Bouldering in the southeast this past fall season has been distressing to say the least. If you’re a southern sandstone crusader, then you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about. Looking out your window, or on the interwebs of Weather Underground has been like sticking your precious finger skin into scalding water over and over again. The rain and humidity (no thanks to El Niño) have been an agitation to every local and visiting dirt bag.
Rare windows of cold, dry days have kept us sane, and have allowed bouldering warriors such as Jimmy Webb within the means of sending the South’s first ever V15. Otherwise, dampened spirits were a norm in the fall of 2015. But this is a new year! And I’m determined to believe 2016 will provide ideal conditions. Plus, I asked Santa for send temps, and I’d like to think I’ve been good (enough) this past year for him to oblige.
So here it is folks, the Southeast’s Sandstone Winter Bouldering Circuit Extravaganza! If you want to get inspired by the South’s unique sandstone features and send some unforgettable problems, now is the time to do it. The slopers are crisp, the campsites are open, gas is cheap, and the locals will be happy to spray you with their peculiar beta. This list mentions the top three bouldering fields within the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, as well as some other noteworthy sites along the way.
Stay safe, embrace the humidity, and happy bouldering y’all!
The map above lists three of the best bouldering crags in the Southeast, and they’re all conveniently close to each other. Between the slabs of Stone Fort, slopers of Horse Pens 40, and huecos and chicken heads of Rocktown, sandstone never looked so good! Stone Fort (Little Rock City) and Horse Pens 40 are world-renowned sites as well as two of the locations for the Triple Crown bouldering series, while Rocktown remains a less trafficked gem atop of Pigeon Mountain in Georgia.
HORSE PENS 40
If there’s a heaven for slopers, it’s Horse Pens 40. In the gym, like me, you might be discouraged by sloper problems, but at Horse Pens these chalked up gritty formations are not to be missed. Problems like Bumboy (V3) and Millipede (V5) are unforgettable in appearance and style. Other must-sees include the water groove slab of Earth, Wind, and Fire (V3), the overhung conglomerate holds of Hammerhead (V5), and the surreal formation of Merlin (V1).
If you read the guidebook you’ll see visitor accounts comparing HP 40 as a similar, oftentimes better, version of Fontainebleau. HP 40 has other styles of climbing on site, but be prepared for laborious top-outs no matter what you put your hands on. Also, the problems are often sandbagged. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself climbing at a grade lower than average. The boulders are very concentrated, so it’s easy to get on a lot of different problems within a short period. When you’re done for the day, don’t miss out on the gorgeous sunset views on top of the Point Boulder where Red Neck (V6) lies. Followed by rowdy night bouldering sessions, of course.
The boulders are in close proximity to one another, making night bouldering a must. Camping includes water spigots, showers, and bathroom access.
Watch out for
The no dog policy, and defilement of the first skin layer on your finger pads due to gritty slopers. Remember this is private property, and registering at the front is required.
Hospital Boulders is another bouldering field just north of Horse Pens. Hospital consists of many hard roof problems. Come here if you want to gain abs of steel and try hard on some lovely lines! The field is less developed as Horse Pens, and much less visited. It’s worth a detour if you don’t want to deal with touristy crowds.
Rocktown is easily one of the most beautiful places in Georgia, but shhh… don’t tell anyone. Unlike most of Georgia’s hikes and destinations along the Appalachian Trail, Rocktown remains very undeveloped and remote. Sometimes you’ll see Boy Scout troops or families up here, but the boulders are spread out enough that crowds are never a frustrating drawback. This was the first bouldering field I ever visited, and I’ve been coming back nonstop ever since. Rocktown has towering outcrops, creative roof lines, and styles to suit any climber. The rock formations are colorful, thought provoking, and diverse.
Don’t forget to check out the Golden Harvest boulder, Crock Block, The Orb area, and Dugout for some funky rock and techniques. Some classics include Mr. Softy (V1), Trouble (V3), Golden Showers (V5), Crock Block (V5), Nose Candy (V6), and Vagina (V8). You could spend the whole day projecting a wide array of problems ranging from V0 to double digits. When you’re finished, cool off on top of one of the massive boulders and enjoy a view of the surrounding hills. If you forgot some camping gear, chalk, or extra water, go to Uncle Jed’s gas station at the base of the mountain. You can also order delicious burgers and purchase a guidebook inside.
Usually less crowded, there are primitive campsites down the road, caving and trad climbing downhill from the bouldering field, and the boulders lie on an undeveloped mountain top.
Watch out for
No water or toilets on the mountain. Also, make sure you purchase a 3-day ($3.50) or yearlong ($35) GORP pass in case rangers are patrolling.
In December a landslide occurred on the main road to Rocktown (Rocky lane). To avoid a fine and dangerous conditions, take the back way up the mountain on Dougherty Gap Road for the first month or so of 2016.
Zahnd is a less developed bouldering field on Lookout Mountain, the adjacent mountain to Pigeon. Zahnd has similar rock features as Rocktown and fewer crowds. If Rocktown is closed for hunting then Zahnd is a great alternative.
STONE FORT (LITTLE ROCK CITY)
Stone Fort is nestled between a large boulder bluff and Country Club golf course. You may be dismayed to see yourself registering in at a clubhouse counter, but once you’re in the midst of these rocks you’ll forget all about polos and putters in this boulderer’s playground. These rocks come in a wild array of configurations. Problems like Deception (V7), The Wave (V6), and Super Mario (V4) are exquisite in both appearance and movement.
Many lines will require you to think outside the box in order to send, such as Sternum (V5) and Swingers (V3). If you like crimpers be sure to check out Latin for Dagger (V5) and A Face in the Crowd (V7). If slab is more your style look toward The Rib (V1) or Fame (V6). Are you a trad climber at heart? Go send Crack of Doom (V5) and Tristar (V4). Prefer V scary? Storming the Castle (V1) and Bedwetters (V9) are just for you. There’s something for everyone. I guarantee it! Climbers love this place so much that it often sees more crowds than the actual golf course, and for good reason.
Restroom and food amenities at the clubhouse, and the ability to climb the greenway boulders during the Triple Crown competition and select holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day).
Watch out for
The no dog policy, day pass purchases at the clubhouse, and sharp, conglomerate holds.
Pep Boys bouldering and camping is close to Stone Fort. The boulders are a beautiful place to hike and climb some aesthetic roof lines along a bubbling creek. Ask the locals for beta and directions – maybe they’ll be nice enough to share their secret.