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The Complete Guide to Winter Climbing in Chattanooga

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Winter can be a challenging time for climbers who are coming off the prime season of Rocktober. For many, fall to early winter is when your skin finally gets tough and those projects finally get sent. But when Daylight Savings Time hits, everything starts to go downhill. The days are shorter, the weather can be less than ideal, and don’t forget about the holidays—a time of year that can whittle away even the most Jedi-like focus.

But with a little planning and a commitment to climbing outside, winter is a time when many climbers are able to not only remain in fighting shape, but quite possibly send their hardest routes and boulder problems. In fact, for many elite climbers, winter in Chattanooga IS the season. The days of bluebird skies, sunny south-facing crags, and low humidity are perfect for sending, and indoor gym sessions fill the cracks of the temperamental winter.

So let go of the excuses, and consider this your guide to crushing all winter long in and around River City.

Bouldering

Bouldering is the easiest way to get your climbing fix in the winter. There’s no need for a rack, rope, or harness, and there’s no sitting around belaying. Just you, your buddies, and a comfy set of bouldering pads make it a popular go-to activity for climbers in the winter. Remember to warm up sufficiently and you’ll be surprised how well you’re able to stick that desperate open-handed hold.

Stone Fort

In case you’ve been living in a cave (well in this case, probably not in a cave), Stone Fort just outside of Chattanooga is widely considered the crown jewel in an extensive collection of Southeast boulder fields. Stone Fort (aka Little Rock City) is home to hundreds of classic sandstone boulder problems that range in difficulty from noob to hardman, and the combination of cooler winter temps and low humidity make Stone Fort’s often slopey and open-handed holds feel more manageable. This "low-gravity" season allows many climbers to do moves that they haven’t previously been able to do and push it to the next level.

Good problems to add to your tick list include Storming the Castle (V1), Super Mario (V4), The Wave (V6), Tennessee Thong (V7), White Face (V10), and The Shield (V12).

Rock Town

Rock Town, a 45-minute drive from Chattanooga into Georgia, is arguably one of the best bouldering areas in the United States. The mountaintop is littered with a high concentration of quality sandstone boulders that range in size from vehicles to houses. The diversity of holds, angles, and climbing styles found at Rock Town is truly mind-boggling.

Classics like the V4/5 Soap on a Rope will require you to have those tenuous slopey mantle skills dialed. In the same area, the Orb (V8) will remind you that body tension is the key to topping out hard boulder problems. A little ways further down the trail, the Sherman Photo Roof (V7), showcases Georgia’s version of Hueco Tanks with similar style pockets and finger buckets. Speaking of Hueco, check out the area known as the Hueco Simulator—it’s a great warm-up spot. Other classic boulders include the perfectly angled and fear-inducing height of Croc Bloc (V5), the thin, swirly quartzite protrusions found on the Comet boulder, and the near-perfect sequence of the V5 Golden Shower.

Cumberland Boulders

If rain settles in for an extended period, the Cumberland Boulders (high up on the same mountain as Stone Fort), are the first to dry out. The topography of the area creates a wind-tunnel effect that airs out most of the boulders and keeps conditions good for most of the problems located here.

At Cumberland, check out some of these popular problems: Riverside (V5+), 711 Stand (V7) or 711 Roof (V10), Salo’s Rood (V9), Big Gulp (V11), and Gross’ Roof (V11).

Trad and Sport Climbing

Cragging in the winter can be a very enjoyable experience as long as you warm up well (long hikes are a good thing), bring a puffy coat to keep you warm during belay duties, and seek out south-facing walls. Spare your belayer and stay off your long-time project, opting instead for more manageable routes.

T-Wall

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T-Wall might just be the most perfect winter trad spot on all of the east coast. The golden sandstone walls are home to a plethora of crack climbs, chunky corner systems, heady gear-protected face climbs, and a handful of choice, hard sport climbs. With an uphill hike to warm up your body and a south-facing orientation, T-Wall is reason enough to stay motivated to climb throughout the winter.

Corner systems like Passages (5.8) and In Pursuit of Excellence (5.9) are must-do climbs. The manageable, yet thin, Finger Lockin’ Good (5.10b/c) will have you racking a full set of stoppers and small cams. Surfing the wave on Stone Wave (5.11 a/b) will make your crack-climbing heart smile. Climbers looking for an odyssey should give Scamper Proof (5.12) a go, where your confidence will be tested after leaving the safety of the crack to navigate the thin headwall above.

Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls is a stunning south-facing crag of clean, bullet-sandstone faces with bulbous features located just outside of Chattanooga in Dayton, Tennessee. The hike is about four miles one-way to the falls, then the climbing is about 100 more yards from there, but the whole area is gorgeous. You’ll pass moss-covered stone bridges, remains of old mines, and breathtaking views.

Although there are a few easier routes, and even a few crack climbs worthy of bringing the rack out for, it’s mostly sport climbs in the 5.12 range. Monkey Boy (5.12a) and the The Last Boy Scout (5.12b) are both great choices to start with. Other solid routes at Laurel Falls include Annie Sprinkle’s Christmas (5.12d), Evolution Number Nine (5.12c), Arms Control (5.12d), and Cyclops’ Belly (5.13a). The old school mixed masterpiece, Darwinism (5.10d), keeps things honest.

Buzzard Point

Buzzard Point, located across the canyon from Laurel Falls, is the bigger and more established area of the canyon. The hike in is also substantial here, but that’s all part of its charm. Although the rock quality isn’t nearly as pristine, there is still a good assortment of high-quality sandstone trad and sport climbs here. Like all of the areas mentioned above, it is a south-facing crag, making it totally possible to climb in a t-shirt in the winter. The rock is brownish-tan in color that forms ledges, arêtes, overhangs, cracks, and (of course) pockets and slopers. This diversity of features and holds is what makes this place truly special.

Routes like A Tall Cool One (5.11d), Pocket Wilderness (5.12c/d), and Off To The Wild Blue Yonder (5.12a/b) are classics.

Indoor Climbing Gyms

When the weather is too wet, too cold, or you just want to grab a session after work, hitting the gym is always a great way to sneak in some climbing. Luckily, Chatty has some of the best indoor facilities in the country.

High Point Climbing and Fitness, Broad Street

High Point offers 30,000 square feet of climbing, with both inside and outside climbing. Outside, you basically climb up the side of the building on transparent walls—it’s pretty cool. You can lead, top rope, or jump on the auto-belay, and there are two 15m speed climbing walls, too. If you opt to stay inside, they check all the boxes with a dedicated bouldering area, a kid zone, a lead wall, top rope walls, auto-belay, and an extensive cross-training area.

High Point Climbing and Fitness, Riverside

Like its bigger destination on Broad Street, High Point Riverside is a modern indoor climbing gym that has it all: lead walls, top ropes, auto-belays, bouldering area, cross training, yoga classes, and skills classes. Another huge perk for this gym is that the husband and wife team of Wills Young and Lisa Rands, two lifers with extensive professional experience, run the climbing school at High Point. If you’re a climber looking for professional coaching, definitely check them out.

Tennessee Bouldering Authority (TBA)

TBA is the original Chattanooga climbing gym and still holds a special place in the hearts of many boulderers in the Southeast. This 3,000-square-foot, bouldering-only gym is a no-nonsense dojo for building power and movement essential to the intricacies of bouldering. The route setters here make sure to put up a range of problems from beginner to advanced (and everything in between), so no one feels left out and everyone has something to work on. Speaking of setters, big Southeast names like Jimmy Webb and Kasia Petras are putting up the holds, so you can expect quality problems when you climb at TBA.

As you can see, no matter what your climbing preference or style, the greater Chattanooga area has something to keep you fit when the temps drop. You’ll soon realize that there’s never really an off-season for climbing in Tennessee, and winter is actually a great time to continue building up your strength and fine-tuning your climbing technique. So grab your gear, pick a crag (or gym), and get going!

Originally written by RootsRated for Rock/Creek.

Featured image provided by Evan Castellano