During the planning process of the Simply Adventure trip, Niko and I felt strongly inclined to explore the ways we could make our adventure more than just a climber “vacation” – we wanted to give back to the climbing community. After meeting the two fellas of the Access Fund’s Jeep Conservation Team at Red River Gorge last spring, we realized the most obvious way we could contribute: trail days.
While the Simply Adventure journey will take us across nearly every state in the country, our hearts and souls will forever remain in the southeast – so we wanted to kick off our year of trail days with our local climbing organization, the Southeastern Climbers Coalition. This weekend, we loaded up the van (for its first climbing trip ever!), and headed out to the Atlanta area for a trail day at Boat Rock.
After a night spent sleeping in a Walmart parking lot, we arrived to an empty gravel lot at the base of the Boat Rock crag. Within minutes, the entire lot was filled, and cars overflowed along the streets beside it. I had envisioned a dozen or so dirtbags lined up with shovels, but the scene I was greeted with was far more impressive: Upwards of 30 kids showed up to do their part in preserving Boat Rock.
It was incredibly humbling to witness the community spirit that was demonstrated during the Boat Rock trail day. Young people lined up with buckets to shuttle an enormous pile of mulch up to the boulders, and they eagerly tromped through the woods filling up garbage bags with half-decomposed trash – including two rusty tires, a broken mirror, and heaps of discarded metal.
What had been planned as a lengthy trail day turned into an affair that only lasted a few hours – the dedicated crew of trail day goers managed to accomplish hours’ worth of work in half the time. It’s absolutely amazing what a group of hard-working climbers can accomplish when we rally together and focus on cleaning up our crag.
After running out of mulch to haul into the boulder field, I joined Urban Core Climbing’s Emily Taylor, and her impossibly adorable daughter Milo, for an impromptu tour of the crag – and we were hard-pressed to find even a single piece of litter leftover. With nothing left to pick up, I enjoyed meandering through the woods and snapping way too many photos of adorable little Milo.
The crew gathered for a gear toss, with swag provided by event sponsors like Access Fund and REI, then we settled down for lunch before the group dispersed into the crag for some much-earned climbing.
Niko and I gave a few folks a little tour of our van, then threw our new Stonelick pads on our back and trekked towards the climbs with a fellow trail day participant, Jordan, who would become our guide for the day.
Suddenly, V3s feel like V5s, arêtes lose their edge, and it’s nearly impossible to find a top-out that includes actual holds. And foot holds? What foot holds? Boat Rock don’t need no foot holds. Climbing at Boat Rock is both frustrating and empowering. You don’t ‘get’ sends; you earn them.
Our first stop was the Spiderman boulder, one of the ultra classic climbs at Boat Rock. This hunk of rock also happens to be one of the few with features and deep holds – so don’t let it fool you. After sending every line on the stand-alone boulder, we headed for Paint Can, a V5 climb that flows like butter until you hit the barren, bulging top. I watched a few locals run through the problem, and was quickly discouraged when I attempted to pull myself up on the “crimpers” the fellas had tugged on – there was literally nothing up there.
I quickly abandoned any attempts at sending problems at my limit, and refocused my efforts on finding sweet problems that suited my style. This led me to discover my new favorite style of climbing: cracks. Jordan suggested that I hop on a sweet V3 finger crack called “Lost Digits,” and after a frustrated series of attempts, I nailed the most bomber foot jam of all time – and was instantly hooked.
We immediately hiked over to another easier climb called “Blues Crack,” which I may or may not have climbed three times in a row. There’s just something about the methodical nature of climbing a crack, and that satisfying moment when you’ve locked your fingers into a solid section, or jammed your toes perfectly into the wedge of rock. It’s an entirely unique style of climbing; and I’m obsessed.
Have I mentioned yet how much I love climbing cracks?
Next to Blues Crack sat a funky problem aptly named “Tough Guy.” It was one of Jordan’s projects, so we all got stoked on working out the beta. It’s rated at a V3, but I’d easily give the top-out at least a V4. As with most climbs at Boat Rock, the key is to trust non-existent foot holds, and make hand holds out of nothing. Jordan and Niko made it look easy, while I ended up spending no less than five minutes on the top-out – but it was a send, folks.
We ended the day at Yellow Arete, a towering boulder problem that offers inviting features until you get to the committing top-out. Naturally, Niko crushed it effortlessly, although even he admits that the finish was bleak. It was one of those climbs that’s tall enough to force you to finish the problem, purely because you really, really don’t want to come back down.
Jordan hopped on Yellow Arete next, projected it until his fingers were ready to shred, and then our little trio hiked back to the parking area to conclude our day.
As Niko and I fueled up for the drive home with instant mashed potatoes and avocado, we reflected on the impact of our first trail day. Yes, we had pitched in to help ensure that Boat Rock access is preserved for climbers – but far more importantly, our eyes were opened to the vital future of the climbing community. The kids from Urban Core and Adrenaline Climbing are setting the stage for the next generation of climbers. These young people aren’t just getting into the sport of climbing; they’re fully embracing the lifestyle and responsibilities that accompany the true meaning of being a climber.
I think we all could learn a thing or two from the kids who came out to the Boat Rock trail day – and I hope the Simply Adventure journey can continue to spread the hopefulness and genuine appreciation demonstrated out at that Georgia crag. I had a blast with everyone who came out, and will be posting the complete set of photo on the Simply Adventure Facebook page – so stay tuned!
Did you hear? I’m the new voice of the Southeastern Climbers Coalition’s revived Twitter account! I don’t think it’s rocket science to calculate that Niko is much more helpful during trail days than I am (c’mon, he could carry 10x more mulch up a cliff than I can), so it is truly meaningful to me to be able to use my social media skills to help the SCC. Give @SEClimbers a follow, and send us a Tweet!