The Best Cold-Weather Climbing Destinations in Central Carolina

The south facing granite and ultra classic routes of Stone Mountain State Park make it a fantastic winter destination.
The south facing granite and ultra classic routes of Stone Mountain State Park make it a fantastic winter destination. Garrett Gossett
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Garrett Gossett is the volunteer leader of the Charlotte chapter of the American Alpine Club . The AAC brings the national community of climbers together and advocates for access and safety issues. In Charlotte, the local chapter organizes fund-raisers and provides a forum for climbers to discuss the sport they love. The Charlotte chapter offers a meeting each month at Sycamore Brewing open to both members and nonmembers.

Gossett got his first taste for climbing as a kid in summer camp and has been climbing around the southeast for years. His interest in climber education and safety lead him to organize a rappel class for the AAC and, eventually, to launching the chapter in Charlotte a year ago. With his help, we offer this list of great cold weather climbing destinations within an easy drive of Charlotte.

1. Stone Mountain

No Alternative, the sister route to the well known Great Arch at Stone Mountain State Park.
No Alternative, the sister route to the well known Great Arch at Stone Mountain State Park. Matt Swain

The 600-foot granite dome of Stone Mountain State Park is well known as a southeastern friction-climbing gem. In the winter, this slab of rock is particularly popular. Its south facing routes can be an oven in the summer, Gossett says. But this stone makes for a perfect climb in cooler temperatures.

“There’s really nothing to grab onto on most of the slab routes out there,” he says. “You’re purely dependent on friction in your feet. The nature of granite is really odd in that it feels stickier when it’s cold. It has this greasy feel when it’s really hot outside.”

Of course the ultra-classic route is the Great Arch. Unlike the other slab routes, it’s all trad climbing. But most of Stone is about long run outs. While the terrain at Stone isn’t the most difficult, you’ll be climbing high above your gear so Gossett expresses the importance of having your head in the right place. A good route to start with, and one of his favorites, is Block Route. This 5.8 approach to the tree line is an introduction to what Stone has to offer.

Gossett also suggests the Great White Way as one of the best examples of slab climbing in the park. The route follows a water groove on an exposed section of the mountain.

“It’s terrifying,” he says. “But if your head’s in the right place, it’s a lot of fun.”

2. Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area

One of the greatest attributes that makes Rocky Face Park a cold-weather climbing destination is its accessibility. Parking right next to the wall makes a quick trip to the car easy should fingers and toes get too cold. That accessibility also makes it a great place for those who are early in their outdoor climbing career.

“It’s a really good place to take beginners who want to climb outside,” Gossett says. “There’s easy access to the top of the route, so you can do a lot of teaching up there. You can let someone lead up or top-rope and a third person can be at the top helping them learn how to clean the route. It’s a good classroom.”

The south-facing gneiss rock face here was the former home of an old quarry. Gossett says that while many of the routes are solid, there are some less traveled ones that can have loose rocks. Helmets are a great idea everywhere, but especially here.

3. Sauratown

Located on a YMCA camp, the popular routes at Sauratown are only accessible during winter.
Located on a YMCA camp, the popular routes at Sauratown are only accessible during winter. Matt Swain

Sauratown Mountain is the quintessential cold-weather crag. Located on the site of YMCA Camp Hanes, access is strictly restricted to winter climbing—December through March. The short climbing season here, as well as the warm, south-facing wall, make it a very popular cold-weather destination. Some of the best examples of classic trad routes and sport climbing are found here.

As is the case with many climbing areas, the use of Sauratown is made possible through a partnership with landowners and the climbing community. Access to this particular resource was made possible through the work of the Carolina Climbers Coalition. Please visit their site before climbing at Sauratown and consider contributing to their efforts.

4. Rumbling Bald

Rumbling Bald has one of the greatest collection of bouldering problems in the area.
Rumbling Bald has one of the greatest collection of bouldering problems in the area. Matt Swain

Through another amazing achievement of the Carolina Climbing Coalition, the Rumbling Bald climbing area of Chimney Rock State Park is now public land. Known for its world-class bouldering, the area also has a significant number of traditional and sport routes.

Overgrown vegetation and heat make the south-facing wall inhospitable in summer, but it’s a common stop for winter climbing of all types. The sheer variety of climbs here make it a popular destination, and the addition of the climber’s parking lot has made access to Rumbling Bald much easier.

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