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Carolina Climbers Coalition To Purchase 55-Acre Buckeye Knob, Obtains Easement for Barn Boulders

Woodruff Testpiece (V4), which is located on the Barn Boulders, which is opening publically as part of the Buckeye Knob acquisition. Photo by Adam Johnson

By Jesse Wood

The Carolina Climbers Coalition recently announced some big news. The nonprofit has entered a contract to purchase the 55-acre Buckeye Knob property and obtained a permanent easement for accessing the lower Barn Boulders in Western Watauga.

The area is one of the local, secret climbing holes in the High Country, which has seen many great climbing spots like Mildred’s Boulders, Hound Ears and Howard’s Knob close because of development over the past few decades.

Since March, the Carolina Climbers Coalition has been working on securing this property, according to CCC President Brian Payst. When the property recently sold to Highland Forest and Timber, local climbing legend Joey Henson, who lives next to the Barn Boulders, talked to Highland Forest and Timber and then reached out to the Carolina Climbers Coalition.

“It was the right combination. The seller was a great guy who wanted to see this protected, too. He could have logged it. He owns a timber company, but he’d really rather see this property protected,” Payst said. “We were in a position to move quickly. It usually doesn’t happen this fast.”

This area has seen extensive, low-key climbing over the years, although it’s been privately owned. Payst said there was never any reason to take action to save the boulders until the land was recently sold.

The area is described as clusters of boulders spread out through the woods. About a 20-minute walk separates the upper and lower areas – the lower Barn Boulders, named after Joey’s barn-style home, and the upper boulders on the plateau of Buckeye Knob. There’s an estimated 180 boulders on the properties, including the easement section.

“This is actually amazingly enough, the first officially open climbing area in Watauga County,” Payst said.

Although there is plenty of areas to climb like the Blowing Rock Boulders, Grandmother Boulders, the 221 Circuit and Lost Cove Boulders in the High Country on federal park land, they aren’t necessarily designated climbing areas. Climbers are tolerated because, for one, they are excellent stewards of the land and just want to enjoy nature like hikers, anglers, and so forth.

The Carolina Climbers Coalition is expecting to close on the property in September. In the mean time, it’s looking for donations and new memberships to lower the cost of the loan and future maintenance. The purchase price of the property is $145,000, and the CCC has already paid to have the property appraised, surveyed, etc.

So far, the CCC has raised nearly $2,000 for this purchase from 24 donors – as of the afternoon of Thursday, July 27.

After closing on the property on Sept. 18, Payst said that Carolina Climbers Coalition will next meet in October during the annual Triple Crown climbing event at Hound Ears. At this event, announcements about the opening of the property to climbers will likely be made.

Payst said that the parking situation and trail construction needs to be worked out before opening the area to the public. 

For more information about the Carolina Climbers Coalition and to become a member, click here.

To donate to the Buckeye Knob project, click here.

Here’s how Henson describes the property, as posted on CCC’s website:

“This boulder field lies strewn up a mountain slope and across a high plateau 10 miles west of Boone and contains over 180 boulders with around 500 established boulder problems.  The rock type is an extremely solid granitic gneiss that sets up as large round freestanding “egg” boulders and walls with an ideal variety of sizes and shapes, and represents Boone’s best granitic area.  The many tall and small cracks, arêtes, roofs, slabs and overhanging faces consistently form amazing individual lines above perfect flat landings. The very best of these boulders lie in 2 main concentrations known as the upper and lower areas and these two zones form the heart of the boulder field.  The lower area consists of 6 main boulders with 135 established individual lines in a flat “savanna like” environment.  It is warm and sunny in winter and cool and shady in summer and widely known as the fastest drying rocks near Boone.  The technical granite climbing is most like that of California’s legendary Buttermilks boulders except this stone is more solid and finer grained.  It is also similar to Asheboro NC boulders and also similar to the famous granite of Gold bar and Leavenworth WA and also Squamish BC.  

A legacy of classic lines was established by Boones most active climbers since the late 1980’s.   Jon Woodruff’s “Woodruff test piece” V7, one of Boone’s best and hardest faces of that era, along with the Layback crack V2, Barn door crack V2, Terror slab V0+, and The original classic V6, were featured in Tim Toula’s Rock N Road; the first and only comprehensive climbing guide to America.  In the late 90’s Jack Bowers, Scott Freeman, and Matt Childress established harder lines like the amazing highball the Thimble V7, the Scott problem V8, Colby Bryant V9, Steppin Razor V10 and Under pressure V10.These last two routes are on what is considered to be one of Boones best single boulders, the Woodruff boulder, a giant egg containing 35 classic lines of all styles and difficulties above flat grassy landings.

It is not only the elite climbers who appreciate these rocks.  Scores of climbers had their first climbing experiences here on the classic easier circuit above the great landings.  The legendary V1 thru V3 circuit allows climbers to safely climb over 40 problems in one small zone!”