My beloved was so good as to write up a trip report for out North Carolina adventure on Whitesides Mountain, so I thought I'd just steal it and add a few comments. The long and short of it was I rapelled 650'ft off a cliff!
Sherron and I had quite the adventure this past weekend, and I thought I would relate. We drove over to Highlands, NC again for more rappelling off the big cliff. The main reason was supposed to be for me to get a 'weighted rope' rappel in, in preparation for the big rappel in Yosemite. The second reason was so Sherron could get a long rappel, as she is supposed to get two Whitesides rappels in to qualify for the Bridge Day rappel in October.
The weather did not cooperate. Sherron and I left town at a useless hour on Friday — not early enough to get up on the cliff when we got there, and early enough to have a lot of time on our hands before turning in. So, feeling groggy from the long drive, we just ate Chinese food 'in town' and stared out the window. It was cloudy, and after a bit, the sky opened up and the bottom dropped out. "Wow," we thought. "Glad we're not up on the mountain after all," Hah. When the rains ended, we drove down off the plateau to find the campsite and set up camp. It cleared off and all was well.
Saturday dawned sunny and we were excited at the prospects. Sherron started the day off with a headache/migraine and got off to a slow start, but was a trooper. Enough of the right kind of drugs allowed her to put a game face on (Meaning I got the headache down from 8 to 4 on a 10 scale), and we drove over to the trailhead. Sherron and I, along with TinY and Nikky, were the last ones up the trail. TinY forced us to stop often, which allowed everyone to get up the hill without being dead on our feet.
One rope had been rigged the previous day (Yes, folks had been up on the mountain in that rain) and two more needed to be rigged.
(The following is details, interesting to a few, the important part for later is to note that there are three ropes) The task of rigging one of them fell to me and Kevin Mulligan. It was a spot I had been over several times before and I was fairly comfortable with that. In spite of that, it was still a lot of pressure and we had a few stops and starts. The rigging point was a cluster of bolts 50 feet down a bare 45-degree granite slope from the trail at the top. There was a nice big ledge with places to stand and work. To get to it, you get on rope at the fence up top and back down the slope with your rappel rack keeping you in control. From the rig point, we tied in the main 750' line, and two shorter ropes. One of the short ropes was to have something to tie rope pads to, and the other was the 'edge attendant' line. From the bolts, the slope continued at 45 degrees for maybe 25', then steepened to 60 degrees for 15' then steepened again for a few feet before encountering the last little ledge that was the actual lip. I got two spots padded. We thought we getting ready to go, when the weather came up over the mountain on us.
We had watched the clouds build, and listened to thunder off in the distance. When the lightning finally started cracking above us, we were all called back topside and huddled under the rain tarp. We were warned to be ready for rain, so we all had our rain gear and put it on, and we waited. And waited. And waited. It rained. It thundered. It hailed. We huddled together some to keep warm. There were 20 of us, I think. At one point, I was sitting on the ground under the tarp when a particularly close strike hit. Some folks said they heard a weird noise like a click, maybe. I don't remember the noise, because my right foot jumped from a large electrical shock. Other folks got a jolt in the butt, and we were going, "Did you feel that?" It was spooky. After a few more hours, there was a lull in the storm. It was mid-afternoon, but some of the folks were ready to pack it in. Sherron was among those who decided to head down, so I figured that I wouldn't see her again until nightfall.
The rains came back, and more huddling under the tarp ensued. But it wasn't as bad, and it seemed like the sky was lightening. During another lull, I decided that I would go down to 'my' rig point and hang out, just getting some rope time, even if it might be to no end. Mike Mirov came down to join me, and as I was looking back upslope at him, I happened to see a bolt of lightning practically silhouetting him. So it was back up to the top and under the tarp again! But it was a short spell, and we were back out, with the sky lightening and the sun peeking out in places. So all of a sudden, we were go! Of the people left on the mountain, the only ones that got gear on were me, TinY, Perry, Mike and Robert. Perry needed a weighted rope rappel to qualify for El Cap, and there was one more spot on 'my' rope that needed padding, and it fell to me to go down first, pad the spot and continue down to the bottom to belay and be the weight on the rope. That meant I didn't get a weighted rappel that day, but I agreed to it. Team first.
The last spot to be padded was about 80' below the lip, where the cliff face came back out to touch the rope line. I had to stop, tie off, reach out and tie the pad to the bolt without dropping it, then continue on down. On the bottom, I called off rope and Mike called on. Robert had gotten on the second rope to follow TinY on down, leaving Perry behind at the top. Perry was worried about getting his rappel in, but finally got to come down after Mike.
By that time, Sherron had gotten back up to the top, along with Perry's wife Sharon. She had met Bruce White down in the parking lot, and when it was clearing off, Bruce insisted Sherron go back up and get her rappel in. He even carried her gear for her. That was great of him! So I'm down at the bottom when I hear Sherron on the radio, "Mark Ostrander, Where are you?" "I'm at the bottom." "Well, I'm at the top." So I thought that was great - she was going to get her rappel in after all. After a few radio calls, I realized that she was 'on approach' to the lip and didn't have anyone with her! I'm down below having kittens at that point. When Sherron made a radio call asking which of the three ropes was the main line, I about had a stroke. My blood pressure went up, I could feel my lips tingling, and I told Mike I could use a Valium at that point. TinY was monitoring this all, but said he could tell from Sherron's tone of voice that she was managing it well. After a period of time, I could see Sherron silhouetted against the sky - on the right rope - and I felt better. But she still had to get past the Velcro rope pad I had placed on the way down. I wasn't sure that she had ever done that task before. I needn't have worried. Sherron did great, and I watched her smoothly descend the rope. She had a great ride (650'!) down the rope and was justifiably thrilled when she got down. The first time I did that rappel, I had TinY right there with me at the lip on an edge line, coaching me and keeping me calm. And Sherron managed it on her own! I'm amazed and proud.
Sherron decided that she would prefer the hike around the cliff and back up in preference to climbing all that ways on the rope, (This is not true. I would have preferred to go back up the rope. I’d been told how bad the hike was. But it was really late, and the conditions were bad, and I didn’t want people having to wait up at the top for me.) and I agreed to hike with her. Mike was going to climb with Perry, but decided he wasn't quite up to frogging all that ways, and he hiked with us. Both TinY and Nikky tell people that climbing the rope is preferable to the awful hike, but you have to experience it once to know. The hike about killed Sherron after the rope didn't. It's a lot of scrambling up and down, with a long, very steep pitch at the end. She managed it without throwing up, but it was close. It took us about an hour and a half to get back down to the cars, (“normal” hike time is about an hour) but we made it. We made it back down shortly after the crowd from the top.
If we hurried, we could get back into town before the pizza place closed, so off we all went. The food was great and Nikky had arranged for a pair of birthday cakes for TinY, so we had a surprise party too. It was fun. Then back to the campsite for the obligatory huge bonfire. It had been raining again, but they managed to get the fire going, with the help of considerable accelerants. Sherron was pooped and crashed in the tent, while the rest of us had a few beers and enjoyed the fire.
We had left the cliff rigged with the understanding that we'd go up Sunday morning and clean it and bring it all down. Tiny had been left with the task of de-rigging solo on an outing last Fall, and I told him I'd be around to help this time. So we got up in the morning, packed up and headed into town for real coffee and on to the trailhead again. Our camping gear was supposed to go on the trailer and be carried out to Yosemite, but it was all damp, so Sherron agreed to stay down at the parking lot and dry stuff out: both ours and the Manke's.
(Then there's several paragraphs about Mark's day at the top of the hill. I spent the day reading, spreading things out to dry, moving them around, etc.)
I was hoping that the day would have gone quickly and Sherron and I could be back on the road home, but it ended up being something like 3:30 before we got down to the parking lot. Oh well. Everyone trickled in and we sat around and pooled what food and beverages we had, and had a brief picnic, but then the rains came. Everyone scattered to their cars and, one by one, drove off. I had to get our camping gear back in the duffel and loaded onto the El Cap trailer, I and stood out under the back hatch on the Vue and got that ready with out getting the gear too wet. A brief lull allowed me to back our car over to the trailer and I threw it aboard, and finally we were done. A honk and wave to the Mankes and the Hrizuks and we were gone at about 4:30. It was a long, but almost uneventful drive (coming into Huntsville, I was tired and mis-judged my closing speed and almost ran over a slow car) and it was about 6 and a half hours later that we pulled in the driveway at home. Thomas was glad to see us, as were the dogs, and we were glad to be home to real food and a dry bed!
It was a good outing, but really draining. Sherron could hardly move yesterday. As in, I slept all the way through Monday!