I take a deep breath and reach for my next handhold, wrapping three fingertips and my thumb around the granite nub, 70 feet off the ground. I shift my weight from one foot to another, the top of the cliff within my grasp, and make my final reach for the top. I’ve got it now.
As I pull myself to the cliff’s rim, I glance over my shoulder at the valleys below where autumn’s reds, oranges and yellows glow with the gold of sunshine. I return my gaze to the rock and find a deeply colored seam of rose quartz; a small reward for climbers who reach the top of the five dot climbing route.
“Take,” I call down to my partner to pull any remaining slack in the rope. “Lower me.”
Three days out, leading a rock-climbing trip with USF Outdoor Recreation, a division of the USF Campus Recreation Center, I had seen smiles, laughs and shivers from our nine participants. This was one of the numerous trips the organization has to offer, including a sea kayaking trip in Fort Desoto in November and an Everglades sea kayaking trip in December.
One of my greatest joys is to share the wonders of the wilderness with others, especially climbing. On this trip, we had a mix of beginners and those with some experience on our overnight trip.
Leading the pack was my pleasure because climbing is one of my passions. Without it, I feel restless and incomplete. To me, it’s part spiritual, part meditative and a way to keep myself centered.
If I’m not centered while attempting a difficult climb, I probably won’t succeed because my mental balance is off; I’m distracted.
We left Tampa around 7 on Friday night and arrived at Table Rock, in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest, just in time to watch Saturday’s red sunrise as we bumped along on the gravel road in the van.
By 10:30 a.m., everyone had been issued a helmet, harness and ballerina-like climbing shoes, and we set off for Devil’s Cellar. A short hike on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail brought us there. Standing on top of the Cellar, a huge panoramic of the Linville Gorge could be seen.
Devil’s Cellar is a small, steep gully, the sides of which are granite cliffs. At the Cellar’s lower end, beneath 80 to 100 feet of rock, is a hole in the granite that drops down another 20 feet called the Devil’s Toilet Bowl.
Our climbing guides, Ryan Beasley and Jenny Allen, set up a rappel into the Toilet Bowl and three climbs. Rappelling is a method of descent where a climber uses a friction device on a rope to lower down the rock. The day’s heavy wind whipped right up the gully, keeping us bundled up when we were waiting our turn to climb.
After five hours of climbing, everyone was just about ready to return to camp and get some dinner, but only after a short hike to the wind-swept summit of Table Rock. Many climbers journey to Table Rock for its 400-foot climbs, but long ago it was a ceremonial site for the Cherokee.
With Jonathan Hart, Outdoor Recreation’s intern, I made sure everyone was warm for the night before turning in. The wind roared in the treetops above our ridge-top campsite, blew away the clouds.
Sunday morning was cold and crisp; Mother Nature’s reminder that you’re alive and well. After breaking camp and devouring egg and bacon sandwiches, we set off along Jonas Ridge for an area called the Chimneys. The north-south rocky ridge lays between Linville Gorge to the west and the descending approach to the Atlantic to the east.
Sunday’s half day of climbing was only a tease but still great. Another rappel was also set up, but this time it was free hanging with no rock to put your feet on.
We were on the road by 3:30p.m., moving quickly to beat Wilma to Tampa. We pulled in at 2:30 a.m. to find only minor effects from the hurricane.
The last to leave, I slumped against the recreation center wall out of the rain, waiting on my ride. I was tired but happy. Trip participants had walked up to shake my hand or give me a hug, thanking me for the wonderful time they had with tired smiles on their faces. This is the best part of my job.
Sign up for trips and obtain information on outdoor recreation at the Outdoor Resource Center, located in Room 006 of the Campus Recreation Building.