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From Craggy to Pico Coa

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It was tough. Climbing mountains is hard work, especially during the summer in a North Carolina climate. Yet here we were, scaling the fourth-highest peak in the mountain range. Our muscles aching, and our minds trying to convince our muscles to go just a little further. 

We had to climb a distance of 3,696 feet. 

But we did it. We reached the top. And the view was impressive.

This was Craggy Gardens, located along the Blue Ridge Parkway. And while we technically went nearly 3,700 feet up, it wasn’t a true mountain climb, and it wasn’t straight up. It was an enjoyable hike through a low, twisted tree canopy that opened up to one of the grandest 360-degree views in the North Carolina mountains.

But words can make anything seem much more than it is.

That is why photos and video help enhance the story, when things really are THAT tough.

Last year, a documentary about Alex Honnold took the filmmaking industry by storm. “Free Solo” garnered many awards and captured the hearts of critics and viewers — as well as their adventuring spirit — as it described Alex’s attempt at climbing the great El Capitan.

Alex wasn’t mountain climbing, though. He was rock climbing. The difference? Mountain climbing is a combination of different skills that involves long-term endurance, coupled with occasional alpine and rock climbing technical skills. Rock climbing is all about technical skills and the ability to find hand and foot holds, where people like me would never see them.

What made Alex’s attempt was even more amazing.

He did it without rope and other safety measures, hence the name “Free Solo.” He scaled the toughest of rock walls with just his feet and hands. If he slipped, he fell. And by fell, I mean all the way down. This is what grabbed the viewer.

Now Alex isn’t like you and me. Even if you are a seasoned rock climber, Alex is different. He is at the top of the world in more ways than one.

Of course, if you haven’t seen the film, do yourself a favor and jump on Amazon Prime or run by a Redbox and rent it. There is much worse you can do in 1 hour, 40 minutes.

A friend of mine, and this time a real friend, not a social media acquaintance, is a fine photographer. He has captured the cover of Sports Illustrated in the past, and in my opinion, is one of the best sports photographers in the state. (I recently joked with him that I was catching up to his ability when I captured the Table of Contents spread in a Sports Illustrated feature magazine)

Jacob, my friend, is working on his first film project. Nubivagant is the story of a group of rock climbers free climbing the magnificent Pico Coa Grande. Do yourself a favor and Google image search Pico Coa Grande. They became the first Americans to both climb and free climb the needle-like structure also known as “Nature’s Skyscraper.”

We have talked about the film on several occasions, and I believe it will be on the same level as others about great ascents. And while I am excited for Jacob and the film, I am just as amazed and waiting anxiously to know the story of the climb.

I’m sure it will be much more that my recent ascent to the top of Craggy Gardens.

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.