Rock climbing in the Southeastern USA


Photo by Wayne Busch - Morning view of Panthertown ValleyNorth Carolina - Panthertown Valley

Graphic - map of state of North Carolina with location of Mingo Falls indicated with a yellow star.Location

Panthertown Valley is located in the Nantahala National Forest nearest to the town of Cashiers, North Carolina.

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Photo by Wayne busch - Bryan Hall nears the top of Beared Lady 5.10 at Black Rock MountainDescription

Panthertown Valley is a 6295 acre tract of land located Jackson, Macon, and Transylvania Counties in the high country of the Nantahala National Forest northeast of the town of Cashiers, NC. The valley is unusual topographically as it lies at roughly 4000 feet of elevation, is broad and relatively flat. The sandy bottom is interrupted by large granite plutons both within it and on it's borders. These rise 200 - 300 feet and host several climbable cliff faces. The most notable of these is Big Green Mountain at the south end of the valley.

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The valley contains the pristine headwaters of the Tuckasegee River which begins where Greenland and Panthertown Creeks join. The river exits via the Devil's Elbow Gorge. An atypically large bog is located along Panthertown Creek between Big and Little Green Mountains adjacent to a forested area known as Greenland. In early days, this area was comprised of open meadows, but is now overgrown with white pine.

Photo by Wayne Busch - The lower slabs at Black Rock Mountain, Panthertown, NCView bigger photo of Black Rock Slabs

The ridge on the valley's southern boundary is part of the eastern continental divide. There are several waterfalls in the valley and the high altitude bogs hold a large number of rare and endangered plants, lichens, and mosses. Schoolhouse Falls on Greenland Creek is exceptional. Trails lead to the tops of both Big and Little Green Mountains. There is a nice cascade on Panthertown Creek just northeast of the bog, and another fall higher up to the northwest of Big Green Mountain. The entire valley is a bear sanctuary. Camping and mountain biking are allowed, but the primary activity for visitors is hiking the maze of forest roads and trails which weave through the area. The area sees seasonally heavy use due to it's close proximity to the wealthy vacation town of Cashiers.

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Photo by Bryan Hall - Wayne Busch on Greasy Chicken 5.8 at Black Rock MountainEarly settlers referred to the valley as "Paintertown", the term "painter" referring to the large cats we now call panthers. It was sparsely settled, becoming private land around the turn of the century. The property was purchased by a lumber company which began harvesting the timber in the 1920's. No old growth forest remains. The Southern Railway ran a spur to the three lumber camps, traces of which remain in the higher portions of the valley along Panthertown Creek. Logging was completed by the end of the 1930's. Fires then swept through the valley leading to severe erosion. Deciduous forests of poplar, oak and magnolia have regrown. The land sat idle until it's purchase in the 1960's by an investment corporation. A few tracts were sold on the periphery and at one time there was discussion of filing the valley with a lake, but little actual development ensued. Duke Power Company purchased the land in 1988 to run power transmission lines, then sold it to the North Carolina Nature Conservancy retaining 800 acres for the right-of- way in 1987. The Nature Conservancy promptly deeded the land to the National Forest Service. It is currently administered by the Highlands Ranger District.

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Directions from Cashiers:

There are 2 main entrances to the valley, climbers will want to use the west entrance.

Photo by Wayne Busch - The Trailhead has limited parkingTake US 64 east from Cashiers, towards Brevard, for 1.8 miles until you reach Cedar Creek Road (SR1120) on the left. Take Cedar Creek Road for 2.3 miles until you reach Breedlove Rd on your right. Breedlove Road winds back towards the valley for 3.3 miles where the pavement ends. The dirt road to the parking area starts here. This last section is short, but very rough. If you don't have a vehicle with good ground clearance you may want to park here and walk in. You will reach the Forest Service Gate in about 0.2 miles. There is a sign with a map and notices. Walk past the Forest Service gate following the dirt road down towards the valley. There is a registration box on a tree on your left a short way beyond the gate. A few minutes walking will bring you to the Salt Rock overlook on your left.

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Topographical maps: Big Ridge and Lake Toxaway Topographical maps are available by contacting: NC Geographical Survey. 1612 Mail Service Center Raleigh, NC 27699-1612. (919) 715-9718 Trail maps are also available at Black Rock Outing Company in Sylva 828-631-HIKE..

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Main trails follow old access roadsCliff Access

From the small parking area, walk past the Forest Service gate down the old access road. There is a registration box on a tree on the right a short distance from the trailhead. Sign in, and continue down the road a few moments. You will come to the Salt Rock overlook on the left. From here a good view of the valley will help familiarize you with the layout. The long mountain with the cliff faces you see straight ahead is Little Green Mountain. The large dome to the right is Big Green Mountain. The cliff faces on the left are on Black Rock Mountain. Behind Little Green Mountain, cliff faces can be seen on Boardcamp Ridge, as well as those outside the valley on Cold Mountain and the Devil's Elbow.

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To Big Green Mountain - 30 minutes - Continue down the road from the Salt Rock Overlook about 5 minutes until you see a prominent trail leading off to the right. Follow this trail as it makes a gentle descent. Pass the first trail you see on the left, just after an area that appears as if it was once cleared and is now growing back with small trees and large bushes. Look for the second trail leading off to the left and follow it down. You will come to a stream that can be crossed by rock hopping. A short distance beyond will bring you to the Camp Merrywood shelter on your right. Continue past the shelter on the trail another 5 - 10 minutes looking for a trail on the left. It leads you to the base of the cliffs on Big Green Mountain in the neighborhood of Camp Big Green 5.11a.

Photo by Wayne Busch - Cliff face at Big Green MountainTo Black Rock Mountain - 30 minutes - From the Salt Rock Overlook, continue down the road. Pass the large trail leading off to Big Green on your right. Watch for a trail a few minutes below leading off to the left. The trail starts as a water drainage, then continues through some low underbrush. It crosses a couple of small creeks, usually dry and winds through a fern field. You will emerge at the middle of the lower slab wall in the neighborhood of Welcome to Panthertown 5.10 and Bearded Lady 5.10.

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To Little Green Mountain - Little green mountain is more remote towards the eastern end of the valley. I've yet to make the hike back there, so I can't give an accurate time estimate or directions to it.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Big Green Mountain viewed from the Salt Rock OverlookBig Green Mountain

From the Salt Rock overlook, Big Green Mountain is the large rise on your right. The main cliff faces west and is not easily seen from this angle. Big Green Mountain is the most developed climbing area in the valley. Rising 300 feet, routes here are notoriously difficult and challenging. The expanse of the west face is home to a large number of sparsely bolted climbs. The easier the rating, the more sparse the protection. To really enjoy the climbing here, a leader should be comfortable on 5.11 and ready to accept some heinous runouts as part of the deal. Many of the routes follow shallow water grooves, cross bulging blank faces, and require great commitment from the climber. I've climbed one of the easier routes here (Ground Control 5.9), and been spit off others.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Hidden by the trees, the cliffs on Black Rock Mountain see little attentionBlack Rock Mountain (A.K.A. Woody Wall)

From the Salt Rock overlook, Black Rock Mountain holds the nearby south facing cliff faces on your left that stretch towards the back of the valley. The trail will bring you to the lowest of these faces. It's steep smooth friction slabs are hidden by the trees. The vegetated rounded tops of the cliffs are visible displaying the easy climbing leading to the ledges above.

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The smooth granite faces of the lower are known as the Woody Wall. The first routes were put up here in 1986 or 87 by Sean Cobourn and Dean Gansline. The cliff saw further development in the early '90s, primarily by Tom Woodruff, Steve Ritchie, Burt Perry, and John Fain. The cliff holds more than a dozen lines, most of which sport 4 - 5 bolts. Occasionally, a long section between distant bolts may take a small traditional gear placement. Lengths of climbs range from 100 to 170 feet. There are usually solid anchors at or near the tops of these routes. This section of cliff holds some of the best steep friction climbing south of Stone Mountain. As at Stone, bolts appear to have been drilled on lead, occurring at ledges and stances. I've climbed more than half a dozen of these routes and estimate they range from 5.8 to 5.10 in difficulty. The route we've named Fun City is reported to be solid 5.11, route E is a difficult 5.12. Photo by Bryan Hall - Wayne Busch leads "Bearded Lady 5.10" at Black Rock MountainKeeping in character with other granite domes of North Carolina, the climbs start with the steepest section, then start to roll towards the top on easier ground at about 100 feet of height. The most difficult moves usually occur in the first 30 - 40 feet, though some sustain the challenge much higher or present crux moves just below the break to the easier ground.

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The lower portions of the cliff are shaded by the trees making them cool when the sun beats down, but also keeping them wet and slippery if it has rained. They dry quickly once the sun gets on them making the impossible a bit more forgiving as the day wears on. Once out into the sun, the rock is a little more sticky and forgiving. The cliffs face south increasing their potential for winter climbing.

Photo by Wayne busch - Bryan Hall atop Greasy Chicken 5.8 at Black Rock MountainI do not have the original names for the routes on the Woody Wall . For identification purposes we've named the routes we've climbed as well as some of the cliff features. I've made a topo map of the main section of the cliff which will be revised and improved with future visits and ascents. Click the link to go to the Black Rock Mountain topo.

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At the extreme left end of the cliff is a low angled slab section. You must climb the steep portion of trail to reach it. There are anchors at the top of this section, but no bolts on the face. It can be easily soloed in the 5.4 - 5.5 range. Climbing to the top here and proceeding up brings you to a second cliff we've just started to explore. The climbing here looks much easier with lots of knobs and water grooves. So far, it appears to be undeveloped.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Little Green Mountain seen from Black Rock Mountain cliffsLittle Green Mountain

From the Salt Rock overlook, Little Green Mountain is the long stretch of faces on the large rock directly in front of you towards the back of the valley. It's a long hike back to the cliffs. The only hint I have that some climbing exists there are entries on the sign-in log. Typically those going here to climb also spend a night camping. The faces appear to be quite vegetated and dirty, though a few promising areas can e seen on the tallest portion of the rock towards the left end. Further exploration is needed to confirm the quality of climbing here.

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The Climbers Guide to North CarolinaSouthern RockGuidebooks

The Climbers Guide to North Carolina by Thomas Kelley.

Selected Climbs in North Carolina - Yon Lambert and Harrison Shull.

The guidebooks list climbs on Big Green Mountain. I've yet to find any information about Black Rock Mountain or Little Green Mountain.

I've created a Black Rock Mountain topo which documents our current explorations of this area.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Bryan Hall near the middle of the lower slab at Black Rock Mountain, Panthertown, NCRoutes

See larger photo of Black Rock slab

The only route on Big Green I can recommend from experience is Ground Control 5.8. I've retreated from others. I've yet to find anyone who knows the history of Black Rock Mountain - see our topo for recommended slab routes. I have not climbed any routes on Little Green Mountain nor found any information about it.

Black Rock Mountain topo

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image - logo- National Forest ServiceLand Manager:

US Forest Service
Nantahala National Forest
Highlands District Ranger Office
2010 Flat Mountain Road
Highlands, NC 28741
828 - 526- 3765
National Forests in North Carolina

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image - caduceus -  symbol of medicineEmergency Information:

Highlands Ranger District 828-526-3765

Sylva 828-586-2459
Franklin 828-369-9116
Highlands 828-526-4131

Jackson County 828-586-2458, 828-586-2459
Franklin 828-369-9116
Macon County Rescue Squad 828-369-5266

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image - carabinerGear:

Standard rack. Gear placements can be sparse on Big Green with long runouts common. There are bolts present on some climbs, but distances between them can be substantial. At Black Rock Mountain, the bolts are sparse to adequate (3 to 5 on 100 - 170 ft. climbs) with the occasional opportunity to place small to medium gear on runout sections. Quickdraws as well as longer slings should be available.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Camp Merrywood shelter is located near the base of Big Green MountainFacilities:

Campsites: Nearby commercial camping is available in Cashiers. The Camp Merrywood Shelter is located near the base of Big Green Mountain. It's a large covered platform used by the camp during the summer months that can accommodate large groups. The remainder of the valley floor is open for primitive overnight camping.

Enlarge view of shelter

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As long as the weather has been dry, there is something to climb in Panthertown Valley throughout the year. Because of the large degree of friction climbing characteristic to the rock here, it's not recommended when wet. Summers bring camp groups into the area, fall brings the leaf-peepers, and winter brings out the hunters.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Bryan Hall crosses Panthertown Creek on the way to Big Green MountainAccess Notes

Panthertown Valley hosts at least 11 different natural communities, including the rare southern Appalachian bog and the swamp forest-bog community. These communities harbor numerous rare plants, such as Cuthbert's turtlehead, Canada burnet, marsh bellflower, climbing fern, and spinulose wood fern. A network of hiking trails lead to waterfalls and spectacular overlooks, cliff faces, and bogs. The waterfalls support sensitive microclimates with the highest concentrations of rare plants in the valley. The rare ferns, mosses, and liverworts near the waterfalls are easily scraped off the rocks when visitors walk near the falls. For this reason, the U.S. Forest Service encourages visitors to view the falls from below.

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The "official" name of Panthertown Valley has recently been changed to the James and Elspeth Clarke Forest though it will probably always be referred to as Panthertown by those who know it. Representative Clarke led the 1987-88 effort to obtain funding transferring Panthertown Valley to the US Forest Service.

There are about 20 miles of native brook trout streams in Panthertown Valley offering excellent catch-and-release wild trout fishing.

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