sam knob, nc / by Zach Suggs

It had already begun to snow once Bear and I wrapped up filming in Dupont. While he headed back to Greenville, cutting short our post-shoot beer plans due Desert Storm's lack of four-wheel drive, I made my way up to my family's house in Western North Carolina, just outside Maggie Valley.

On the drive up I got a call from another friend, Cam, who had been discussing with some local Greenville climbers the possibility of ice climbing early the next morning somewhere off Highway 215. The end of the conversation came without a conclusion, which wasn't very confidence inspiring: "I dunno... we might try to camp at Beech Gap tonight... not sure... I'll let you know." That was about 4pm on Friday, but as last minute adventure plans go sometimes, I didn't hear back from him for the rest of the evening.

At 5:30 the next morning—still no word from Cam—I reluctantly banked on those 'plans' holding true. I pushed through heavy snow up 215 from Canton, conceding that a solo-exploration would still be well worth it. After an hour or so of slow-going, I made it to Beech Gap and found 40 mph gusts, 10 degree temps with significantly lower wind chills and, to my surprise, the three indecisive climbers wrestling the rainfly off their tent.

As I pulled into the parking lot, car horn trumpeting with excitement, all I could think was, "How the hell'd this work out so well?!"

Once the camping gear was put away and the windshields defrosted, the four of us headed down the mountain a couple miles to find some shelter from the wind and ingest some much-needed caffeine. With the atmosphere now calm, I was finally able to learn of the plan for the day: to climb the west face of Sam Knob. It had been well-below freezing the past several days so confidence was high the ice would be in.

Final gear check, and heading out:

The access to Sam Knob was only a couple hundred yards from where we were parked, so after a quick cruise down the road we plunged into the woods to begin the ascent.

The next hour was spent ducking rhododendron and bushwhacking through the undergrowth as we paralleled a small creek up the mountain. Every 10 minutes or so we’d stop to confirm we weren’t straying too far, and while the quiet trickle of water let us know we were heading in the right direction, it also began to implant some doubt that any climbing would be done on this day. Still, we carried on.

900 vertical feet later, we made it to what was supposed to be the first pitch. Unfortunately, our ever-growing suspicions were confirmed and the conditions weren't quite what they needed to be despite the seemingly ideal temperatures.

But in the face of this disappointing realization, spirits remained high; we were just stoked to be on the side of this mountain in a foot of fresh powder.

A quick reload on some lukewarm tea and bars, and the heroes begin their descent:

Halfway down the mountain we ran into some old and new friends who were hiking up with the same aspirations we'd had a few hours earlier. After filling them in on our lack of luck, the 10 of us made the final push back to the car. With the sun now out, we briefly contemplated giving another ice-climbing spot along the Parkway a shot, but ultimately decided it was too late.

Unlike the previous day's adventure with Bear, this one would not go unrewarded as the four of us closed the day in Asheville with beer and shenanigans at New Belgium.