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Rock Town, Georgia: A Winter Bouldering Destination

“I’m talkin’ this place has got it all!!-It’s got roofs, bulges, slabs, crimpers, slopers, pinches, long power tosses and some wicked core tension moves!!,” sprays Chattanooga powerhouse and Rock/Creeker Ronnie Jenkins.  “I tell you “the Town’s” eat-up with classic problems!!”  Any out-of-towner might chalk these statements up to simple caffeine driven phantasm, but in this case, they would be dead wrong.  Ronnie is right-on.  Rock Town is a bouldering paradise – fully worthy of its impending ‘destination’ status.

Nestled in the sylvan woods atop Pigeon Mountain in northwest Georgia is an unbelievable labyrinth of fine southern sandstone.  Beautiful orange, white, and rust colored boulders and ancient broken cliff lines provide a perfect natural medium for rock climbing.

Area climbing interest was first sparked in the mid-1980’s when Atlanta based climbers Shannon Stegg, Curtis Glass and Stan Glass began exploring the cliffs (now known as Lost Wall) inside the Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area.  The cliffs eventually yielded a popular collection of Traditional Classics, but the real treasure was yet to be found.  In the spring of 1988, local Chattanooga climbers David Hoover and Dawson Wheeler made the probable first discovery of the area from a commercial climbing perspective.  Looking for a new site to service Camp Alpine’s Climbing Program, the pair first visited the area on a tip from a local hunter.  “Initially, we were a bit disappointed,” said Dawson Wheeler in a recent interview.  “From a route climber’s perspective the area was lackluster, with most of the formations being too short by area standards to warrant development.  However, from a climbing instruction standpoint it was perfect,” recalled Wheeler.  With the help of Forrest Gardner, the pair returned over several weeks to establish routes on some of the larger outcrops, and to install top-rope anchors for the Camp Alpine Climbing Program.  The area gained notoriety over the next few years, and was used by several commercial camps and Boy Scout Troops.

Initially the area was recognized simply for these beginner-friendly top-ropes.  “Rock Town” would wait just a bit longer for the first forays by the legendary Bob Cormany, who is historically credited with uncovering the area’s true potential as a bouldering Mecca.  Cormany’s efforts were followed by many others including particularly strong contingents from Atlanta, Birmingham and nearby Chattanooga.  Other names of note include Sean Kearney, John Sherman, Steven Byrd, John Woodruff, Adam Henry, Andrew Traylor, Robert McSween, Luis Rodriguez, Eric Pittman, and Scott Brown.  With the veritable explosion of bouldering and the production of the first “crash pads” in 1995, Rock Town was converted from a secluded top-rope climbing instruction area to the bouldering Boomtown that it is today.  On any given cobalt-blue skied weekend, literally hundreds of climbers travel to the area to sample the classic sandstone and enjoy the camaraderie found within the Deep South climbing community.

Regardless of your climbing level, Rock Town is certainly an everyman’s destination.  From novice to mutant, from top-ropes to highball top-outs, “the Town” is stacked with classic problems and routes.  Grab your pad and your pals and head to one of the nation’s premier bouldering venues – ROCK TOWN!

When and Where

Die-hard locals will tell you the climbing is great at Rock Town year-round.  However, the summer heat in the Deep South can suck the desire to climb from even the heartiest of souls!  You will find the prime conditions from late September through early May.  Check the weather forecast for Lafayette, Ga. to fine-tune your visit.

From Atlanta, head north on Interstate 75.  Take exit 133 and follow Georgia Route 136 west to the city of Lafayette. Once in Lafayette, follow signs for Route 193 north.  Follow route 193 north for 2.7 miles and make a left on to Chamberlain Road at Uncle Jed’s Convenience Store.  After approximately 3 miles, make a right into the Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Area.  Follow this dirt road via switchbacks up the mountain for about 5 miles to an obvious fork.  Turn right at the fork and continue for 1.3 miles and make a left on to Rock Town Road.  Park your vehicle at the cul-de-sac at the terminus of this short road.

From Chattanooga follow Broad Street through the small town of St. Elmo at the foot of Lookout Mountain, toward the Georgia State Line.  At this point, Broad Street becomes Georgia Route 193 south.  Follow Route 193 south for approximately 24 miles until you reach Uncle Jed’s Convenience Store on the left.  Take a right on to Chamberlain Road at this point and follow the above directions from the entrance to Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

Scott Drum Climbing the Orb at Rocktown, GeorgiaCamping

There is camping past the ranger’s house on the right side of the road before you head up the hill to Rock Town.  There is NO CAMPING in the cul-de-sac parking lot, on the road to the lot, and most of the ridge.  There are signs posted informing you of where you cannot camp, so PLEASE follow the rules. Bring your own water, and be aware there are often fire restrictions. Also, because this is a managed Wildlife Area, no alcoholic beverages are allowed, and the park is occasionally closed for managed hunts.  For information on closure dates, call the Armuchee Ranger District office at (706) 638-1085.

Important Note:  Speeding through the park has been a serious problem in the past, and has threatened to shut down climbing access – Please Drive Appropriately.

Amenities

Just forty-five minutes north of Rock Town lies perhaps one of the biggest attractions for the visiting climber; the veritable  “rest-day oasis” of Chattanooga.  Voted by Outdoor Magazine as one of the nation’s ten best cities for outdoor recreation, Chattanooga has the perfect blend of hospitality, scenic beauty and big city appeal to lure you away from the boulders.

Begin your visit to the city with a stroll through the beautifully designed Coolidge Park in downtown Chattanooga.  The park seamlessly blends the amazing natural features of the Tennessee River and Lookout Mountain, with quaint shops, eateries, art galleries, coffee bars, and the truly amazing architectural marvels of the Tennessee Aquarium and Hunter Museum.

For lunch, try the curiously “New York” cuisine of the River Street Deli, or experience the open atmosphere of the North Shore Bar and Grille.  Follow your repast with a stop by The Stone Cup, where you can pass the time with some of the best caffeinated (or de-caffeinated) beverages on the planet.

Later, to round out your afternoon and collect supplies for camp, walk over to Rock/Creek Outfitters where you can probe our experienced staff for secret beta for your current Rock Town project. After this quick climbing “fix,” saunter over the expansive Pedestrian Bridge, which crosses the meandering waters of the Tennessee River, to connect Coolidge Park with the downtown Chattanooga proper. This walk will gain you access to many other fantastic dinner options, theatres, bars and live music scenes.  Some “not to miss” venues include the Big River Bar and Grille, Rhythm and Brews (Live Night Music and Beverages), Lupi’s Pizza (a favorite among area climbers), Sekisui Sushi Bar, Greyfriar’s Coffee Shop, The Thai Smile, and The Bijou Theatre.

A nice evening walk back across the Pedestrian Bridge will return you to your car, and a short drive will take you back into your camp.  A very unique urban experience followed by a return to a fantastic wilderness – Unbelievable!

Chad Wykle

Rock/Creek Outfitters
Triple Crown Bouldering Series

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