Rock climbing in North Carolina: 10 questions with climbing outfitter Ryan Beasley

rock climbing north carolina

Now 46, and the owner of Rock Dimensions Climbing School in the North Carolina mountain town of Boone, Ryan Beasley began rock climbing North Carolina when he was 14 and has never looked back – or down. In business since 1998, Rock Dimensions provides customers with a climbing guide service, rock climbing instruction, and a retail store. Ryan has climbed all over the southeast and at such iconic rock climbing destinations as Joshua Tree and Yosemite National parks. He was packing for a trip to El Potrero Chico in Monterrey, Mexico, when he spoke to BG about how someone interested in the sport gets started.

Why Climb?

It’s a physically active sport that puts you into some of the most beautiful areas of the world, whether you’re climbing in North Carolina, California or Tanzania. It’s also a sport where you can select climbing challenges that fit your age and climbing abilities. Personally, as I get older, I’m doing more “sport” climbing as contrasted with “trad” or traditional climbing that I used to do when I was younger. One of the main attractions of climbing is the bonds of friendship and trust it develops among you and your climbing companions.

It appears that rock climbing requires terrific strength

There are plenty of rock faces that are beginner appropriate, whatever your strength level. We guide a lot of families and scout groups. We put them on rock faces where they can be successful, where they have a good time and don’t get discouraged. We’ve taken kids as young as five or six.

How do you rate the difficulty of a climb?

Climbs are rated by the Yosemite Decimal System that goes from one to five point fifteen. The higher the number the more challenging the climb. Class one is when you hike across level ground. The most extreme climbs are class five point fifteen. A class four climb, by comparison, would be a climb where a rope is optional – if you fall there’s the possibility of getting hurt.

Can you recommend climbing areas in the southeast?

In North Carolina, there’s Ship Rock along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Linville Gorge has two areas, one called Table Rock and another known as the Amphitheater. Then there’s Looking Glass Rock near Brevard. In West Virginia, New River Gorge, in Kentucky, Red River Gorge, and in Georgia Rock Town on Lookout Mountain for bouldering. Chattanooga, Tennessee, is an up and coming climbing destination. There are plenty others, but those’d be my top picks.

What’s the difference between climbing in the east and climbing in the West?

The drier western climate makes the rock surfaces much more climber friendly. The other thing is that the west has more National Forest and Bureau of Land Management land where climbing is allowed. In the east, we have great climbing areas, but they’re often on private land. Owners can close off access if they’re concerned about too many people climbing or about liabilities. We tend to be a little more hush-hush about our areas because we don’t want them to get over-populated.

You’ve used the terms “Traditional Climbing,” and “Sport Climbing.” What’s the difference?

Traditional climbing is where the climber inserts stainless steel cams or other climbing assists in the rock face and then takes them out as he or she moves on. It’s also known as “clean” climbing. Sport climbing is where there are permanent stainless steel anchors drilled into the rock that you use while climbing. For example, next week I’m going to Monterrey, Mexico, to El Potrero Chico. It’s a two-thousand-foot rock face with bolted permanent anchors. It’s a major sport climbing destination known all over the world.

Say I try rock climbing and like it, what do I need to gear up?

A climbing harness, and a pair of climbing shoes and a handful of carabiners. A helmet and a belay device would be a good idea.

Are there specific brand names?

All climbing gear is approved by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), so everything’s going to be safe. With that said, I have some personal preferences. Ever since I began climbing, I’ve used a harness made by Misty Mountain, in Banner Elk, North Carolina. I wear a Petzl helmet. I use Petzl, Black Diamond and Trango carabiners and other hardware. For ropes, I like Pigeon Mountain Industries in Georgia; Sterling out of Maine is also a good rope maker. I’ve always worn Sportivas climbing shoes, but recently I’ve been trying out a new company called Tenaya out of Spain.

What are the basic climbing organizations that if someone is interested in climbing you’d suggest joining?

The national organization is the American Alpine Club. For North and South Carolina, the Carolina Climbers Coalition.

What about books or websites for the person thinking about getting into the sport?

I’d recommend the following list of books:

And these two websites:

  • Mountain Project for good summaries of climbing destinations all over the U.S and throughout the world.
  • Animated Knots The best animated website on how to tie the knots used in climbing that I know of.

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Brown’s Guides is a website about the top outdoor experiences in America and about the professional outfitters and guides who know them best. Hiking, biking, sea kayaking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and over 100 other outdoor activities are indexed on the site. BG has been doing this type of thing since 1972 in books, magazines, maps and on the Internet.

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