You’re out at a bar in Chattanooga, TN, and someone walks in with chalk all over their pants, sweat stains under their arms, and blood oozing from their fingertips. The thing is, this isn’t abnormal around these parts. If you didn’t already know, climbing is a big deal here.
According to Climbing Magazine, Chattanooga is the South’s climbing capitol. Although not quite the grandeur of some better-known 2,000 foot tall multi-pitch beasts out West, Chattanooga is still revered for its world-class rock quality and routes. And because climbing spots are within such close proximity to Chattanooga’s downtown, access to the sport is among the best in the world.
With a myriad of bouldering, trad, and sport options—all with varied difficulty levels— dotting the region, Chattanooga should most definitely be added to any climber’s must-visit list.
Located just outside of Chattanooga, in Soddy Daisy, Leda is one of Chattanooga’s favorite weekday, post-work stops. While strenuous hiking is normally required to reach a climbing route’s trail, the walk in to Leda is no longer than five minutes from your car. With numerous easy routes and several difficult climbs, Leda is great for beginners and experts alike.
Tennessee Wall, a.k.a “T-Wall”
Chattanooga’s best known climbing bluff, T-Wall, was first discovered in 1984 by local climbers and has lived up to its hype ever since. With over 600 recorded trad routes spread out over two miles of sandstone cliffs, T-Wall is a place that truly knows no bounds. (Trad is a form of lead climbing that requires the climber to place all safety equipment on his or her own, rather than clipping in to already bolted gear.)
Located less than 10 miles from downtown Chattanooga, T-Wall offers a range of difficulty trad, ranging from 5.5s to 5.13s. Because most routes require you to climb up a T-shaped dihedral before topping out at an overhanging roof, T-Wall is nicknamed appropriately. Also featuring diverse cracks and aretes, T-Wall keeps things interesting and never seems to get old. Although probably not ideal for first-timers (unless with a partner who can set up top rope), various climbing-focused magazines have dubbed T-Wall among the United States’ best climbing crags.
Stone Fort, a.k.a. Little Rock City (LRC)
Located extremely close to Leda is the region’s renowned bouldering hot spot, Stone Fort. (Bouldering does not require rope; simply chalk and a crash pad. If you’re scared of heights but want a similar workout on natural rock, bouldering is a great option that focuses more on finger strength and the specific technicality of each move.) Strangely enough, the massive boulders of LRC rub shoulders with the Mont Lake Golf Course, meaning that you’ve got to pay $5 to the golf club before shuffling your way down to the rocks. Good news? It’s beyond worth it! People have compared this otherworldly bouldering field to a natural art gallery.
Picture hundreds of boulders sprawled out like purposefully placed pieces of art in a museum. Some big, some small, some lopsided, some perfectly symmetrical, some bulgy and bubbly, some edgy and others jagged. With so many rocks, it’s no surprise that there are an astonishing 500 + established routes, varying from V0 (easiest bouldering option) to V13 (that’s dang hard).
With a large population of climbers in the Chattanooga area, it’s no surprise that climbing gyms here are top-notch.
The original High Point—located in the gut of downtown—was dubbed “the country’s coolest gym” in the April 2015 issue of Climbing Magazine, with 30,000 square feet of climbing both inside and outside. While wandering downtown at night, it’s hard to miss seeing climbers scurry up the gym’s illuminated, architecturally unique outdoor walls. With lead, top rope, a kid zone, auto-belay and bouldering options, High Point is a perfect fit for both beginners and elites. The gym also offers yoga and spin classes, in addition to providing aerobic and weight training rooms.
Tennessee Bouldering Authority (TBA) is known for its supreme boulder setting and its community of fiercely strong athletes. Though not necessarily exclusive, this is definitely the place you go if you’re a serious, in-training-mode climber. Home to some of the city’s best boulderers—not to mention some of the best in the world—TBA is the spot to be if you intend to focus on strength and participate primarily in bouldering.
The Secret Spots
Cliff lines leading alongside ferocious waterfalls, routes tucked into remote parts of the forest, walls that split along the horizon…These are just a few perks of Chattanooga’s hidden gems. These “secret spots” are for grade-pusher, outdoor enthusiasts who avoid gyms and seek new, undiscovered areas. These special routes are for those who enjoy low-traffic and novelty. Like with any treasure, those who know about it aren’t willingly throwing around information. There’s a lot of hype with locality here, so if you have an “in” with a well-connected, dedicated Chattanoogan climber, chances are you’ll make it there for yourself. And if not, that’s the whole point, sorry.
While you may have to drive an hour or more after a day in the woods in Utah or Colorado, here in Chattanooga you can have a post-climbing beer in hand within minutes. And let me tell you, the beer and food options are superb! Check out Tremont Tavern for the city’s best burger; head to Heaven and Ale for various on-tap beer flavors; or pig out on the duck tacos and unbeatable garlic fries at The Flying Squirrel, conveniently located next to The Crash Pad, a cozy hostel ideal for adventuring visitors to catch some ZZZs.
Written by: Olivia Harlow
Published on: April 21, 2016