Pilot Mountain brings about a mixed bag of sentiments for most North Carolina climbers. Most beginners LOVE it, and it’s easy to see why – the approach is short, top-roping access is easy, and there are heavy concentrations of routes in the 5.5-5.9 range. However, once climbers get a little bit of experience under their belts, it’s not uncommon for them to suddenly start sneering their nose up at the crag that taught them how to climb. It’s crowded, often overrun with large groups of boy scouts, youth groups, and outdoor meet-ups that may or may not share the same ethics as the “old-schoolers.” The trail along the base is also very popular amongst the hiking set – which means that well-intentioned (but often outlandish) questions about climbing are a regular occurrence. But w
hile there are a few aspects of Pilot Mountain that I don’t particularly care for, there are a handful of classics that hold their own when rivaled against other, “better,” crags. The best climbing is in the 5.10 – 5. 12 range, and like most beginner areas, the harder you climb, the less likely you are to have to fight the crowds.
That being said, Pilot Mountain is a fabulous resource – when you look at sheer numbers, it’s the most popular climbing area in the state! I think it gets a bad rap lots of times because people go there expecting it to be something it’s not (ie, a world class climbing destination such as the New or the Red…) But for those who go with the right expectations – whether it’s to introduce a newbie to the sport or tick off some challenging, classic sport routes, it’s a great way to spend the day!
And that’s just what we did! It had been over a year since our last trip there – we went there several times last spring when one of my climbing partners, my husband, and I were all projecting routes that were side by side. Once we ticked them off our list, we’d all turned our sights elsewhere, and just hadn’t made it back since. It’s also the first we’d been back since our friend Lloyd Ramsey died on the mountain last summer – he was a quirky staple to the Pilot Mountain climbing community, and it felt really weird not running into him there :(. (I wrote a post in honor of his memory last summer after he died – if you’re interested, you can find that here.)
On a happier note, I also got a chance to try out some new threads from Mountain Mama – the Alba Pant, Marni Tank, and Anya Tee. I loved them all, although it never got warm enough to strip down to the tank top. Stay tuned for a full review coming your way in the next few weeks…
Here’s the routes our crew hopped on:
Foreign Trade Zone (5.10d): Easy start to a tricky move in the middle, to a pumpy finish. Upper section would clean up nicely with more traffic.
Mama Bear (5.10d): The last time I was on this route was ironically enough when I was pregnant with C (only a lot farther along!) Fun pinches up the crack always make for a good time.
Baby Bear (5.11a): My favorite of the “bears” routes, I was psyched to find that I still had the core strength to get through this one clean.
Blind Velvet (5.11b): This is the lower section for one of my “Twelve 12’s in 2012” sends. By traversing left about halfway through, you can stop at the anchors of a neighboring route and keep the route at 5.11. Continuing up the full-value way brings a big roof and a crux right before the anchors (Blind Prophet, 5.12b). The lower section of climbing that we did on this trip features intricate beta up a smooth dihedral with very small features – definitely one of my favorite sections of rock at Pilot Mountain.
Devil in the White House (5.10d): By this point in the day I had post-climbing milkshakes on the brain, so it was hard to get motivated t climb and I almost passed this one up. Really glad I did it anyway though, because I’d forgotten how fun it was!
It was nice to get back to an area we hadn’t been to in a while – and the overcast sky with occasional sprinkles was nice for warding off the usual throngs of people. (Although despite the lack of climbers, I’m still pretty sure everyone in our party was “featured” in an iPhone photo or two from hikers passing by…) Although our day had gotten off to a rough start (we had to backtrack 30 minutes after realizing that somehow we’d forgotten to put on C’s shoes…), it ended up being a great day, and a great change of pace. Oh yeah, and that post-climbing milkshake I’d been craving? It was worth the extra wait 😉