Tucked away in the thick rhododendron forests of Boone, North Carolina lies a lifetime's worth of boulders to be climbed. Due to its geologically active past, the Boone area boasts several prominent rock types, from metamorphosed sandstone and bullet hard quartzite to granitic gneiss. Early pioneers in the sport of bouldering began development in the 1980s, and it has not stopped since—though, with all the climbing in Boone, the boulders don’t get much traffic from anyone other than the locals. To those not in the community, the area is a mystery. They know the climbing is there, they just don’t know how to find it. There is no published guidebook and very limited information on the internet. Many people perceive the lack of written material to be a statement that Boone climbers want to keep the boulders to themselves, and do not welcome outsiders—but this is not exactly true.
I first started climbing in Boone at the Appalachian State University climbing gym. As I spent time there I began to hear more and more about all the outdoor climbing the area had to offer. My roommate and I scoured the internet for any information we could find on the boulder fields we had heard so much about. We didn’t find much, except vague directions to get to several of the main climbing areas. Out of three separate attempts to find three different areas we were successful once in finding the Blowing Rock Boulders. To say the least, psych was high. Equipped with one small crash pad we hiked diligently down the trail. We had no idea what any of the problems were and did not know what to expect. We tried to climb a few things we saw on the hike in, but couldn’t top anything out. We eventually came upon the main area and found other people who happily shared beta and showed us around. As I explored the other areas in Boone there were always locals their happy to share their knowledge.
I work at the local climbing shop in Boone, and as a result I meet a lot of climbers traveling through town stopping by to get beta. Almost everyone asks about a guidebook, which, to their disappointment, I have to explain there isn’t one and that there probably will never be one.
There have been attempts in the past to create some sort of a guide, but they always get shut down. Why is this? Do Boone climbers really want to keep their rocks to themselves? The answer to this question is no. I know plenty of climbers, old and young, who would be happy to create a guide for the public; however, the biggest and scariest issue stopping everyone in Boone is access.
If you’ve been climbing in Boone long enough, you’ve seen too many areas get shut down. From land being purchased for housing development, to state parks banning climbing, the history here is rife with this unfortunate occurrence. Many of the larger boulder fields are on public, federally owned land, protecting them from being purchased; however, government agencies keep and manage records of environmental impact created by climbers. As land usage increases, impact also increases, and as a result these agencies could close the areas to climbing.
Other boulders we climb on are located on privately owned land. Currently relationships with land owners and climbers are okay; however, there is a fear that if more people begin to show up to climb, tension could arise. Furthermore, many boulders are accessed via small gravel forest service roads and there is very limited parking. With more climbers using these roads on a regular basis, conditions of the roads will degrade more quickly than usual and parking will start to overflow. This could jeopardize access as the agencies managing the roads will have to spend more money to accommodate an increase in road usage.
Access in Boone is, to say the least, delicate. Locals believe that the climbing is world class and I can attest to it. Many struggle with the idea of creating a guidebook only to see their beloved areas be shut down soon afterwards. Progress, however, is being made. Thanks to the help of the Carolina Climbers Coalition (CCC) and the Access Fund, areas have been reopened and boulder fields have been purchased, securing access forever. Recently the CCC purchased a 55-acre plot of land saving Buckeye Knob, a large granite boulder field that was facing the risk of being developed. Climbing access in Boone is starting to look less grim thanks to those who put in the effort to create a dialogue with the community. I hope a guidebook can be created in the future without sacrificing access, but for now we hope that people understand why there can't be one.
If you find yourself in Boone, don’t be afraid to ask us for beta. We're happy to share.
Climber and Photographer based in the Southeast