What started out as a simple family excursion turned into a life-altering event for Cristin Knowlton.
“I was a lawyer living in Florida, and my son got interested in rock climbing, so we’d take trips to Western North Carolina to climb,” Knowlton said. “After that first climb, I became obsessed. I’ve gotten so into it and have been able to climb all over the world, which ultimately led me to buying Fox Mountain.”
Now the owner/manager for Fox Mountain Guides & Climbing School in Brevard, Knowlton has operated the company since 2012. Created in 2004, Fox Mountain is the only accredited guide service and climbing school recognized by the American Mountain Guides Association.
“Our family had only been doing some indoor rock climbing in Orlando for a few months. But, we came up here for a wedding and decided to take our kids on a real rock climbing trip,” Knowlton said. “We chose Fox Mountain because of the company’s phenomenal guides and how welcoming they were to beginners looking to get into the sport.”
Even though Knowlton was apprehensive about heights, there was something invigorating about rock climbing. She couldn’t shake the feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment felt atop a mountain after a rigorous climb. Knowlton was hooked.
“Honestly, it’s the singular focus that it takes to climb, and I think that’s what draws people to it. It’s one of the few things you can do that completely requires one hundred percent focus,” Knowlton said. “And, when you’re up there, you stop thinking about everything else. You could be having the worst day, and then go rock climbing and forget everything else—it’s the physical and mental beauty of it all.”
When the founder of Fox Mountain decided to relocate to New Zealand and needed to sell the business, Knowlton and her business partner jumped at the opportunity.
“Here I was, this housewife and lawyer, with no athletic background, buying a rock climbing business,” Knowlton said. “But, with rock climbing, it’s kind of like physical chess. It’s as much about making the right next move as it is actually pushing your body up a climbing route.”
From several of her favorite spots in Western North Carolina to routes in the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming/Idaho, Joshua Tree National Park in California, and Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, Knowlton has used the sport as a vehicle to travel the planet. Her favorite climb has been the legendary Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps.
“Before rock climbing, I’d only taken one flight on a plane in my life,” Knowlton marveled. “And thanks to this love for climbing, I was given this other purpose to go and travel, to explore and experience all of these different perspectives that you get when visiting a new place.”
Knowlton doesn’t take for granted how special and unique Western North Carolina is when it comes to the outdoors and the seemingly endless opportunities to immerse oneself in the depths of Mother Nature.
“Pretty much anything you could want to do outside is in this region,” Knowlton said. “Rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, skiing—there’s something for everybody.”
This post is adapted from our annual Welcome to Western North Carolina magazine. Click here to read more online, or click here to request your free copy.