By Aaron Parlier
One of my favorite aspects of climbing is searching for new boulders and boulderfields. I love the wild places it takes you and that there are no names or grades attached to the virgin boulders. It feels so simple and pure. Send the most aesthetic, inspiring lines that you find. This was the process that Marshall Gilbert, Daniel Shope, Kyle Voss and I were lucky to embark on at Breaks Interstate Park during the last long weekend of February 2018.
We knew that the Breaks had a lifetime worth of routes yet to be developed and that much of the park’s potential has yet to be climbed. Central Appalachia Climbers Coalition’s very own, Brad Mathisen and Kylie Schmidt, have been hard at work hard putting up beautiful new climbs. Likewise, Breaks has a number of long-established, bold routes and an adventurous climbing history. For the weeks leading up to our trip we scoured the internet reading up on park history, trail descriptions, and watching hiker videos for clues about boulders in the area. Many trail descriptions hinted at big boulders, and online videos showcased trailside blocks. Based on those sources and information provided to us by Brad, Kylie and several other climbers we formed a loose weekend game plan. We would start by exploring trails just outside of the park like Camp Branch and Center Creek. From there, we would explore the Prospectors Trail and anything else we could fit into the three days we had available.
We left Boone, NC early Friday morning. When we got our first glimpse of the Breaks we instantly knew we had some wild terrain ahead of us. Breaks is a massive river gorge carved by the Russell Fork. The place is awe-inspiring. First we hiked down Center Creek and found several large, beautiful boulders, but they were dripping wet. We continued on to Camp Branch Trail where we hiked for a couple minutes. Around the bend I caught a glimpse of a huge boulder shaped like a howling wolf’s head looming over the trail. It was glorious. We threw down pads, brushed holds, and secured the landing. After warming up, I started working on the main line up the wolf’s head. It began with a tough gaston move to establish under the face overhanging the trail. With a confident team, and pad-stack below, I pushed past and over the upper arête bulge for the lofty top, calling it Trail Wolf (V5). Kyle Voss came directly after, with the quick second ascent. The line was superb, perfect golden southern sandstone with an easy approach.
We packed up and drove into the park to explore the Prospectors Trail. We passed a number of other quality boulders searching for a specific roof that both Brad and Kylie recommended we check out. This same roof was in a few hiker videos showing the trail passing beneath it. After stepping through a rhododendron tunnel, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the single largest, climbable, horizontal roof I’d ever seen. You could park seven cars under this roof, and none would get wet if it rained.
We chalked holds, tested them as best we could, and planned the pad shuffling process. The line ahead was over 25ft of pure roof climbing to a wild handlebar hold at the lip of the roof where you can logically step off to the slab below. I pulled on with a foot on the back wall and geared up for the first dynamic move. I held the swing, shuffled my hands, and gunned it again to a distant slot. Several thin holds, heel hooks, and matches eventually have way to a 13ft section of roof that was nothing but gargantuan hueco scoops and jugs. The end section was almost absurd with its juggy-ness and fun movement. If it weren’t for the astronomical, terminal pump in my forearms I would’ve been laughing about all of the awesome huecos that you could bat-hang from. I reached the handlebar, cut feet and cashed in my remaining energy for a victory pull-up. Stepping off I took a second to evaluate the climb I had finished. Without a doubt it was the wildest sandstone roof I had ever climbed. I named it “Pure Gold” (V7/8) and it was absolutely that.
Breaks Interstate Park has fantastic hiking, whitewater, camping, and is undeniably an upcoming route climbing destination for the Central Appalachia region. Alongside those awesome pursuits I’m very excited to see what else Breaks Interstate Park has in-store for bouldering. In addition to the climbed boulders described above, we found another spectacular boulderfield and a number of other standout, singular boulders in the park during our trip. If what we sampled is any indication, Breaks bouldering will be yet another fantastic reason to plan a trip.