In the fall of 1972, I visited Table Rock State Park, South Carolina, with friends. As we left the park on our way home, we got a good view of the north side of Table Rock; it was a sheer wall of granite, with a big dihedral running all the way up. That's the photo at the top of this article. I couldn't get it out of my mind, and over spring break I headed back down with a friend to try and climb it.
Table Rock is a granite dome in northwest South Carolina. It is included in Table Rock State Park.
We knew nothing about the rock, only that it existed. I had a few slides I'd taken of it as we drove away, but they were from far away. All we knew was that it looked like it had a weakness and could be climbed. We didn't even know how tall the wall was.
Chris couldn't go with me, but my other climbing partner, Steve Piccolo (Pic), could. We crammed all our climbing gear in the car. along with two rucksacks and trail food. Our gear included two single point hammocks and belay seats, as we expected to be up on the rock for more than a day. My hammock was home made, as was my belay seat; I had a swami belt consisting of a length of 2" nylon webbing, and some home-made leg-loops. We didn't have a haul bag, but planned to use our packs, since we would need them anyway to get to the climb. We took the only two ropes I had -- a 30m one and a 40m one. We planned to climb on the 30m one and use the 40m one as a haul line; that would allow us to do 30m rappells if we had to abandon the route.
We drove nonstop on the way down. It was pitch black when we got close so we pulled off and camped on a small knoll just above the highway. We figured it was probably illegal to camp by the side of a road in South Carolina, but I figured I was from Washington where you could camp anywhere in a National Forest and that lame excuse would at least keep us out of jail. We were pretty nervous; the film Easy Rider had just come out a few years before, and Deliverance was even more recent and fresh in our minds. The South was a scary enough place for a couple of college kids from up North, but we suspected people would be even less accomodating if we told them we wanted to climb that wall of rock. We'd be sure to kill ourselves, and I'm sure they didn't want that on their hands. So we wanted to be unobtrusive -- but didn't have a clue how.
The next morning before the sun was up, we heard the noise of a vehicle on the gravel pull-off where we had left the highway. I peeked out of the tent and saw a State Trooper's vehicle. I quickly slid back into my sleeping bag and mumbled to Pic to pretend we were asleep. We heard the door slam as the trooper got out, but he didn't come up to interrogate us. Maybe he just checked out my Washington State license plate and decided we were harmless, but in any case we had squeaked by. After he was gone, we quickly dressed, packed up, and bleary-eyed drove slowly down the road.
We came to a small diner and decided to get some breakfast. While talking to a guy who was about our age behind the counter we casually inquired about the rock. He asked if we were the guys camped along the highway. We kind of looked at each other in surprise, but said yeah, we were... We got a sobering earful.
"Charlie stopped in a while ago and mentioned he had stopped and checked you guys out. There's a $100 fine for doing that. You lucked out. That's Table Rock, and it's illegal to go up there. There's a big reservoir but it's the water supply for Greenville, and no-one is allowed in there."
I asked if there were any fish in it.
"Lots of big fish. But it's illegal; the city council considers it their private fishing lake. I've snuck in there a few times and there are nice big fish. I always bring a cheap rod because I've had to ditch it a few times and run like hell. They have a boat up there. Once they caught me out in their boat. They took my rod and made me hike all the way out. I've lost a couple of rods up there, but boy, the fishing sure is good."
So now we knew things were going to be really sketchy. Apparently it is still illegal to climb on the North side... Some lame excuse about not contaminating the watershed. What a crock of B.S.. I wondered then, and marvel now, how they manage to convince all the bear, deer, raccoons, beavers, and other animals that have and spread things like giardia to take a hike over the ridge to poop.
We didn't say anything about climbing, thanked the man at the diner, and headed out. Today, as I understand it, there is legal climbing at Table Rock, but it is confined to the eastern wall. The normal view you see of the climbing possibilities is the one below left, where it is now legal. I call the part we climbed "Trespass Nose". I've since learned it has been climbed by others and has an official name, "Reflections".
| Eastern Wall of Table Rock, SC
where climbing is legal
|"Trespass Nose" on Table Rock, SC|
I don't know where we parked; maybe in the state park. Maybe we even bought a parks pass. We were a little worried about people getting suspicious when the car was left empty, apparently abandoned, overnight. We packed our gear and started bushwacking, trying to be quiet while thrashing through the woods. I'm not sure how we figured out where to go,; we probably just followed our noses up one of the creeks which flows down from the mountain, then worked our way around. In any case, we got to the bottom of the big dihedral without any mishaps. It was late afternoon, but we were eager to be off the ground. We rigged up as fast as we could. We figured once we were off the ground we'd be ok unless they started shooting at us. They could meet us on top if they really wanted us.
The rock was awesome; we felt like we were in Yosemite, at the base of El Capitan, about to start up the Nose.
|Ready To Go||First Pitch|
I lead off free climbing, but soon resorted to aid. We were somewhat handicapped because we were climbing in alpine boots; there were also places where seeps made stretches of rock slick. Pic says he doesn't remember much except it was "really slick from water and slime growth. The upper pitches were relatively low angle, but the rock was so slippery that there was no way I could see free climbing it in the condition we found it." We were hauling all our gear; we didn't want to have to hike back into the forbidden area once we went over the top.
|Gary on First Pitch|
|Waterfall from 100 feet Up||Table Rock Reservoir and Dam||Looking Across Valley|
I ran the rope out, set up a belay, and hauled our packs up. Pic cleaned the pitch and we swapped leads. We were off the ground!
|Pic Cleaning First Pitch|
Towards evening something went crashing through the forest below us. We froze, thinking it was people coming after us. After an hour or so I decided it was probably a bear or some other large mammal. We tried to climb quietly, but since we were using both nuts and pitons, that's pretty much impossible. The first time I hammered on a pin the sound rolling across the reservoir was terrifying, but there was nothing we could do about it. I would put a hand on the pins while I was hammering them to deaden the noise, and I'd try tapping instead of hammering hard, but sometimes you have to slam the beggars home if you want them to hold. Once we were two pitches up we forgot about it and I calmed down, convincing myself no-one was at the reservoir. At least we didn't see any boats.
|Pic Leading Second Pitch|
We found a dry spot to suspend our hammocks, underneath a small roof. We grabbed something to eat and tried to sleep. According to Pic, "another thing I vividly remember is that I was so afraid of dropping my boots that I wouldn't remove them for the duration of the climb." So I guess he slept in them.
|Pic in his Hammock|
By morning it was cold, and we were even colder. Fortunately the weather was nice and eventually we found some sun.
|Packing Up in the Morning||Gary Getting Ready|
The morning's first pitch involved following beneath an overhang; looking at it now it looks like a nice lieback / undercling, but I nailed it. Maybe it was beyond my ability at the time; maybe it was slick; maybe I was too cold to try; and maybe I just lacked the courage.
The next slide I have is labelled "Belay before the pendulum". I don't remember the pendulum, so I suspect we probably just did a tension traverse. It must not have been too much -- surely we would have taken pictures!
| Leading Under
| Belay before
|Pic Cleaning Overhang|
|Wall Above Roof From 100 feet Above Tree||Dam|
|Pic Cleaning Big Dihedral||Pic|
|Gary Cleaning Big Dihedral||Working our Way Up|
|Head Of Reservoir|
|Pic Cleaning Final Pitch|
|Pic, On Top||On Top, Pic and Gary|
I have now learned this route has been climbed since, and is called "Reflections". It's a classic, and it's absurd for access to it to be off-limits. Today, I'm pretty sure it would go free at some grade I can't climb; I'd be curious to know what it's graded now. We left a note in a film can half way up, but it's probably long since worked its way loose and washed away.