Like its more famous namesake near Atlanta, Stone Mountain is a huge granite dome, rising from the North Carolina foothills. But instead of carved Confederate generals galloping across its face, this Stone Mountain swarms with climbers on the some of the finest and most exposed friction climbing anywhere.
Though there’s climbing on the north face of the mountain, most people go for the better-known South Face. The most obvious route here, The Great Arch, is visible for miles, but it’s actually the least typical of Stone Mountain climbing.
Unlike the Arch, most multi-pitch routes here have sparse opportunities for protection. Stone Mountain is notorious for long and scary runouts: 30 feet or more between placements or bolts is commonplace. Climbing here is as much mental as physical – you’ve got to trust the friction.
Stone Mountain climbing goes back more than 40 years, when intrepid pioneers began making the first attempts at routes like the Arch and No Alternative. As Rich Gottlieb has observed from first-hand experience, climbing this 600-foot dome in the mid-60s was a whole other world. The first ascents were made without sticky rubber shoes, cams and other tools we take for granted these days. In spite of the difficulties, many of the classics, including the 5.10 Rainy Day Women, were established by 1975, using the strong North Carolina tradition of ground-up ascents and bolting on lead. Some of the early pioneers included George DeWolfe, Tom McMillan, Jim McEver and Bob Rotert.
More recently, Stone Mountain received a facelift of sorts when the Carolina Climbers Coalition sponsored a major rebolting of the dome’s routes and belay stations. Hundreds of old bolts were replaced with stout new ones, making the long runouts a little easier to bear.
Because of its southern exposure, the South Face is in full sun all day. Granite has the peculiar feature of having maximum friction in chilly weather and a somewhat greasy feel in heat; combine this with the blast-furnace atmosphere of summer, and you can see why Stone Mountain is most popular in the winter months.
A 60-meter rope is a must at Stone Mountain; better yet, two of them. Many rappels (including some from the Tree Ledge, where most of the face climbs begin) are best managed on double ropes. You can also use the walk-off trail from the summit. In terms of protection, a light rack should be more than enough for most routes other than the two well-known crack lines, and bolted anchors protect all belays.
Camping is available both in the park and at private campgrounds nearby. For a good meal – and a motel if you don’t feel like camping – head back down US 21 to Elkin.
Stone Mountain is near the foothills town of Elkin, which is about 70 miles north of Charlotte on I-77. After crossing the Yadkin River and exit signs for Elkin and Jonesville, get off on the US 21 exit. Go north on 21 for about eight miles and turn left on Traphill Road (NC 1002). You should see signs for Stone Mountain Park at this turnoff. Continue another four miles or so to John P. Frank Parkway (again noting park signs) and take a right. This continues about two miles to the park.