Jen Sauer leads up the North Carolina classic the Glass Menagerie (5.13a).
NORTH CAROLINA’S LOOKING GLASS Rock offers East Coast climbers a rare taste of granite wall climbing. Set in the Pisgah National Forest, just south of Asheville, Looking Glass is best known for its slab routes and unique “eyebrow” features—small, horizontal grooves with sloping, downward-facing edges.
But the north side of “The Glass” is more like a piece of steep Yosemite, with vertical to overhanging crack and dihedral systems. Aid-climbing parties unfurl portaledges on some of the north face’s harder lines. Looking Glass’s classic “wall” climb is the seven-pitch Glass Menagerie, a 1980 aid route originally rated Grade V 5.10 A3 rating. The route was first freed by Arno Ilgner, Pascal Robert and Kris Kline at 5.13a. Today, quick parties aid the route, now considered C1, in less than half a day.
Jen Sauer, of Lexington, Kentucky, and Josh Finkelstein, of Boulder, Colorado, made a recent free repeat of Glass Menagerie. The team spent a week in mid-May working the line, during which time each climber redpointed the two crux pitches: a 5.12d bolt-protected face and corner called the Open Book, and a 5.13a roof pitch protected by bolts and fixed gear. The other five pitches go at 5.11a or easier. After scrubbing lichen off the rarely traveled upper pitches, Sauer and Finkelstein swung leads up the route for a continuous free ascent. Sauer climbed the route clean; Finkelstein took one fall following the open book.
Sauer, a 25-year-old mechanical engineer, said a surprising crux of the route was a slab traverse after the 5.13a roof. “We’d each redpointed the cruxes and we thought [the route] was done. But then we got totally shut down on this 5.10 slab thing. It seemed really improbable at first,” she said. Sauer said her experience on Glass Menagerie opened her eyes to the possibilities of big-wall free climbing.
“I’ve done some longer routes—I’ve been up El Cap a couple times—but I hadn’t done this style of free climbing before,” she said. “It was pretty cool.”