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

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

February 1, 2022 fmg-adminRock Climbing Route Beta

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

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