Once again, nature generously provided us with the dry, crisp and sunny fall days in the southeast that climbers wait for all summer. Crunchy leaves under your feet, high friction rock under your hands, and foot jibs that feel like glue. In this cornucopia of climbing areas we find ourselves in, it sure can feel overwhelming to choose where to spend your hard earned weekends. But one of the largest and most incredible bouldering areas worth at least a weekend of your skin and time is Rumbling Bald, in our neighboring state of North Carolina. The boulder field faces south and basks in the sun, making cold winter days feel comfortable and perfect for sending.
Rumbling Bald is about a 4.5 hour drive from Chattanooga so getting an early start is recommended. Once you reach Asheville, you're about 25 miles from the boulder field, making it the perfect place to stop and stock up on supplies. Grab an espresso and a piece of pumpkin bread at High Five Coffee Bar and stop at Whole Foods Market to stock up on food and beverages before heading out to the rock.
The closest town to the boulder field is Chimney Rock located at the east end of Lake Lure. You won't find much but a few shops and restaurants here, but if you're looking to score a dozen biscuits for less than $3, Ingles Market is the place to do it.
Plan on a 9 or 10am arrival, as the parking lot at the Bald fills up fast with both hikers and climbers, and you may even have to wait for a spot if you get there too late. The parking is also locked at dusk so make sure you leave in time or the Ranger will be waiting.
Boasting at least 882 documented boulder lines you are sure to run out of chalk and skin before running out of problems at the Rumbling Bald. The Rumbling Bald Bouldering Guide, written by Chris Dorrity, is available at any outdoor retailer and is certainly worth a look. The guide divides the boulder field into the West Side, Central, and East Side.
The approach to the first area from the lot is about 10 minutes, though this area is widespread, so expect to do a lot more hiking. The West Side is a great warm up as well as project area with a wide range of grades and height variety. Plenty of V0's and V1's are available for the beginner as well, mostly described as "Unknown" in the guide book due to being un-named problems in the Obscure and Trailside areas within the Westside area. The Trailside area also offers great three-star problems like the classic arête, Moby Dick (V4) and the crimpy Rotator Cuff sds. (V6) that can also be climbed as a V5 stand start. Moving on to the Cluster boulders, The French Maid (V7) is a must-do for the experienced climber and should not go untried.
Though there's much more to be climbed on the West Side you must move on to the Central boulder field for the best V2 at the Rumbling Bald. The Brevard Fault (V2) and other classics like Bruce's Problem (V5) and Slash and Burn (V8) are high star problems here (amongst many more) on these mere 8 boulders and generally less crowded Central area.
If the West Side and Central was not enough of a challenge for you, the East Side certainly will be. My advice is to call it a day before heading here and show up fresh the following day because the east boulder field is spread out in steep terrain with big elevation changes and can be difficult to navigate. However, the climbing is still excellent here and there are many projects and untouched boulders looking for a first ascent for those who feel so inclined.
Unfortunately, there is no camping allowed at Rumbling Bald, so be sure to make a plan for lodging. Located just a few miles from the boulders, in Lake Lure, is the Hitching Post Campground. They offer tent and RV camping as well as bunk houses and apartments. The camping is open year round but the best time for bouldering at Rumbling Bald is fall, winter and spring, with winter being the prime season. You will want to avoid the area in the summer as vegetation, wildlife and temperatures make it downright miserable, not to mention impossible to navigate. Other options like private cabin rentals are also available in the area, as well as hotels back in Asheville if you're looking for a bit more comfort and choices for food and entertainment.
However you chose to spend your weekend at Rumbling Bald, you are sure to walk away with lots of sends and projects and one of the best winter climbing experiences you can find in the south.