Anthony D’Ercole can’t rely on a Christmas miracle to help him make multiple deep rappels off the 315-foot granite monolith we know as Chimney Rock. The experienced instructor and wilderness first responder with Fox Mountain Guides and Climbing School in Pisgah Forest has all his professional equipment well in place, and notes of his December alter ego, “Santa needs to make sure he uses appropriate edge protection. The chimney lip can be sharp in certain places, and he wouldn’t want to have to rely on his reindeer swooping in to catch him if his rope failed.”
For two Saturdays in December, D’Ercole and his spotter/elf Mike McClarty, also of Fox Mountain Guides, make six to ten rappels a day off the precipitous drop, taking the stairs back up instead of the mountain’s famous elevator. The strenuous series of feats has landed the event on some notable lists, including Yahoo Travel’s, “The Strangest Places to See St. Nick.”
The two Santa Drop days also feature cozier attractions, including servings of hot cocoa, a drawing for rock-climbing lessons from Fox Mountain, and a visit from Mrs. Claus — although D’ercole reps another lady, 80-year-old Doris Marsh, who last year hiked all the way up Chimney Rock to see the action up close.
Rock climbers tend to be fit. Thus, D’Ercole must get padded up to morph into a reliable-looking Santa. “It’s difficult to see over the belly to rig the rappel,” he says. “I also have to extend my rappel so my beard doesn’t get stuck in it, so it’s nice to have an elf who can double-check anything.”
Besides gear, it also helps to have a loud voice to yell at the crowd below, says D’Ercole.
“I stay as enthusiastic as possible,” he says. “And it is true that Santa needs his carbs and his latte.”
Santa on the Chimney happens Saturday, December 3 and Saturday, December 10, 11am-2pm; cost is included in admission to Chimney Rock Park. For more information, see chimneyrockpark.com.