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A Linville Link-Up


Submitted by j_ung on 2008-12-08 | Last Modified on 2008-12-11

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by J. Young


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Kris Versteegen, somewhere near the end of the universe. Photo: Peter Mallamo.

“Slopey… shit…” mutters Kris from lip of a body-length roof. He’s mid crux on Lost in Space, an aptly named .10b at Hawksbill, in Linville Gorge, NC. His feet kick ineffectively for purchase under the roof, while his shoulders tense as he desperately seeks handholds. If he can just get a foot over the lip on the right, he’ll be home free, but it’s easier written than done. His ass is as exposed as it’s possible to be with pants on, and his rack, which is nothing but ballast at the moment, dangles below. He’s seven or eight meters due right of my perch above the first-pitch dihedral, looking down the barrel of a bone splintering pendulum straight into it. The only piece he has in, a red Camalot in a ridiculous flare, shouldn’t hold a runner and two biners, let alone a fall. The corner licks its lips.

To make matters worse, Kris and I are almost twelve hours into a marathon day that began at 5 AM, 11 miles and 13 pitches ago. As tired as I am, I can focus only enough to clutch the brake like I’m Charlton Heston and it’s my gun – cold dead hand… cold dead hand. I take what comfort I can from the remembrance that this shit was all his idea, not mine.

-08:00, yesterday evening

Kris asked me about two weeks ago if I wanted to try to climb a route on all the major east-side Linville-Gorge formations in a day. I was still on the metaphorical couch I was about to climb up off of, but screw it. I said, “Sure. Why not?”

It’s a wonder Kris even trusts me to belay for him. I and my girlfriend just broke up and, to be honest, I’m a little sad about it. And now Kris is dating her. Fortunately, this day will be the start of a fruitful partnership, rather than the culmination of several ill-fated ideas. “Let’s see if we can do it in under 12 hours,” one of us added – I don’t remember which. “With no cars involved,” said the other.

Now here we are on the eve of our attempt. We’ve stashed water and Clif Bars all along our route to minimize what we have to carry, and a group of friends, who are filming all this for posterity, will lug our sleeping bags out for us. They’ve named our caches, which are actually a water-and-red-Gatorade mix, Redwater 1, 2 and 3.

As we gaze into the setting sun over the west side of the Gorge, we begin to break down how long each leg of the journey will take. “Two-and-a-half hours at least for the first climb,” I estimate.

“That, plus another half hour to get from here to the Amphitheater,” adds Kris. We go back and forth on it until we have an estimated time of somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 hours.

“There’s no way we can do this in under 12 hours,” I muse. We make a pact to give it our best, though, and retire to our respective sleeping bags.

-00:30 evening

It’s the ungodly hour of 5 AM, but big deal. I’ve been awake all night anyway. Kris, it turns out, tossed and turned all night, too, in the sleeping bag his dog chewed to ribbons yesterday. We climb from our restless “slumber,” if you can call it that, scarf a small amount of food and head down the Shortoff descent gully in the waxing dawn. We camped atop Shortoff Mountain last night to get a jump on the day, so we’re right where we need to be.

00:00

First up is Maginot Line, a classic four-pitch 5.7, which we both only climbed for the first time yesterday. Kris gets pitch one, which is actually two pitches – we’re stringing them together whenever we can. He steps off the dirt at 5:30 and I start the timer.

01:30

Wow, that was quick. Combining pitches was just the ticket. We toss everything into packs. Kris takes the rack and I take the rope, and we head off running. We each carry our own rain coat.

03:30

We arrive at the Amphitheater, and both of us are acutely aware that, already, we’re way ahead of schedule. Our intended route is The Mummy, a three-pitch 5.5. We simulclimb it, me leading, and again we gain time! Our early success invigorates us and we take off for the next climb on NC Wall.

05:30

NC Wall poses a bit of a problem, because it’s about 99% closed for peregrine nesting. Extensive recon days before, however, showed a single-pitch route on the extreme rock-right side of the wall. It’s not in any guidebooks, and nobody I’ve spoken with since has even heard of it, but it’s there. I’ll be happy to show anybody who wants to see it. We (re)name it The Museum for all the ancient hardware we find on it and rate in the neighborhood of 5.7. Kris leads it. There is no anchor to speak of, so he assumes a solid seat and butt-belays me. We have a short but painful slog back to our packs atop the NC-Wall gully. The briars are Medusan and absolutely merciless. It’s Carolina bushwhacking at its Linville-Gorge finest.

07:30

The pace has shown signs of slowing… significantly. Our running and bushwhacking and climbing is catching up to us, so we stop at the car in the Table-Rock parking lot and snarf some bagels. I want to take a nap, but I know that’s the kiss of death. Once I fall asleep, I’m not going to want to wake up. After the bagels, we push onward. The weather is fine, so we leave our rain gear at the car to shave weight.

08:00

My God, I’m so tired. It took us a half hour just to get here from the parking area. We are in desperate need of a second wind. Despite all that, we suck it up and climb the North Ridge. Luckily, our “film crew,” has a fixed rope here. We use it to get back down, and then head off once again into the bush, this time down the back way from Table Rock. We stashed bikes at the road yesterday morning, and this is a shortcut there. Oh, sweet. There’s a thunderstorm brewing.

09:00

The Redwater-2 cache of Gatorade and Clif Shots blesses us with that second wind we so desperately needed. We stumble to the road and pound the water before peddling on up the hill toward Hawksbill. The plan is to ditch the wheels in the woods near the Hawksbill trailhead, at Redwater 3. We have only a few miles left to go, but the bike ride is the most grueling part of the day for both of us and the two pitches we have planned for Hawksbill are by far the most difficult. Kris seconded the route years ago. It’ll be an onsight attempt for me.

10:00

We stash the bikes at the Hawksbill trailhead and hike up. We’re almost done, and we still have enough time to make our 12-hour goal. Ssssso... tired… But, hey, at least the thunderstorm never materialized.

10:30

We arrive at Hawksbill gripped by a degree of exhaustion that makes our earlier fatigue seem like a Grand Mal seizure. What I wouldn’t give for a nap. But no! I mustn’t. Ironically, Kris looks at me and says, “I’m gonna to take a nap.” He stretches out on a car-sized chunk of talus and closes his eyes. I busy myself re-racking for the first pitch of Lost in Space.

10:45

We’re running out of time. I poke Kris and tell him I’m ready, then start tying in. I step off the ground with a whimper and spare a brief moment to wonder if it was aloud. Soon, however, I’m busy with other tasks. The pitch is only 5.9, but in my present state I might as well be freeing the Nose. A delicate, unprotected slab leads to a big ledge and a rest. I tip-toe up an aręte and place my first gear. It’ll keep me off the deck, but not the ledge. Another few meters and I gain a dihedral that leads to the belay. I place another piece and start into it, but I’m climbing in a daze. I’m barely there mentally. I almost feel like I’m outside my body. Maybe that’s a good thing. I climb 5 meters or so into the corner, place a stopper, and in a fog of inattention I do not extend its runner. These are the cruxy bits. As I climb past, the stopper lifts out of its placement. I watch in stunned horror as it slides away from me, tracing a much more graceful path than I surely will if I follow.

All of a sudden, I’m awake again. This is no place to stop, so I layback onward and upward until I finally hit a decent enough stance, throw in a brown Tricam and breathe a sigh of relief. I’m out of it! I scramble to the belay, gear it the fuck up, and yell down, “I’m safe!”

I breathe a sigh of relief until I see that there’s another storm, already hammering whoever’s unlucky enough to be under it, moving our way.

11:15

After an uneventful follow and a remark or two traded about the time, Kris traverses out under the crux roof to an ever-loudening soundtrack of thunder. We probably have only minutes before this thing hits, I think to myself.

There’s a weakness through the roof about seven meters along. He makes his way there and sets that terrible Camalot I mentioned way back at the beginning of all this. Before much longer, he’s finding out first hand how the route earned its name. He spits out the now-infamous “Slopey… shit…” but it’s actually an incut jug and, to this day, Kris doesn’t know why he said those words.

After a seemingly endless amount of time spent lost in space, Kris pulls through the roof and continues up on bigger and bigger jugs to the top. Finally, I hear a faint, “Off belay!” I answer back and watch as the rope leaves my lap, meter by meter. It comes tight, we run through the rest of the commands between impatient grumbles from the watching clouds, and I virtually leap from the belay and into the pitch. I’m a little shorter than Kris is, which, it turns out, is a plus on Lost in Space, so I have no trouble clearing the ceiling. At some point in time, I stop re-racking the gear I’m cleaning, so I have several pieces hanging on a bight of rope a couple meters below me.

I top out in full sprint mode and check the timer. It says 11 hours and 48 minutes. At 12 hours, as if on cue, lightning flashes, thunder cracks open the sky and a driving rain washes the day away.

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26 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 j_ung
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 2008-12-08
Disclaimer! This was late spring in 1999, so some of the details are fuzzy. For example, there may have been more than three redwater caches and some of the times are approximate. The start and end times are exact, however. I'll never forget those. Ours may have been the first Linville link up (not sure), but it definitely wasn't the last, nor honestly, was it the most bad ass. See here: http://carolinaclimbers.org/components/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1545&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0
 vegastradguy
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 2008-12-08
5 out of 5 stars outstanding article, as always!
 Valarc
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 2008-12-08
"It’s a wonder Kris even trusts me to belay for him. I and my girlfriend just broke up and, to be honest, I’m a little sad about it. And now Kris is dating her."

Best part of the whole story. I was kinda rooting for him to take the pendulum for stealing yer woman :D
 hyongx
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 2008-12-08
awesome. makes me want to try lost in space.
 saber199
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 2008-12-08
Kris! WHYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!
 johnwesely
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 2008-12-08
I need to get up to linville so bad.
 boymeetsrock
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 2008-12-08
Nice story Jay!
 southswell
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 2008-12-08
5 out of 5 stars I love that first pic.
 brent_e
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 2008-12-08
5 out of 5 stars good read, thanks!!!

 rogue10186
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 2008-12-08
5 out of 5 stars Pretty Rad there!
 munky
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 2008-12-09
Great story. I've always wanted to do a similar linkup. That link to the CCC thread is killer. Goodman is a nut and and an inspiration. I just read that he snuck up to my neck of the woods and sent two of the hardest lines at Old Rag probablly within a few tries.
 cantbuymefriends
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 2008-12-09
Thanks for sharing, great story :)
 j_ung
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 2008-12-09
Goodman is a silent monster. He's been sneaking in and putting up hard, bold FAs here, too. He gets it done in the big mountains, the little mountains, the crags, the boulders... you name it.
 firemantim
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 2008-12-09
Oh how I miss North Carolina...
 freeledgeledgy
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 2008-12-09
there is good gear back in of the horizontal under the roof on lost in space...need an extra long runner, but protects the pendulum nicely..
 anglkisesz
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 2008-12-09
Awesome! Somebody take me!!!!
 j_ung
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 2008-12-09
Freeledgeledgy, yeah, I know. That day, neither one of us was in any condition to climb intelligently, but on subsequent ascents I've placed it. All either of us saw that day was loose blocks. I think the first time back there after this, I saw the gear and rolled my eyes almost to the back of my skull!
 curtis_g
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 2008-12-09
Great read. Awesome to hear of epic linkups and really cool self-imposed challenges.
 curtis_g
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 2008-12-09
...epic linkups that don't involve 5.13, is what I meant.
 peon
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 2008-12-09
Incredible Story,
"a group of friends, who are filming all this for posterity"
Is there a way to See what the put together? The footage has awesome potential.
 Gmburns2000
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 2008-12-10
5 out of 5 stars Well written, Jay. Nice job.
 j_ung
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 2008-12-10
peon, I'm actually working on that, but it'll take a while. I needed to get something new posted (trying for two new articles per week) and this was the only thing really ready to go. I'll probably re-feature this article later when I have the vid ready. It's all on VHS right now, and it's really just a collection of raw footage. I still need to digitize it and do some editing.
 freeledgeledgy
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 2008-12-10
j_ung. i have definantly been there before. I wasn't criticizing, just throwing in my 2 cents. There are definantly alot of loose blocks on that ledge though.
 tuna
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 2008-12-11
Hey what about the guy who carried 4 gallons of water and three 200-foot Blue Water ropes from the Table Rock Parking lot to several locations along the way to Shortoff.
Bet there is a good story about that guy. And I heard that guy had not met either one of you two crackers before but solely relied on the word of a friend, you two were ok and it would be fun. Oh and I still have one of those ropes.

Also have you heard of the “Lost Spyderco Saga” at the Bachelor Pad area? It is a great story of one mans struggle against and with the relentless pursuit of two crackers with a dream of FA climbing in the Linville Gorge.

 tuna
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 2008-12-11
Hey wanna go climbing at Big Green?
 j_ung
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 2008-12-12
What Spyderco? I have no idea what you're talking about. Who are you, anyway?

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