Into the Gorge

Words and photos by Aaron Parlier

I was a paratrooper stationed at Fort Bragg in 2006 the first time I heard about bouldering around Boone, NC. I cannot recall when I first heard about the Linville Gorge, but I remember traveling to Boone that same year to climb at Grandmother Mountain with a small group of friends. After that session we drove to a restaurant in downtown Boone. That was the first time I spiraled into a hypnotic daze, lost in a seemingly impossible wonderland of boulders depicted in Joey Henson’s Linville Gorge Bouldering Map. Staring at that map hanging on the wall I was instantly transfixed; mesmerized at the depiction of this mysterious and aesthetically pleasing river gorge filled to the brim with hundreds of boulders, all right here in the Old North State. Roofs, slabs, highballs, arêtes, swimming holes, places to camp, every grade I could climb and WAY more that I couldn’t conceive of. I had to go, and I would go soon I told myself. I did not go soon.

Linville Gorge Wonderland 5

I made numerous trips to the boulders of Boone while at Fort Bragg and upon returning from Afghanistan it was one of the first places I visited to unwind and climb. I moved to Southwestern Virginia for college and began exploring new boulders all across Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, but still drove back to Boone to work old projects. I moved back to NC to attend graduate school at Appalachian State University and ended up staying in Boone to open a climbing gym. I still never made the trip out to the nearby Linville Gorge, despite two of the maps being framed and hanging at home (the shame). I don’t know why it took me so long to make the trip to Linville Gorge. I made excuses like, “I already have too many open projects within a two hour radius” and “I want to make sure I go with a group that has lots of knowledge about the area.” But those were all lousy excuses. Finally, I planned a summertime trip and it came to fruition. I was nervous, worried that I may have somehow mentally over-hyped the bouldering after all of this time. Waking up at 5am, I met my fellow Gorge Goers and set off at long last. It quickly became apparent that I hadn’t over-hyped the Linville Gorge at all.

Linville Gorge Wonderland Pure Wonder 1

I hiked down the Spence Ridge Trail with my crashpad filled to the brim with climbing gear. Once in the Gorge the setting was truly awe-inspiring. House-sized boulders dwarfed us while the boulders were dwarfed by the massive cliffs overhead. We quickly headed to the first boulder of the day, the Wonder Boulder. I was blown away at the quality and uniqueness of this classic river block. All of the lines were four stars on their own; Wonder Arête, Helter Skelter and Pure Wonder. If you add the bonus stars for getting to jump from the top into the deep river pool below, it was almost too good to be true.

After enjoying the Wonder Boulder we moved on to more classics. The Glory Roof far exceeded anything I had imagined with its gorgeous striations and roof climbing perfection. The stunning Spence Ridge Fin blew my mind with its features and magnitude. Just seeing Mike Stam’s ballsy highball test piece “Fear of Commitment” made my palms sweat.

Needless to say, I am just as in love with the Gorge as I had hoped. After a return trip, more classics, and getting even more of a glimpse of the remaining two lifetimes worth of bouldering that exists just down the road from the already boulder filled Boone, NC area, I can’t wait to explore more of the Linville Gorge. With ten years of bouldering in Southern Appalachia under my belt I am beyond thankful to be alive and climbing in a region where I can still be overwhelmed by the amount of boulders I have yet to experience.

Linville Gorge Wonderland 1