Rockin’ to the top

Hanging on for dear life on the side of a cliff can be … peaceful? Definitely, says Climbmax instructor Mike Frate. “Everything comes together for you all at once, when you’re climbing; it’s very peaceful. You just have to have a partner you’re comfortable with,” insists the young climber.

Behind him, a 10-year-old girl scales the indoor wall at Climbmax, eventually reaching the top. She’s been calling out “slack!” to her father below, but now that she’s made it, she falls suddenly silent.

“What do you want to say, now that you’re at the top?” prompts Frate.

“Uhhh … I can’t remember,” she replies. There’s no fear in her voice — she’s harnessed and secure, dad holding the ropes. She’s bemused, perhaps, because she doesn’t want the fun to stop for one moment.

Chides Frate, mildly, “That’s a bad time to forget!” Then he suggests the right choice of words for the girl to call out to her belay partner; in a moment, she’s picking her way back down, hold by hold — only to charge back up again, just for the challenge of trying a different route.

“The whole climbing experience is a beautiful thing,” says Frate. “The places it takes you are beautiful,” he adds for good measure, noting local attractions like Chimney Rock, Rumbling Bald, Looking Glass Rock, and Grandmother Rock (appropriately situated near Grandfather Mountain, outside of Boone).

The fall colors below Looking Glass can be particularly spectacular, once you get above the tree line, I remark, recalling a guided climb I took a few years ago. The rock was vivid with ladybugs, the sun shining and the breeze fall-cool. But I remember, too, how crucial (and comforting) it was to be led by a professional, experienced guide, because there were moments when my inexperience put a little fear in my toes as they gripped the cliff-face.

Frate agrees, completely. “If I was going out for the first time and I was a little paranoid, I’d want a guide I felt comfortable with.” He recommends that beginning and inexperienced climbers look for a guide who’s certified by the American Mountain Guide Association, which requires both course work and hands-on experience. There’s also the option of starting indoors: “Outdoors, there are a lot of variables. Indoors, it’s a controlled environment.”

I note the padded floor at Climbmax. For the more adventurous, this Wall Street business also offers an outdoor climbing wall. and provides guided trips, whether for individuals or groups.

The Asheville Parks and Recreation Department is also offering two fall climbing clinics at Climbmax: Tuesday, Nov. 16 and Tuesday, Dec. 7 — both from 6-9 p.m. Fees are $50 for non-city residents, $45 for residents. The deadline is Oct. 29 for the November session and Nov. 30 for the December session.

If you’re looking for guides, check with local outfitters like Black Dome Mountain Sports (251-2001), Diamond Brand Camping Center (684-6262), the Nantahala Outdoor Center (232-0110), Blue Spruce Outfitters (669-6965) or Take A Hike (669-0811).

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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