Cave Ascents, Descents, and Pride Rock’s Jump – NC

Chimney Rock’s Rumbling Bald, North Carolina, is a climbers’ and scramblers’ dream. The entire range is essentially comprised of crumbled mountains each littered with countless boulder fields, fissures, cracks, passages, and caves. One such passage route leads to Pride Rock – a 20ft tall monolithic formation that looms over a 100ft cliff and requires a 5ft jump out to the 2ft wide top.

To even reach the sentinel standing structure requires a journey of a different mental capacity – a short ascent through a series of cavern passages and climbs within the mountain. My friend Allen Smith, whom I trained parkour with, first alerted me to the cave entrances in late 2011. He informed me that he had heard there was a certain route you can take to a overlook above the cliff line, but he didn’t know the way personally. So in early 2012, we took the entire Asheville parkour community at the time – around 6 of us – on a successful journey to the top! Clearly locals have been using this place and our route as a hang out for decades – as made evident by the graffiti dating back to at least to the early 80’s in there. When we first started going through that passage there were no arrows, but at some point someone had spray painted a correct route with some.

***Before I post this video of an ascent Austin and I made in 2017 before sunrise, I am declaring that the caves are no longer safe. I don’t care that others have been through recently, and I don’t care what they say. I CANNOT stress enough that this is no longer safe (as if it ever truly were). In the 7 years I have been there, out of all the COUNTLESS ascents I’ve made, I have never seen the anatomy of the caverns change.. until 2018. After a record breaking year of rain and landslides, a wall stack of rocks that we directly climb under and then over, deep inside, has collapsed. Imagine a rock weighing half a ton crushing all – or only part – of you. Or being permanently sealed within the caves, no way to send out a signal for help. That’s enough for me to never go through again, and I encourage you to heed these warnings.***

All that being said, some rooms in the cave are wide and tall, while other passages are insanely small and require certain body position in order to fit through. The video ends at the overlook where Pride Rock is, a little bit before sunrise. After the video is a gallery of photos I’ve taken within the caves during various trips.

Ascent through the caverns below Pride Rock with Austin Ortiz. The wall at 1:15 that we climb has since collapsed.
At the entrance, with a group including family Vinny Noto, that I led through in early 2016.
First “overlook” with a group Austin and I led through in 2015. The video started after this point of the caves.
“Halfway Room” with another group Austin and I led through in 2015.
Sitting atop the mighty monolith Pride Rock, just before sunrise.

This monolith has a draw to it that I can’t quite convey with words. The moment my friends and I saw it, we knew we needed to get out to it. Our training prepares us for moments exactly like this; and this was a measure of ability – both physical but, more importantly, mental. We are well trained and our judgment is an important factor of training that isn’t discussed often. Risk and reward management is the constant underlying current of every motion we make in the mountains. Some things are truly just not worth it – whether we can do it or not. And some other things are worth it in our eyes – but that vision is layered with years of specialized training (both in strength and technique). We didn’t make the jump for the first year of visiting Pride Rock, because we knew we weren’t quite mentally there yet. So before I post the video of the jump, for those who don’t understand the “why”, just trust me when I say that we are always safe.

POV of the jump out to Pride Rock.

I’ve also gotten to enjoy many years of filming and photographing here! Of the several dozen time-lapses I have of this spot, I would say that the one below is my favorite.

Time-lapse of Pride Rock in fog and rain.

From this point upward, it’s a serious scramble and squeeze through more fissures situated high in the cliff line. It was possible for us to develop a route through the upper section of cliffs to the iconic Party Rock, but as I said above – the amount of rainfall and landslides in 2018 has made that terrain incredibly unstable. I wouldn’t go through these routes again.

AND with that being said, here’s a cool route friends and I developed once in 2016. It starts out on some cliff clearings about another 100ft above Pride Rock. There is a tiny crack on the side of the mountain, so we decided to explore inside it. Turns out it scrambled downward back to Pride Rock, which was WAY better than precariously negotiating the cliff side, exposed. After the video is a photo of another group of friends I led through in late 2015, pictured at one of the many cliff outcroppings above Pride Rock.

Interesting decent route above Pride Rock.
Above Pride Rock with a group Austin and I led through in late 2015.

Historically we have always just retraced our steps through the caves to descend the mountain. However, in early 2017, Austin explored a little down the cliff side at the base of Pride Rock and found a way we could descend out – in a free soloing fashion – instead of crawling through the caves. Admittedly, it would be a lot faster to just climb the cliffs and less.. nerve-wracking? Depends on who you ask and how you want to look at it!

With all of that being said, in the video below of the descent – at the 1:41 mark – you can see it required a full on spider wedge 40ft down a crevice – aiming for a rock that was wedged between the walls. Then at 2:35 I start the second part of the descent, where I down climb another small fissure separating off the cliff. I guess this would be the most exposed part, as I’m still another ~50ft from the ground. And finally at 3:12, Ryan Carroll and I execute the perfect bag toss!

It would be nice to make return trip here, but I am glad we got to enjoy the most of it while we could!

Free solo descent of the cliffs below Pride Rock.

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