For local rock climber Ron Funderburke, who works full time with Fox Mountain Guides, there is a fine line between work and play. As a climber, he loves to spend his time exploring the many towering rock faces in Western North Carolina. As a guide, he enjoys taking his clients up many of those same faces and watching as they enjoy the experiences he has come to cherish.[mepr-rule id=”2467″ ifallowed=”show”]
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen asked when he first began working as a rock-climbing guide for a living, Funderburke, who works as the senior guide at Fox Mountain Guides in Brevard, provided a cryptic answer. “Well, I think if you had asked me when I was 22 what I was doing, when I was working in the climbing gym teaching the belay class and once in a while I’d meet a climber in the gym who’d say, ‘Can you take Jon climbing this weekend?’ I’d take him out and we’d go sport climbing. If you’d have asked me then I would have told you I was a guide, but the truth is that I was not. I was just a guy working at a gym who got a free lunch now and then to take kids climbing.”
Instead, Funderburke believes he first became a real rock-climbing guide in 2004 when the American Mountain Guides Association certified him as a top rope site manager. “From that time on I think I was working more legitimately as a professional,” he said. “From that point forward I placed a real premium on training certification and I did some kind of programming every year after that, which I continue to this day.”
Funderburke, an athletic young man in his early 30’s who now frequently guides his clients on rock climbing excursions up Looking Glass and other large rock faces in the area, said the process of becoming a guide for him was “gradual, but serendipitous.”
“I wanted to be outside teaching climbing and I had to pay rent, so what was I going to do?” he asked. He did the only thing he knew to do that could satiate his monetary needs while allowing him the freedom to pursue his love of climbing: he became a guide. The process of becoming a guide took him from employment at a climbing gym to summer camps to a boarding school, where he taught kids rock climbing for three years. After that he began working for Fox Mountain Guides and other outdoor recreation institutions in the state such as Outward Bound.
Since then he has led hundreds of trips up Looking Glass Rock, day-long climbs up Whiteside Mountain, established first ascents at nearby climbing destinations Laurel Knob and Rumbling Bald, and enjoyed nearly every minute of every day he has been doing it.
Funderburke, who received his undergraduate degree from UNC Chapel Hill and has a Master’s Degree in English from Appalachian State University, initially got his start rock climbing during his undergraduate studies, one year of which took him to France where he first tried climbing.
“My roommates there were rock climbers,” he recalled. “I was not a rock climber. I enjoyed trekking and I enjoyed the mountains, but I thought rock climbing was kind of silly. They invited me to try rock climbing and I fell in love,” he recalled. “I’ve been rock climbing ever since.”
In rock climbing, Funderburke said he found an “immediate and inescapable passion.” When he returned to North Carolina he began exploring the many possibilities of climbing across the mountains of North Carolina before beginning ice climbing and mountain climbing. “Now I just love climbing all of it: mountains and snow and ice and rock,” he said.
Funderburke said he loves being a rock-climbing guide because he gets to share what he loves about the mountains and rock faces in this area with his clients. “When I go do these climbs now, when I climb The Nose (a route of Looking Glass Rock), it is so pedestrian for me,” he said. “That’s kind of tragic. I miss the excitement of doing it for the first time. So for me, taking people climbing is a way to sort of vicariously re-experience those climbs and to feel that excitement again. I love to watch them experience that,” he said.
Funderburke said his early years as a young rock climber were formative, but also dangerous because he learned on his own many of the important lessons and safety techniques he now teaches others. “I was in more danger than I ever needed to be,” he said. “It’s just not necessary to have such a rocky learning curve. If I had sought the services of a professional, I could have moved quicker and more safely to the skillset that I needed.”
Funderburke said knowing the danger he was in makes him appreciate how lucky he was to “get through that process unscathed.”
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