Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Choss Mountain: The Future of Winter Climbing in North Carolina

When I first moved to North Carolina I figured the only way I would end up ice climbing was during Christmas vacation back home in New Hampshire. In the past six weeks I've been proved dramatically wrong! I've climbed some of the raddest, improbable ice here I've ever seen and I've lead my hardest lines to date. And this is all thanks to a wonderful little crag called Choss Mountain on the west rim of Linville Gorge.

Ron Funderburke on the left, describing some interesting moves to me before the first WI2+ pitch of a possibly new M5 WI4. Photo by Ryan Sigsbey.

Aptly named, Choss Mountain is the home to some significant drips of water running down broken metamorphic rock, and often free falling when the wall overhangs. On the couple occasions I've climbed here routes were formed, but much of the water was still dripping. The waterfall you reach upon finishing the approach hike up a creek bed is impressive by any account. It spans a width of at least 70 feet with the potential for 50 foot free hanging columns on the right side. Above the vertical section is another 100+ feet of WI 2-3 terrain. Unfortunately this flow is heavy, and temperatures haven't been cold enough long enough to freeze this properly in place. According to Ron Funderburke, this could be the most impressive formation in all of North Carolina, given it comes in.

The right side of the heavy waterfall. Photo by Karsten Delap.

A handful of other impressive lines are present, often with a dry tooling move or two thrown in for good measure. One of these is a M5 WI4 that Ron and I may have made the first ascent of January 15th. I started with the lead, trying to unlock the crux start taking a fall or two onto a brown tri-cam and backing off a hand full of other times too. I got a bit pumped and handed over the reins to Ron, who quickly fired the route with grace. A mix of rock pro and solid screws yielded a really enjoyable line. There's another few routes of similar style to the left and right of this line. Ron and Daniel Councell did one of them back in December.

Ron topping out his probably new M5 WI4, helmet cam in tow. Photo by Ryan Sigsbey.

A couple hundred yards to the right of the entry water fall holds a few more short lines. I've lead two of them, one with some cool mixed scramble moves into and out of a cave. The pure ice line goes at WI4 and the mixed line might have M2 or M3 moves on it (I really don't understand mixed ratings). At any rate, they're really fun lines.

Pulling the first few moves of the mixed line. Photo by Ryan Sigsbey.

Getting up high in the cave to place a couple cams. Photo by Ryan Sigsbey.

Moving onto the ice above the cave. A couple more moves and I got a solid 13cm screw. Photo by Ryan Sigsbey.

Cruising to the top of the mixed line. Photo by Ryan Sigsbey.

A top-down angle of the pure water ice line just to the right of the mixed line. Photo by Karsten Delap.

Cool vantage with a fish-eye lens distorting the edges. Photo by Karsten Delap.

Ron and I were graced with a couple paparazzi whom captured great stills and video of the day. Eric Crews is responsible for the great video below, and many of the still photos are Ryan Sigsbey's work. Also a few shots from Karsten Delap.

There are a few hanging daggers along the wall, one of which Ron gave a shot on top-rope, pulling what looked like 5.10+ moves with gloved hands, crampons, and ice axes in order to reach the ice. More heavy flows abound that could yield serious WI5 columns. And that's just the few hundred yards of cliff we've seen. There could be a bit more just around the bend to the right or left. Anyone with strong mental fortitude and a solid lock-off should be flocking to this crag! I'd love to see what could be made of all this potential!


  1. Looks good Jeremy! We'll have to get out again some time!

  2. Thanks for the props! See you in the NE!

  3. Nice work Fellas! Bold ice climbers and great photographer and videographer in a nice combo!

    I would check with superman Joe Lackey about route history there as he put up quite a few of the mixed test-pieces there 15-20 years ago. Most of them probably never repeated, until maybe now. For years I've walked up there with high hopes of the main falls being completely formed and they're not. Due to the South Facing nature of Chossy, it requires really cold temps with no sunny days.

    Years ago, I linked some old hunting trails off of Kistler Hwy. to DOWN to Chossy Mtn. crag. It's a bit shorter of an approach with much less vertical gain, but if Kistler is snowy or icy, then it's not worth it. Parking is at the Cabin Trail, then across the road, past F.S. gate for 8 minutes of walking to a field for hunters, then down and right from there, linking into hunting trails from the corner of the field. May be easier to find first from the top part of the crag, then working your way up and right to the field.