The Triple Crown Bouldering Series is a long-standing bouldering competition that is arguably the most prestigious outdoor climbing event of its kind in the United States. The annual series is the brainchild of organizers Jim Horton and Chad Wykle and over the years it has established itself as a must-do comp for any seasoned rock grappler.
In the Beginning
The Triple Crown was born from a single event, the Hound Ears Bouldering Competition, which took place just outside of the bouldering mecca of Boone, NC for the first time in 1994. A local climber, Jim Horton, was able to negotiate a deal with the Hound Ears Country Club to allow access once a year to the extensive boulder field found on their property in order to hold the event. The first Hound Ears comp helped raise money to save Howard’s Knob (another local boulder field high above Boone) from development.
Today, the single competition has grown into a series and includes two other world-class boulder fields: Stone Fort (formerly known as Little Rock City) just outside Chattanooga, TN and Horse Pens 40 in Steele, AL. The series continues the tradition of being a large fundraiser to improve climbing access and promote land acquisition for outdoor recreation in the Southeast.
According to Wykle, the series is "always tied to some direct action cause" and he is proud of its legacy in “laying a lot of bricks regarding land access.” Many heavy hitters from the outside industry have realized the role that the Triple Crown plays in this regard and year after year they help support the cause with generous donations. This year’s Title sponsor was Marmot, followed by Rock/Creek Outfitters and Rock and Ice *magazine as Platinum Sponsors. *Prana, Peak Fitness and Physical Therapy, Horton Designs, Footsloggers, Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Goal Zero, Outdoor Research, The North Face, and High Point Climbing and Fitness, along with many climbing and gear companies also donated generously to the cause. It’s this community love and gathering of the tribe that truly makes the Triple Crown special.
This year’s Triple Crown, its 13th, saw a total of 741 competitors from elite level climbers competing in the open category to beginner level climbers to the junior category for the little crushers.
The first stop on the tour was the renowned Hound Ears boulder field on October 1st. The gray gneiss boulders are known for thin crimpers and technical sequences, which makes Hound Ears a place where precision and accuracy are rewarded. Area classics include Air Jesus (V3), Heretic (V3), The Anchor (V4), The Blade (V6), Thunder Prow (V6), and Mr. Thick (V9).
NC native and seasoned strongman Taylor McNeill won the Open Men category at the Hound Ears leg, with a total score of 14,169 points. He was followed closely by Ryan Copeland with a score of 13,071 points. In the Open Women category, Rebecca O’Brien easily took home top honors with a total score of 10,753, followed in second by the strong Francesca Metcalf with 7,697 points.
The next stop of the series was Stone Fort, a sandstone boulder field on the outskirts of Chattanooga that regularly draws comparisons to the world class Fontainebleau bouldering area in France. Although Stone Fort is open year round to climbers, it is also home to a golf course, and all the boulders that are on the fairway are off limits (except on comp day). This adds a special lure for boulders to sample some forbidden fruit.
There tons of 5-star boulder problems at Stone Fort, but any list of the classics here will include Super Mario (V4), The Wave (V6), Celestial Mechanics (V7), Instinct (V7), White Face (V10), The Shield (V12), and The Chattanoogan (V12).
Competition was tight in the Open Men category, with local Anderson Bouton taking 1st with a total score of 15,596 points. Ryan Copeland finished in 2nd place with 14,560 points, and 3rd place went to Taylor McNeill with 14,129 points. In the Open Women category, Rebecca O’Brien continued to keep her lead with a 1st place finish. Chattanooga-local Kasia Pietras took 2nd place, and Francesca Metcalf took 3rd.
Horse Pens 40
The final leg of the Triple Crown was held at Horse Pens 40 on November 19. Horse Pens 40, a labyrinth-like boulder field that is as much a network of rock corridors as it is independent boulders, is known for its extreme slopers that require as much body tension as finger strength. Horse Pens 40 requires a unique set of climbing skills, which can frustrate many competitors as they try to tap into the puzzling style required for many of the problems found there.
No comp at Horse Pens 40 is complete without attempting the classics such as Bum Boy (V3), Mortal Combat (V4), Man With a Slow Hand (V4), Hammerhead (V5), Millipede (a super stout V5), and Slider (if V9 is up your alley).
Once again, Ryan Copeland had a stellar performance, narrowly winning the Open Men category with a total of 10,524 points. Jeremy Walton finished in 2nd place, and 3rd place went to Zach Galla. In the Open Women category Rebecca O’Brien continued her dominance and took first with 3,856 total points. 2nd place went to Courtney Sanders, and Francesca Metcalf rounded out the podium in 3rd place.
Series competition was close throughout the entire series in the Open Men category but ultimately Ryan Copeland narrowly edged out Taylor McNeill with a total series score of 38,155. 3rd place went to Zach Galla and Justin Jones came in at 4th.
Rebecca O’Brien dominated the series this year for the women and won with a total series score of 24,845. Francesca Metcalf came in second with a score of 17,715.
You can find all the results on the Triple Crown Bouldering Series website.
A Huge Success
In years past, the fickle weather of the Southeast has been an issue, but this year all three events had perfect conditions. Wykle seemed relieved: "from a weather perspective; from a climber’s perspective; this year’s weather was perfect. It was dry and cool and one thing I’ve learned is that weather dictates the fun-meter."
He was genuinely appreciative that year’s series raised over $16,000 for the Denny Cove project. Denny Cove is a 685-acre land tract that connects the climbing areas of Foster Falls and Castle Rock, helping to create a near-continuous green space in the Southern Cumberland Plateau region. When pressed on the legacy of the Triple Crown Bouldering Series, Wykle mentioned that he is proud of the role that the Triple Crown has played in helping to remedy the many land access issues found in the Southeast. "When we started this thing, everyone knew that the Southeast was riddled by many access issues." he said. “But today when people think about the Southeast, they think of it as a model of how to secure access to climbing areas.”
You get the feeling that Wykle doesn’t like to toot his own horn, but on behalf of climbers and passionate outdoor recreationists in the Southeast United States and beyond, we all appreciate your hard work and conservation efforts. Job well done fellas.
Originally written by RootsRated for Rock/Creek.
Featured image provided by Chad Jones