Others are high end technical shoes great for long days on low 5th class rock. My favorite have been the Sportiva Gandas. If you find a pair of these in your size, I highly recommend getting them since they are no longer made. If you know anyone getting rid of a size 12, let me know!
  • Pack: I like having a medium (30-35L) sized bag. This allows me to fit all my equipment plus a couple extra layers, water, and food. When buying a new bag try to bring everything you are planning to pack. Make sure it fits, and more importantly that the pack will be comfortable! I am currently using the Deuter Guide Lite 32+.

Dynamic climbing rope: (9-10.2 mm) There’s something to be said about a beefy workhorse: they are typically more resilient. Don’t be so fast to run out and by the newest shoelace size rope as you are learning. Also, stick to using a single rated rope. Sometimes you will need two ropes if a route requires long rappels (more than half a rope length). I personally like marking the middle of my rope. This makes setting up single rope rappels much easier, and ensures that the ends are even. Make sure to tie knots in the ends while you’re at it too. Rappelling is the number one cause of climbing accidents. Don’t rappel off the end of your rope! At FMG, all of the guides use a range of Bluewater ropes for both guiding and personal climbing.

standard-rackStandard Rack: In guidebooks you may often see the term “single rack.” That refers to bringing one of each size in the standard camming range (.3-3), some stoppers, and draws. Some routes can call for more specific gear like doubles, big cams (4-6), small cams (.1-.2), extra wires (stoppers), or long slings. A good rack is made up of an assortment of both passive and active gear. I include stoppers, tri-cams, cams, draws, and anchor material.

What I have on my rack

  • Stoppers: BD #4-13 set (standard pack)

–     A nut tool is useful as well!

  • Tri-cams (by Camp): In my opinion pink, red, and brown are most useful (I also carry black and blue). Check out the evo’s; they have a more sturdy sling so they are easier to place, and the head is tapered allowing it to be placed passively on its transverse They are nice to use in anchors to save cams for the next pitch, and I find they are great for the funky spots where other gear doesn’t quite work. Patience is the key to removing them though because that same funk lends itself to easily getting stuck.
  • Cams: I have found it useful to combine brands when building a rack because each style is slightly different. The style’s ranges aren’t exactly the same, and the unique head/stem designs cause them to fit in the rock I use racking biners for each cam to help keep my harness organized, for ease of placement, and to provide the ability to clip it direct.
  • Black Diamond Camalots (C4’s): .3, .4, .5, .75, 1, 2, 3, 4
  • CCH/Fixe Aliens: blue (.1), green (.2), yellow (.3), gray (.4), red (.5)

– My Wishlist: Doubles

Black Diamond X4’s: .1 and .2

Black Diamond C4’s: .75, 1, 2, 3

  • drawsDraws: Typically when I go out climbing I bring around 10 draws. This is usually a combination of quick draws, and alpine draws. These can also be known as extendables, runners, or slings. I may not always carry this many on me while climbing, but it allows me to decide what I need for a given route. Extendables are a great way to help manage rope drag on wandering pitches. Be aware though that each time you extend a draw you are also increasing the distance of a potential lead fall.
    •  – 5 single length alpine draws
    •  – 1 double length alpine draw
    •  – 4 quickdraws
  • Anchor material: It’s important to bring enough anchor material for your given I usually bring two extra lockers (for TR), an extra cordellette (25 ft, 7mm nylon), and my microquad!
    • Microquad: This is my go to for a fast and strong anchor on bolts! Leave it tied, and enjoy the efficiency. Awesome to have on multiple rappel transitions. I made mine with a 12ft loop of Sterling power cord. Remember, clip 2 or 3, not 1 or 4 (strands).

microquadI hope I have been able to help spare some unnecessary purchases, and add insight to what might help you out for a day of cragging. Start with the personal basics, and learn using other people’s gear to find what you like. Remember, you don’t have to go out and buy a whole rack all at once! If you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email at christian@foxmountainguides.com. If you don’t know how all this stuff works, but would like to, seek out qualified instruction instead of learning things the hard way. Book a day, or course here with us at Fox Mountain Guides and Climbing School, we are an AMGA accredited business (we’re all certified!). I would love to help introduce you to the wonderful world that is trad climbing, and the rest of our team would too! (http://foxmountainguides.com/book/)

Christian Helger

AMGA Single Pitch Instructor / Apprentice Rock Guide

Jolly, the Extreme Elf

What’s it like being an Elf and working for Santa?”

This is the question that everyone is eager to have answered. Well I hate to burst any bubbles but I’m not actually an elf!!!! Nope, 100% human here. It’s pretty obvious from my height and lack of pointed ears.


img_2168No, think not. I’m the real deal. I’ve been training Elves with the SPG-E2 for two amazing years! The South Pole Group – Entry and Escape, specialized in contained structures and escape. SPG-E2 deals with all the housing units that don’t have chimney access or common access, such as hotels; apartment buildings; condominiums; and airports. They also specialize in escapes.

“What do you mean escapes?”

Well not everything always goes to plan and sometimes during a package drop, an elf or Santa will require assistance or extraction. I was fortunate to find the South Pole Group, and be offered an instructor position teaching an amazing group of talented jolly people. My past military experience translated into functional methods for entry and extraction as well as the understanding that secrets must be kept at all costs.

“South Pole? Wait. Wait. Wait.”

Yeah, South Pole. The guys at the North Pole do Christmas functions and toy making. The boring stuff – even though it’s what everyone looks forward to. You have to have seen the movies where the elves had technology and were conducting missions????

That’s the South Pole Group! I train those guys.

elfAnd this year I was lucky enough to be asked to return to Chimney Rock State Park to accompany Santa himself in a rappelling exercise to build Christmas spirit and practice Chimney entry with Santa!

Fox Mountain Guides was kind enough to provide us with some non-magical climbing equipment to train with. They also gave me a couple coupons redeemable for climbing with one of their outstanding guides. We will be giving those away this upcoming December 10th 2016 at Chimney Rock State Park!

Hope to see you out there!

Sgt Mike (Jolly) McClarty

Senior Training Staff


More Tools, Fewer Rules

It is easy to have an idea that is “black and white.”  Concepts are easily digestible when there are rules to abide by.

“ALWAYS do it THIS way! NEVER do it THAT way!”

This is especially true given the mortal danger that is inherent in mountain sports. Rules often represent security to us thereby allowing us to relax a bit and enjoy the dance of climbing. These rules however, are concrete and we are not likely to rearrange or adapt them with changing contexts. Principles, however, can be sorted in different ways and allow us some flexibility when the environment throws us a curve ball. I tend to recommend a PRINCIPLE-based approach to climbing instead of one dominated by RULES.

There is a good reason why we learn anchoring fundamentals with acronyms such as NERDSS or ERNEST. They are systems of principles that should be met, and not a formula or prescribed method for the perfect anchor in all situations. The real world is not a laboratory, and no two environments are congruent. If you are only climbing single pitch routes using a sling shot top rope system, you will likely use a well built anchor on two bolts, trees ,or multiple well placed traditional protection pieces with two opposite and opposed locking carabiners at a masterpoint. It is then going to feel very weird when we go climbing together on a long multi-pitch route, and I tell you that we are going to shorten up our rope, walk together in this exposed 4th class terrain, and my hand and body posture are going to keep us attached to the mountain.

What changed? Arguably, it would seem that there are greater risks at foot here, so why not implement a more robust system like we do when we go top roping at the local crag or pitch it out as we have for the last 1,000ft?   Are you with a trained and/or certified guide? This is a tool common among guides in this scenario and is not one usually learned or practiced by someone who mainly climbs recreationally. I may trust someone who has at least taken a course a bit more, but one must be aware this is a guiding technique requiring a lot of experience and a high degree of consideration. Second, if you pitch out 600ft of exposed 3rd and 4th class terrain all the time on a 2,000ft+ route, you are looking at a long day and possibly night out.

This is not to say that there are not times to pitch out exposed 4th class terrain, but as one gains experience in this type of context, the ability to pick the safest and most efficient tool for the job will grow. This can only come with time and is not something that should be taken lightly. Use what you know even if it means missing dinner! Just avoid the knee-jerk reaction to judge someone else’s less conservative approach when you see them implementing it. They perhaps have a greater amount of experience and therefore can use a more liberal system with a greater margin of safety.

I have often said: “I ALWAYS find that ‘NEVER’ and ‘ALWAYS’,  NEVER happen.”

codyblog-3Meaning that there simply cannot be hard and fast rules in such a dynamic activity. While we can live comfortably abiding by specifics in a given context (sport climbing, for example) they will not always transfer when we mix the bag and go try something as nebulous as alpine rock climbing. We must adapt and use the right tool for the job.

Belaying is another element of climbing that often succumbs to rule based approaches rather than taking the task on with principles.   Take the method Pull-Break-Under-Slide (PBUS) for example… I often see this taught as omnipotent dogma rather than, simply, a good tool to teach a novice with. If you see someone using a technique other than this while belaying, it is not necessarily wrong or risky. It may be that they need a different technique for the task they are tending to. As long as these three principles are adhered to, a belay system can be sufficient.

First, we always keep our brake hands on the rope. Second, we only slide our hands when the rope is in the braking position. Finally, we must always position our hands according to our natural strength. A myriad of methods for moving rope through a belay system have been used over time with great success while meeting these principles. Someone’s seemingly foreign technique is not inherently wrong, assuming it matches the context and the tool while following these three principles.

A proper body (hip) belay is perfectly suitable for belaying someone up a short section of 4th or low 5th class terrain. Likewise, the “hand over hand” method while top rope belaying a very fast moving climber is perfectly acceptable providing the hand transitions are done in the braking plane of the belay device being used. The user should also have conceptual knowledge of why they are using this technique over others.

How to protect a pitch; when to use a backup or extension on a rappel; what kind of belay technique or device to use; when to lower vs. rappel a single pitch route; what rappel knot to use… these are questions we must ask ourselves and weigh on a spectrum. Our solutions must ebb and flow with the circumstance. I will likely protect a pitch more conservatively if it is wet, I am tired, in a bad mental state, etc than if conditions are ideal or optimal. Saying that a pitch must ALWAYS be protected THIS way or that THAT knot should NEVER be used is quite fallible at best and can be dangerous at worst. While individuals should and will likely be more conservative when starting out, we should empower those individuals and ourselves to question and experiment with new methods and knowledge providing it meets safe, fundamental principles and they are discussed through the filter of professionals.

codyblog-2Ultimately, many of us feel that part of the allure of climbing is the freedom. We are responsible for our own decisions and must solve the kinesthetic math problem with the ultimate solution being safe and efficient success. You’re the boss of your own world, and that is truly rewarding. It then seems counterintuitive to shackle ourselves to steadfast rules when simply carrying principles with us to each new experience can open us up to greater rewards.

Of course, none of this matters if we are not making safe decisions and going home healthy at the end of a climbing experience.

When learning a new tool, it should be experimented with in a safe, inconsequential environment and discussed with a mountain professional before being implemented in the real world.

Remember; ALWAYS be safe and have fun!

Cody Bradford, AMGA Single Pitch Instructor & Assistant Rock Guide

The Flat Overhand, Not the EDK…

There has been much controversy over the flat overhand knot, otherwise know as EDK (Euro Death Knot) for rappelling in the media lately. Much of the controversy has to do with the “rolling” of the knot, and most of the time it is actually the flat figure eight that everyone is talking about. I have recently even seen the flat figure eight called the other version of the EDK, and now there is an article called “A Better EDK.” These of course are published by well-known American climbing magazines.

So lets first get the names of the knots correct.

This is the Flat Overhand:


This is the Flat Figure Eight:


This is the EDK:

Notice there is no picture…

Because we should stop calling any knot a Euro Death Knot, but if you must, use that term to describe the flat figure eight knot.

This is the knot being referred to as a “A better EDK”:


It is really easy for me to give you instances of when and when not to use these knots for the weekend warrior climber.

Flat Figure 8 should be used, never.

“A better EDK,”  never.

Use a flat overhand when rappelling.

Since we only should be using one of these knots, let’s talk about the properties of a properly tied Flat Overhand.

Arm-length tails.

Well dressed.

Pulled every strand to tighten.

Times we might choose to use a different knot or back up with a second overhand:

-Greatly differing diameters of rope.

-Wet rope.

-One really new rope and one really old rope.

-Icy Ropes.

-Any combination of the above.

Remember to put knots at the ends of your rope!

Happy rappelling!

Changing of Season

As climbers, we all know those magical months of Sendtember and Rocktober. The temperatures begin to shift into pleasant ranges and we start to spend more time on our projects and trying to squeeze in as many pitches in the day before the glorious fading to dark which always seems to come just a bit too soon. The joys of climbing in the fall are always something I look forward to each year. This year I have plenty of routes on my tick list that I hope to send or at least make some progress on.

With the changing of the season from a risk management perspective this is the time of year, I start to change how I pack for a day out and how I plan for the day. The earlier sunsets remind me to change out my headlamp batteries and have spares in my pack in case I decide that one more pitch by headlamp is worth it. Adding extra layers and a warm hat to my multi-pitch pack also just in case my leader gets off route on that last pitch and we have a longer than intended night. In addition to those things when it comes to warmth I plan for some extra food to keep the furnace stoked. Other items I may try to find room for may include a good size trash bag, thin gloves, and a lighter.

I have spent one night on a forced bivy in Wyoming and can still recall fantasizing about all the items that I had left in camp. Of course one can go over board with bringing all the “what if” gear in the world, so be sure to use some common sense. If I’m trying to knock out the Mummy, Daddy , and Prow in a day I really don’t want a 40 pound pack to lug around. Your greatest safety tool is of course your brain. Knowing what your objective is as well as your current level of fitness and preparation goes a long way to having a fun day versus an experience.

An often-overlooked practice in our cell phone saturated world is filing a plan with a friend or relative. Just let someone know roughly where you intend to climb, who is going to be with you, and when you expect to be back. I hope that you are feeling the stoke and that your fall is filled with great times with friends and awesome climbs. I look forward to seeing everyone out there. Stay tuned for upcoming posts and thanks for reading.

Adrian Hurst

AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Fox Mountain Guides

Climbing Specialist North Carolina Outward Bound School

Appalachian Mountain Rescue Team

Wilderness First Responder WMI

Bumblebee Buttress: A Linville Gorge Adventure

With the recent lifting of Peregrine Falcon closures (http://carolinaclimbers.org/closures/2016lifted.html) , cool temperatures in the Linville Gorge, and a willing partner, I decided to venture to the rarely traveled North Carolina Wall to sample a classic NC moderate, Bumblebee Buttress (5.8).

I have heard many stories of BB, and it’s intimidating reputation. Imagine the classic movement of White Lightning on Table Rock with the remoteness and position of the Amphitheater. Put those two things together and you have the truly classic climbing that is Bumblebee Buttress. Here is a detailed description of the route with some personal accounts and suggestions of each pitch. As always, please use this information in conjunction with a guide book and other sources like Mountain Project and trip reports.

What to Bring:

 Pack: I prefer to tackle multi-pitch objectives in Linville by placing all of my things comfortably into my 32 Liter Deuter Guide Lite and then, upon reaching the top of the cliff, switch out with my Deuter Speed Lite 20 for decent and climbing.

Rack: Full set of cams from single set BD C3’s 00-2, BD C4’s .3-4 with doubles in the .5-1 range. Larger stoppers (BD 8-13). Tricams (pink, red)

Bring a helmet! This is not a party crag, and the rock quality can be suspect in places, including on the approach!

Plenty of food and at least 2 Liters of water, especially in the summer. Bring a layer if in the shoulder seasons. The route won’t see the sun until you are on the 3rd pitch and even then, won’t hit until late afternoon.


As with any approach into the wilderness area of the Linville Gorge, expect to take your time and to meet challenges of route finding with the patience and foresight of a Jedi. Watch out for snakes, bees ,and poor rock/loose soil. Be prepared to use a rope!

Begin your approach from the Table Rock parking lot and head south on the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST). Walk past the familiar Chimneys features where you will likely see groups top roping. Be sure to wish them a good day and when they ask you where you are heading, smile and say with a sense of invigoration, “the North Carolina Wall!”

Once leaving the Chimney’s proper, begin to look for a trail heading down hill to the west next to a tree with a blaze for the MST. This is NOT the MST, but the climbers trail to the top of the NC Wall. This trail is just past a tree that is typically signed with laminated notifications from the USFS about Peregrine closures. If you hit a rock outcrop after about 30-40’, this is the wrong trail and heads to the Apricot Buttress area.

After taking the correct trail downhill for about 2-3 minutes, you should pop out into a clear-ish area above a hard to define gully. To either side of this gully, if looking west, should be two areas of rock that define the top of the cliff. Stash your pack up on the left side. Remember that to descend, you will need to head back to this spot!

When prepping for descent, I prefer to put my harness and helmet on and stash my coiled rope on my back, so that I am more likely to decide to use it if I feel it may be necessary. I place a few cams (.5 to 3) and my stoppers on if I need to build a quick anchor for a step or two.

I then rack up with my “guide rack” (plaquette device, gri-gri, a couple free lockers, double length sling, a couple cordelettes, and a prussic type loop). Stash the rest of your gear in your smaller pack to carry down.

Head back to your location where you popped out of the trees looking down the initial gully and begin heading down (west). You should almost immediately head down some loose soil terrain to a 2nd/3rd class rock step. Eventually you will begin to turn south and head between the Mossy Monster Buttress and the NC Wall. A short, 10’ section of rock guards entrance into this cool canyon.

After carefully descending the canyon between the two cliffs, you will pop out into very loose vegetation and small downed trees. Be very careful here as there is a small cliff (20-30’) below you and a slip could lead to a tumble over it. Before you reach the cliff, begin looking back west and north for the trail to continue over to an easier descent down more loose soil.

Once at the base of this section, move up towards the cliff and follow a faint, yet obvious climbers trail along the base, eventually moving over big talus under several overhangs. You are now along the top of a small cliff band that will lead directly to the base of Bumblebee Buttress, which is marked by the obvious left facing corner system capped by a roof that begins at the base of a 10 ft. high ledge.

Begin by carefully scrambling to the top of this ledge and prepping for the climb!

The Route:

 Pitch 1 5.8: From the top of the ledge, climb up an unprotected, but low 5th class feature up to a rhododendron (sling for pro if you wish). Awkwardly step up and around the rhodo, and enter the corner. It is possible to get a high #1 C4 here in good rock to protect the movement. Make some tricky moves to better feet and establishment in the corner and climb it to its end beneath the roof via excellent stems, jams and locks with great protection including some threads! Once in the blocky corner beneath the roof, it is possible to step out left to a small (1’) ledge and place small gear (C3’s-small C-4’s) in a horizontal crack on the face and establish a semi-hanging belay.

Pitch 2 5.8: Step right off the belay and up into the roof where it is possible to place a #4 out left into the roof. Extend long and make the delicate traverse out to the corner of the roof. Make an excellent series of steep moves on big holds over the roof and back into the corner. Great protection is offered as you step up on to a ledge on the right after about 15-20’. Follow either corner system to the top of the feature watching for loose rock! I chose the right variation as it looked to have better feet. Step right on the small ledge on top of the feature and locate a horizontal that takes small hand sizes for a belay. You can extend your anchor back to the edge from the master point by utilizing your rope as an extension. Once your partner reaches the top, you can stay attached to the anchor and carefully scramble down and right to a better ledge and re-organize your rope.

Pitch 3 5.8: Make some careful moves up to your anchor and begin traversing out right utilizing horizontals (small hand sizes shrinking to small C3’s). You are aiming for the right side of a bulge, up and right of the traverse. I was able to find a 0 C3 before committing to the bulge move. Take a deep breath, find small feet and pull over the bulge. Begin working up and right to a large ledge system. There is a large crack far right on the ledge beneath the large grey face, but it is quite out of the way and communication would be very difficult. I ended up using gear in a crack out right and using my rope as an extension to a comfortable rock ledge back left. I used a couple of pieces in a horizontal as an elevator to keep my masterpoint comfortably high.

Pitch 4 5.5: Reorganize your rope and begin to wonder up the weakness from right to left up into the increasingly moss covered cracks and holds to a comfortable ledge about 60’ up. Belay here utilizing an excellent blocky thread for better communication. Or…

Pitch 5 4th class or 5.8: This can be combined with the last pitch. Head out right for the likely original exit on 4th class blocky terrain with some 5th class moves thrown in there to a thorny, bushy exit to the top of the cliff. I would not recommend this if combining with previous pitch.

Head straight up through two left facing triangular blocks for a direct finish that will keep the grade around the 5.8 range. Follow great holds on steeper terrain to the top of the cliff and carefully top out avoiding the loose soil on top. We chose this option. Belay up top on live trees.

Give yourself a pat on the back and munch on blueberries on your way back to your packs! Follow a faint trail and some ledges, carefully, along the top of the cliff.

Be safe out there and enjoy!

Cody Bradford, AMGA SPI and Apprentice Rock Guide