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An Interview with the Founders of the Triple Crown Bouldering Series

RockCreek.com and ClimbingGear.com are proud to support the Triple Crown Southeastern Bouldering Series. This year’s series began on October 4 with the Hound Ears event outside of Boone, in Western North Carolina. Hound Ears is closed to climbers year-round, with the single exception of the Triple Crown weekend. According to event co-founder Chad Wykle and others, this year’s comp at Hound Ears was the best one in its eleven years of existence. The next event in the series will take place November 6 at Horse Pens 40 near Birmingham, Alabama. The final event in the Triple Crown takes place at Little Rock City, a fantastic bouldering area just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. This event, set for December 4, highlights the success of the Triple Crown in gaining access for climbers. The following interview, with Triple Crown founders Chad Wykle and Jim Horton, gives us an interesting look at all the behind-the-scenes effort put into organizing the Triple Crown Bouldering Series.

The stated goal of the Triple Crown is twofold. “First and foremost, the mission is to raise funds for two organizations dedicated to maintaining climbers’ access: The Southeastern Climbers’ Coalition and The Access Fund. These two organizations have been instrumental in the acquisition of land for the climbing community, in a region that is riddled with access issues. Secondly, this unique event will once again provide a tremendous opportunity for vendors to promote the sport of bouldering, which has quickly become the focus of the ever-growing climbing community.”

Be sure to check the Triple Crown Web site as well, at www.triplecrownbouldering.org .

The following interview with event founders Jim Horton and Chad Wykle comes from the Southeastern Climbers’ Coalition (www.seclimbers.org).

SCC: Where did the idea come from to put together a Triple Crown for southern bouldering?

Jim: The original Triple Crown was… well it was a series of horse races. In our case it was originally a group of problems in the Hound Ears Comp – The Pocket Problem, Court and Spark, and Parley vu Parkay – all on the Pocket Wall – all super-classic. If a competitor completed all three, they were given a bonus of 50 points to add their total score – just a fun gimmick to make the comp interesting.

Chad: It was a really cool thing to have. And several years ago, completing all three was quite a feat.

Jim: Yeah, but kids these days! Everyone is strong. We have been playing around with the idea of bringing that Triple Crown back…maybe this year. Rebecca (Wykle) is the Scoring Boss – quite possibly the most stressful job in the event.

Chad: She may well kill us if we “throw another monkey” into the scoring wrench.

Jim: Yeah, maybe I better handle that negotiation.

Chad: That job is all yours!

Jim: Back to the question – I had thought about the idea of a series for several years, and ironically so had Chad. As a matter of fact Adam (Henry) and I had discussed the possibility of a series at the first Mortal Combat. I just knew how much of a logistical challenge Hound Ears was – most people would not believe the amount of work that goes into the organization and execution of a climbing competition. In fact, I introduced Chad to the joy of back – to – back 20+ hour days – a few times!

Chad: Thanks, man.

Jim: You bet. (Jim continues) Chad approached me about the idea in September of 2002. He was working at Rock/Creek and felt confident that not only would Adam (Henry) be psyched about the idea, but we could also add another venue to create The Triple Crown Bouldering Series.

SCC: So you guys were confident that you could secure Little Rock City? That boulderfield had been closed for years!

Jim: Uh…no. Chad was convinced we could talk Pigeon Mountain (Wildlife Management Area) into letting us have the third leg at Rock Town. But that is another story.

SCC: What is new for the Triple Crown in 2004?

Chad: For starters, the sequence has changed for this year’s event. Little Rock City will be the finale to Triple Crown 2004. We really wanted an opportunity to celebrate the access at LRC with the climbing community. The city of Chattanooga, with it’s new Outdoor Initiative, has also been very supportive of this event, and of course, Chattanooga makes for the perfect venue for celebration. The website will be more interactive this year as well. Because the series is really three months long, we want to take the opportunity to update the site with new gallery pics from each competition, and add special news and info as the comps progress. Justin Goodlett is developing the website for this year’s event and he is really excited about the series. Like Jim, he also has incredible graphic design and website construction skills. For the rest of what’s new, I’d say come down and join us. It will be a great time, for sure.

SCC: Do you have any “big names” coming down for slide shows and guest appearances?

Jim: TNF is our presenting sponsor, and they will be “sending” Lisa (Rands) and Wills (Young). Chad spent some time with both of them a few weeks ago. They were in Chattanooga for a dealer camp/slide show tour. They did some bouldering at Little Rock City, HP-40 and did some roped climbing at Foster Falls. I haven’t seen them in a few years so I’m looking forward to having them come down for the event.

Chad: They were excited about the climbing they did while they were here. It will be awesome to have them back during “the good season.” Maybe they will decide to stay for a while!

Jim: Bosley is coming back to defend his crown.

SCC: Jim, you have been the main organizer for the Hound Ears Competition since its inception. Can you tell us how that event has grown and what the Triple Crown means to that area?

Jim: Let me give you a little history. It’s kind of cool because Little Rock City has been very similar. It will also be good to discuss some history because it will let people know why these events are structured the way they are today.

It all started many years ago. Some call it “back in the day.” I started the comp because my then favorite boulderfield (Howard’s Knob) had just been shut down and was about to be developed. We were looking for ways to raise some cash to help save the place from the dozers. I was working at Hound Ears as a bartender and finishing up my college career. I had been up to the boulders (at Hound Ears) a few times. I knew there was great potential. People had climbed there quite a bit, waaay “back in the day.” We’ll call it “in the way back” (probably since the sixties). The place had been pretty deserted for a while though since it was fenced up and made part of a private country club. I thought it would be a great place for an event because no one would have the place wired. Needless to say most people thought it was a stupid idea and a complete waste of my time – So I gave it a shot. I presented my complete plan to the Hound Ears manager (Chuck Hyatt). I rambled on for about a half hour or so (kind of like I am here). When I finally stopped talking he just looked at me and said “sure.” He was a great guy. He unfortunately died of a sudden heart attack a few years later. I really thought that would be the end of the comp but they keep letting us do it. I still don’t know why. They make no money on the event. It just goes to show that not all landowners are jerks and it’s always best to ask.

That first year there was a little more than 100 people there. I don’t think there were many more problems than that. Now both those number have quadrupled. It was very casual and fun. For the awards ceremony we just scattered all the prizes out on a couple of picnic tables and people came up and picked out what they wanted to win. Sometimes we’d throw in something extra if we felt they deserved more. Like I said “very casual.” Of course there wasn’t anywhere near the number of prizes we have these days. That’s actually one of the cooler changes that have taken place. It’s much easier to get sponsors now.

It only took a couple years to realize I’d created a monster that would just continue to grow. I guess friends were telling friends. I believe it was the third year that we started putting a cap on it. We had to limit the number of competitors and spectators not only to prevent overcrowding at the boulders for safety and fun factors, but also to make the whole thing more manageable. Without the cap we’d have no idea how many shirts to order, how many buses to get, how much food to supply, how many registration packets to purchase how many yada, yada, yada. This list can go on and on. It’s still difficult to turn people away but it’s a necessary evil.

The first year competitors only got a day of bouldering for their entry fee. You didn’t get any T-shirts, swag bags full of goodies, chalk thrown at you, Clif Bars thrown at you, T-shirts thrown at you, dinner thrown… I mean served to you, free beer, free camping, free slide shows and all that other crap we bribe you with now. The free camping was a must. Before we had that people were camping all around Hound Ears. On the side of the road or wherever they could. It was getting out of hand. I feared that we were in danger of annoying the locals. Now everything is much better and much more in control.

As far as how the Triple Crown has changed things… I guess it hasn’t really changed all that much. We worked up a new points system that makes much more sense. There’s a lot more work now in getting 3 events together. I’ve got a lot more help now that Chad’s involved. I’ve always had a lot of help in the past. Let’s list a few of those folks. These are the people who have been the biggest help in the past: Burton Moomaw, Goose Kearse (Misty Mountain), Mike Trew, Robert Semple and Chad Oliver. Organizing these events can be very stressful and I guarantee I’ve pissed off every one of these guys at some point over the years and I’m still friends with them all. They continue to help out in one form or another. Mike Trew has been my right hand man with Hound Ears over the past several years. I’m not sure if IÕve pissed him off yet actually. Maybe this year?… he, he!

Eleven years… not bad. Especially when so many people told me it would never happen. “That place is a gated community they’ll never let a bunch of grungy climbers go in there to climb” people said. I told them all the same thing I say today, “the answer is always “no” if you never ask.”

SCC: Chad, the opening of Little Rock City (LRC) was one of the biggest access success stories in recent years. Can you tell us more about that effort and how LRC became part of the Triple Crown?

Chad: The truth is that originally, Rock Town was to be the venue. Dawson Wheeler (owner of Rock/Creek Outfitters) and I had been in negotiations with the Georgia Department of the Interior to secure the site (for the comp) from November 2002 until February 2003. Discussions with Pigeon Mountain Rangers to that point had been completely positive, but in mid-February despite our best efforts at negotiation, we were informed that the competition venue would have to be moved elsewhere. I was honestly devastated. Sand Rock was our “fallback,” but Jim and I wanted something new. Sand Rock had been done.

Jim: We were all pretty bummed. Chad and I both spent some time “brainstorming” for other options. We were pretty much committed to the Triple Crown at this point. In fact we already had sponsors. You can imagine how that added to the pressure. Anyway, we were both racking our brains in the seclusion of our own offices. It suddenly came to me- Little Rock City! Surely they’d let us in for one day. I mean Hound Ears went for it and that’s a very exclusive gated country club. The funny thing is Chad was thinking the same thing. I called him up…

Chad: It was divine intervention. There I was on a late February afternoon…standing in the upstairs office of Rock/Creek staring out the window at a cold, driving rain. I had just finished talking to Dawson about beginning the hard task of moving the comp venue to Sand Rock. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Dawson said. “Triple Crown will be fine with Sand Rock as a comp venue. You just have to accept that Rock Town is not going to happen, right now. Get your head up and get to work at making the best of a less than perfect situation.”

He then paused and asked, “Do you have ANY ideas about where else this thing could happen?” I knew that he wanted something better too. We both just stood arms folded and stared out the window. There was another place – an area within 20 minutes of downtown Chattanooga that held some of the best bouldering in the South East – CLOSED place. “Yeah,” I said. “I do know another place.” About that time the phone rang. It was Jim. We immediately started talking about the situation. Jim said, “Chad, I don’t want to have this thing at Sand Rock, man…where else on this god-forsaken planet could we have it? The Citadel is still closed. Asheboro is WAY closed. Lilly is too small. Rumbling Bald access is super-tenuous not to mention the location being a logistical nightmare. Grandmother would be great, but…you know that’s an impossibility.” I remember pausing for a second and then Jim said, “I’ve been thinking about a place…but, it’s kind of a long shot.” At that moment I knew what he was thinking.

Jim: Yeah, Chad just starting saying “Just say it. Just say it dude.” I stunned myself as I actually whispered “Little…Rock…City?” Chad immediately got psyched. He said, “I’ll do it, Jim. I’ll go up there right now and talk to Montlake (golf course). You tell me to go and I am out the door.”

Chad: I was secretly hoping that Jim might say “na, it’s too much of long shot…there’s just no way,” but that wasn’t gonna happen. I was pretty gripped. We both knew that the SCC had devoted lots of effort to creating access up there for several years, and here we were thinking of not only asking for access, but trying to create an avenue for a full blown climbing competition – just the thought of all the possible repercussions made me sick. Jim threw down the gauntlet, “Do it man. You get up there right now. Make it happen. The answer will always be no if you never ask. Call me with good news as soon as you get back.” Click. I hung up the phone. “Are you seriously considering going up there?” Dawson said after listening to the conversation. “Chad, that place is closed…has been for years. You’re going up there to ask for permission to have 500 climbers descend on the golf course?” “Dawson…that is exactly what I am going to do.” “Then put your game face on. You’re going to need it,” he said. I snagged a competition packet and headed out into the raw February gloom. I remember thinking about how badly I wanted this to happen, and how much it could ultimately mean for the climbing community.

Jim: Yeah, best case scenario – a fantastic comp and potentially some first steps toward legal climber access at a premier boulderfield; Worst case scenario – complete shutdown that results in no comp venue and no chance of ever having access – stressful for both of us to say the least.

Chad: The drive to the Montlake clubhouse was way too short. Most of the ride was spent rolling appropriate dialogue scenarios through my mind. I quickly found myself walking through the clubhouse doors and to the front counter where I was met with the first roadblock. I laid down my best sales job to the manager and for my efforts I received, “A rock climbing competition? NO WAY. That’s just not EVER going to happen up here. This is a golf course, son,” the man said with complete conviction. I spent another couple of minutes trying to discuss liability waivers, the possibility of renting the property for a day and even making a donation to the golf course. “There is no way. Forget it,” he said. For a moment I thought about conceding. The man was two sentences from being pissed for sure and I didn’t want to make an already bad situation worse. It was clear that there was no avenue with this guy. “Is there a property manager on duty today,” I asked. He pointed down the hallway and said, “She’s in the back.”

I walked down a long hallway and into an office and was greeted by a very nice lady. “Hey There,” I said. “Do you mind if I sit down?” I handed her the competition packet and then spent the next thirty minutes talking about the competition and the wonderful outdoor resource that lay just inside the woods along the golf course. She politely listened and finally stated that Mr. Luken, the owner of the Montlake property would have to give permission to have a competition and after half an hour of listening to me wax on about the property and what climber access could potentially mean for the community she was more than willing to give me his phone number.

I came back to Rock/Creek and later that afternoon made the call. Mrs. Luken answered the phone and I explained why I was calling. She had received the competition packet that I had delivered to the golf club. “This looks like a very good idea you guys have here, but Henry (Luken) is concerned about liability. He would like climbers to be able to use the property, but…” I described the liability waiver that had been created by Sean Coburn, an activist and lawyer for the Carolina Climbers’ Coalition, and discussed the legalities around recreation on private lands. Jim had been down this road with Hound Ears in the past and had spent quite a bit of time educating himself, me (and anyone else who would listen) on the particulars around this issue. She offered Mr. Luken’s contact info that I gladly accepted and I told her that I would forward the liability document on to his e-mail address with information about the competition and our hopes for access. That led to some very positive e-mail and phone conversations with Mr. Luken, and within a couple of days he met me at Rock/Creek to discuss the particulars.

The competition sounded like a great idea to him, and he wanted responsible people to have an opportunity to recreate on his land. He had shown the liability document to his legal counsel, and wanted just a few additions to be made to the document. We went on to discuss the possibility of creating year round access. He wanted assurance that we could create a system that would require all climbers to sign the liability waiver, and that there would be clear signage in place to support the waiver and compliance with a short list of regulations. I guaranteed him that we would create an appropriate system and we shook hands. History was in the making. Little did I know, though, that the work had just begun. Needless to say, there was initially LOTS of controversy around this. Many well-respected climbers within the community had big-time reservations about the competition.

Jim: It’s kind of funny. I actually saw a message board post on the Carolina Climbers’ Coalition website that said, “The Triple Crown is going to get LRC closed.” I thought this is hilarious. How do you shut down a place that’s never been open? I fired back a fairly sarcastic response. I think it’s still up – go check it out. What made it even better was the fact that the guy was too much of a… um… wimp to use his real name. We all know the type.

Chad: Word to the wise; if you’re unable to attach your name to a statement, don’t make it.

Jim: Word!

Chad: Several meetings were held at TBA over the next several weeks that were primarily open forums for discussion – we worked through several heated meetings, and some honestly touch-and-go moments. In the end, the climbing community truly came together. I wish there was space to recant every discussion and give props to every single individual that worked and continues to work to make LRC what it is today. Truly special thanks goes to Justin Eiseman, Kirk Brode, Brad McLeod, Dawson Wheeler, Ben Johnson, Jonathan Clardy, Tom Bowen, Theresa Schlacter, Rebecca Wykle, Matt Sims, Stuart Chapin, John Dorough, Chad Fowler, Luis Rodriguez, and Eric Pittman – the climbing community is certainly lucky to have these individuals.

SCC: It is interesting that all three areas (Little Rock City, Hound Ears and Horse Pens) were all closed to the public at one point. What effect does the Triple Crown have on the access to those areas?

Chad: Wow, that is a great question and it is more broad than it appears – Jim’s efforts at Hound Ears have allowed climbers to continue to access this awesome boulderfield at least once a year. Jim was also one of the first to set the standard for climbers to be recognized as stewards of the greater community rather than just stewards of the environment and their own “green causes.” The benefits (to the climbing community) of this type of gifting are initially subtle. But the foundation that Jim has created over the years with success at Hound Ears in conjunction with a willingness to give back to causes that do not directly benefit climbing (Red Cross, Watauga Rescue Squad, Watauga Land Trust, and others) is truly amazing – and simply the right thing to do. I think it goes without saying that without the success of Hound Ears, The Triple Crown, the SCC and the efforts of local activists, LRC would still be closed today.

As it stands there are over 1,000 registered climbers that have visited this fantastic boulderfield. There have been only positive comments from the staff and residents of the Montlake Golf Club since the opening, and the local climbing community is credited with creating a beautiful “green space” that is used not only by climbers, but by the residents of the Montlake community as well. The Triple Crown and the SCC have organized and will continue to organize trail days and divot repair days (climbers repair golfing divots throughout the Montlake Golf Course) and as a community, we will continue to support the Montlake Golf Club in any way possible.

Jim: The Triple Crown has also definitely supported the efforts of the Schultz Family (owners of Horse Pens-40). HP-40 is the only one of the three boulderfields in the series that is a for-profit climbing area. Chad and I do everything we can to promote this site as one of the premier bouldering destinations in the world. The only pictures to appear in our ads in Rock and Ice are of this beautiful sandstone climbing area. In addition, the main pages of our website are from Horse Pens. The cost for full-page ads in national climbing periodicals, and maintaining a website is significant. Last year we created two full-page ads in R&I and this year we upped the number to three. There are only two reasons that we spend funds for those ads – to give exposure to our sponsors and to expose Horse Pens as a worldwide climbing destination. Hopefully we can get other private landowners to recognize the success of areas like HP40 and we can gain access to more areas. Once people actually start seeing that climbers can be good stewards, and that private land can be profitable for things other than development or deforestation their view of climbers might change. What about the prospect of climbers leasing land like hunters do? We’ve seen it work at Asheboro back in NC. Um…OK, I’m off subject. Chad, help me out here. What were we talking about?

Chad: How Triple Crown affects access…

Jim: Oh yeah… let’s wrap this up.

Chad: The Triple Crown, in conjunction with the Schultz Family has also made donations directly to the town of Steele, Alabama, and I think that is extremely important. As I mentioned earlier, at some point, climbers as a group have to begin giving back to the greater community. Hank McCann, owner of Urban Outpost, donated funds from the Recent Bouldergrass Festival to The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. To me, it is imperative that our climbing organizations and events continue to give back particularly to direct action causes that do not necessarily benefit climbers.

Jim: That should do it. Good job Chad!

SCC: Favorite problem at all three areas?

Jim: I hate questions like this. Here are a few of my favorites at each area. Ask me later and I’ll have a whole new list. My opinions change and I don’t care how hard or easy they are. Just give me the classics!

Hound Ears: Alfred Hitchcock, Mother’s Milk, The Heretic (probably the best), Flash or Trash, Monster Truck, Strange Agent (even though it’s an oddball), and Parlez Vu Parkay.

Horse Pens 40: I like some of the unusual ones. Trick or Treat, The Red Arrow (I think that’s what it’s called, you know out by Slow Hand), The Crown, Grooverider, Man With A Slow Hand, Squeezeplay, and Moon Arete.

Little Rock City: Hulk, Super Mario, Tennessee Thong, Space, Shotgun, Funkadelic (A.K.A. Galaxy 500), White Trash, and Heroin.

Chad: Damn! That’s a hard question, for sure!! I’ll go out on a limb though and name a few favorites, though:

Hound Ears: The Heretic, Flash or Trash, Monster Truck, The Tourist, The Proud, Air Jesus to name a few.

Horse Pens 40: The Crown (of course), Step Child, The Flow.

Little Rock City: Incredarete, Cinderella-Cleopatra Traverse, The Crescent, Cardinal Sin…I could keep going.

SCC: The Triple Crown has the best prizes of any comp we have seen. Can you tell us about your sponsorships?

Chad: Jim and I love that. We both really enjoy being able to award hard-working climbers with awesome prizes. But our primary goal is gaining and maintaining access to climbing areas, and I think we have a good formula for accomplishing that goal. It is very important that climbers begin to understand that our sport is primarily supported by the Outdoor Industry (retail shops like Rock/Creek, Diamond Brand, Alabama Outdoors, and Urban Outpost; and vendors like The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, Black Diamond, Rock and Ice, Trango, E-Grips, Bluewater, Five Ten, La Sportiva, Misty Mountain, Montrail, Chaco, Clif Bar, Prana, Metolius, and Oakley). The largest contributors to organizations like The Access Fund and The Southeastern Climbers’ Coalition come from the Outdoor Industry – hands down. Without their support, there would be no money to support trail days, bolt and anchor replacement and certainly no money to support access. Because of this fact, it is imperative that climbers support this industry.

To that end, Jim and I do everything that we can to support our sponsors. This year we had three full-page ads in R&I promoting the sponsors of The Triple Crown Bouldering Series. We have a website (designed by Justin Goodlett) that is constantly updated and fully supports our sponsors with text, galleries, and links to sponsor websites and web stores. The venues, campsites, and award ceremony sites will be full of vendor/retailer booths and sponsor banners. We will produce posters for the comp that will appear throughout the US and will sport sponsor logos and names. We will make over 2,000 of the coolest, Jim Horton-designed tees on the planet that every competitor will receive and wear for years to come that showcase all of the Triple Crown supporters.

Jim: We just went to the Outdoor Retail Show in SLC to get sponsors for 2005. Next year will be even bigger.

SCC: Where do all the proceeds go?

Jim: All of the proceeds will go to the Access Fund and of course the SCC. Some proceeds will also go to local Rescue Squads and direct action causes. Chad: Triple Crown is an SCC event this year!

SCC: Thanks Jim and Chad!

Jim and Chad: Thank you SCC!


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