I just got this really cool edited video piece from Andrew Kornylak that will give you a little taste of some of the amazing climbing that the southeast US has to offer. Who needs to go to Fontainebleau in France for immaculate sandstone, when you can find the same right here in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia? Of course Font will always be on my agenda because grits is no substitute for fresh-baked French bread and the local farmhouse cheeses and The Waffle House can’t quite compete for character with the Dame Jouanne. However, with the development of Chattanooga’s trendy north shore eateries and Green Life market I can see myself spending a lot more time exploring the climbing playground the Southeast has to offer.
A recent trip to Rocktown brought back to mind the world class quality of this area. Although I had already been there a handful of times on previous trips, I had little recollection other than of climbing that classic sloping testpiece The Orb, and wandering through a dispersed boulder field with friends picking out other gems. On this trip I discovered that to climb at Rocktown you first need to pay a small fee for a Georgia Outdoor Recreational Pass (GORP). Just because the kiosk at the side of the road is closed does not excuse you if a Ranger asks to see your pass. The wonderful invention of the Smartphone enables you to pay on-line at the closed pay station if you forgot to pay at home… Yup, that’s what we did. Since I personally do not carry a printer in my pocket, I figured I was out of luck on having a copy to show a ranger, but a clever climber who had stopped, rescued us by snapping a photo of my pass as displayed on my smartphone screen. He emailed me the image so I had a copy with me, though my phone had no service at the boulder field.
Now legal Rocktown users, we continued up the road to Rocktown. Our previous visit the road was torn up, rutted mud and hard to drive. But this time it was in great condition so maybe some of our GORP money was going to a good cause! Arriving at the parking area we were amazed at how many cars were there! We parked a good distance before the turn-around along with lines of other late arrivers. We joined Andrew and Haley, some friends from Atlanta at the Orb area where we began our warm-up. It felt good to stretch out after all the traveling I had been doing and the freshness of problems that were new to me added to the excitement of warming up.
In fact, I thought I had not climbed on these lines before, but after mentioning this to Wills, he looked at me like I was crazy and told me I had already done all these climbs on a previous trip! Of course I remembered my battle to complete The Orb, that obstinate and under-graded V8 that turns desperate in the humidity of late spring, but somehow I had forgotten the obvious and fun lines all around. Oh well, climbing is what you take away from it, and I was taking away the experience of climbing new boulders…!
Halfway through climbing Rescue 911 a V6 with a less than ideal landing I had a déjà vu moment and realized I was doing moves and experiencing a kind of nervous tension I had had before. It suddenly hit me I had climbed this problem on my first trip to Rocktown with Ronnie Jenkins. I’m going to assume the conditions were much better then because this time it felt really hard and slippery! I still really enjoyed the climb even after Haley and Andrew gave us a run-down of how Haley had taken a terrifying fall where her heel stayed jammed in a heel-hook as her hands slipped off unexpectedly and she swung awkwardly into the chasm below the climb. This of course opened up a whole conversation that was geared around taking such falls. Why do we climbers like to put ourselves through such mental horror, just before we get on climbs, especially ones called Rescue 911?!
We did also do some climbs I honestly had never been on before such as Burst of Joy (V9?) a cryptic sit-start arête into a fingery face, Helicopter Sit (V9?) a left to right rising traverse with a bit of a floating swing move, and Tractor Traylor (V8/9?). Tractor Traylor the long horizontal roof, to tricky off-vertical finish, won my heart over as my favorite of the Rocktown this time around. No matter how many horizontal roofs I climb I always feel confused when I first look at one. There are so many options that I feel overloaded with options and the sequence seems impossible to decipher. I love when I finally hone down the beta into the best sequence for my body and float effortlessly through the moves…! Well, okay, it may not have looked effortless and I may have used Haley’s beta too, but, in hindsight that night over a few drinks, I remember it feeling effortless!
I’m writing the grades in here that I was told, because people always ask me about them. Keep in mind that grades are subjective and never really make sense to me at my 5’4” stature. I realize my weakness is slopers but really can The Orb be easier than Burst of Joy?!!! Not for me, and I cannot even pull the short card on the Orb after seeing Haley cruising the moves!
It was Wills and Andrew’s enthusiasm for an arête at Little River Canyon that had us seeking out this esoteric little zone of boulders that truly was entirely new to me. Talk of a world class arête on a par with South Africa’s Cedar Spine had me determined to visit. On a recent trip to the climbing gym in Chattanooga, I met one of the crew who had developed some problems there years ago. How lucky they must have felt when they stumbled upon untouched boulders dotted along the edge of a beautiful river that rushes over small falls and pools. It is a paradise down there and topped by the handful of spectacular problems equal to the scenery.
Wills and I were fascinated watching the occasional groups of kayakers go by along the river. Though we were fascinated watching them dropping into the small cataracts, it turned out that they were equally surprised and fascinated to watch us climbing.
As for the arete, I absolutely fell in love with it. I still don’t know the name of this climb, first done by Sean Kearney from a sit-start, but it is one of the finest I have seen anywhere. This problem has an obvious start at a big undercling and begins with some powerful squeeze moves to really test those hamstrings before heading up boldly past one more hard pull about 10 feet up to a heady highball top-out where few had ventured. There were a couple other excellent rising arêtes, that were a fair bit easier to warm up on, so it felt to me as though this boulder zone was geared around the beautiful tall line that Andrew Kornylak got video of me climbing. This really was one of the best arêtes of its grade that I have climbed in years! A find like this is what the Southeast is all about!
There are so many other areas that we were shown just long enough to wet our taste buds for next season. The May weather may be too warm and steamy for the sandstone bouldering of the Southeast, but the good news is that cool temps are just around the corner and all those new areas will still be there waiting for us next fall!