On the border of McDowell and Mitchell counties, a small office decorated with life rafts and climbing gear is offering new and exciting outside adventures for people all over state of North Carolina.
Thrifty Adventures, located on N.C. 226A in Little Switzerland, is a guide service operated by Christy and Scott Thrift aimed at offering people from all walks of life a chance to learn about the state’s natural resources and take part in activities like rock climbing, water rafting and tubing. And they want more local folks to know about the opportunities close to home.
“We’re hoping to show the community that ‘wilderness is medicine’ – it’s free and it’s in their backyards,” said Christy.
Walking through Riverside Park one afternoon, the Concord natives spoke with The McDowell News about Thrifty Adventures’ beginnings, their message and what they offer to the community.
Beginning as rock climbing company in Charlotte in 2011, the Thrifts expanded their services to include water rappelling, white-water rafting, yoga hikes, among other natural opportunities to broaden clientele. They, along with five other guides certified by Professional Climbing Guides Institute (PCGI), the Professional Hiking Guide Association (PHGA), EMT and Wilderness First Aid, make an effort to address any concerns participants may have through proper demonstration of equipment and personal experience.
“We started this business because we found a need for education,” said Christy. “A friend of ours got injured climbing by making a series of easily made mistakes.”
Too often, she said, she sees outdoor enthusiasts with the wrong gear or not using gear properly.
“A lot of companies will go out, tie a knot on the rope and put you in gear, and we don’t do that. We have a 30-minute session where we teach you the gear, we teach you the knots, we go over the technique and then show you how to lower and all that stuff so you really have an understanding of it.”
“We see that it really helps people’s anxieties,” Scott added, “by seeing a knot, seeing an anchor and having explained to them how the anchor works and that it’s not gonna break from just one place. And it helps that we’ve had a lot of anxiety in those sorts of situations. But by breaking out of your circle of comfort, it actually expands your circle of comfort.”
Moving to the mountains three years ago, the company, which offers climbing and wilderness courses at places like Mayland Community College in Spruce Pine, has made an effort to disengage youth and older citizens from the obsession of modern technology, mental and emotional stress and the current opioid crisis and into more positive, environmental landscapes.
“We have a huge opioid epidemic in the state, and part of that epidemic is pure boredom, part of that epidemic is depression, like youth depression and mental health issues,” said Christy. “Studies have shown that wilderness therapy is key to a lot of depression issues and panic anxiety disorders – I have a panic anxiety disorder, and if I can’t get outside or do something active every day, my anxiety will skyrocket. But there’s a lot to be said that being outside can decrease blood pressure and moving around, and not everyone has the luxury of having the mountains in their backyard.”
The Thrifts themselves have incorporated the “wilderness is medicine” practice into their personal lives: Scott turned to hiking and climbing while recovering from a shoulder injury in 1999 working construction – climbing eight of the 15 fourteeners in California alone – and Christy, a 2003 biology graduate with a concentration in conservation and animal behavior, turned to backpacking and boating in what she called a “crossroads in my life.”
“I spent a lot of time in college and didn’t have a sense of self, so I joined an outdoor club with a lot of likeminded folks and continued climbing from there, lived in Uganda doing medical relief work in the jungle and eventually was set up in a blind date with him (Scott),” said Christy.
In fact, Scott even proposed to Christy as she was suspended 80 feet in the air at Stoney Mountain.
“I didn’t even have a proper ring with me, I just had a piece of rope tied into a circle,” said Scott. “And when it happened, she was screaming, ‘What are you doing?’ and throwing obscenities, but I thought it was romantic.”
Apart from merely offering climbing and rafting opportunities to the public, Thrifty Adventures is also aimed at educating the community about their local rivers, hiking trails and natural commodities to get them interested in their “backyard” in a new way. Among one of their more passionate goals is to change public perception of the Toe River, which runs through Avery and Mitchell counties.
“The locals still view the Toe River as a very dirty river. Having been told most of their lives not to swim in it, that misconception still exists for over 30 years,” said Christy. “The river now is very, very clean and safe due to the help of many locals, grants and environmental projects.”
The Thrifts have built partnerships with a number of affiliates in McDowell and Mitchell counties, popping up at events such as the Livermush and Mountain Glory festivals throughout the year, in an effort to spread their positive service that’s not only proactive, but affordable.
“We have discovered over the last year or so that while we are mostly a tourist-driven company, we do not want to provide a service the locals from ‘on the mountain’ cannot afford and, in turn, have created locals discounts to help drive local business.”
Thrifty Adventures is located on N.C. 226A in Spruce Pine, off the Blue Ridge Parkway. For more information or to book online, visit www.thriftyadventuresnc.com.