To celebrate the end of summer, I did something I should have accomplished a long, long time ago: I led my first sport routes out on a climbing trip to Sandrock. One of my new favorite crags in Alabama, this area is an outdoor playground for both novice and experienced climbers armed with ropes and draws.
My first trip to Sand Rock was shared with a top notch crew of Tally Rock Gym rats. Our mission was driven (literally) by Ryan, who generously donated his car for our transportation needs. Fellow roommates Niko and Max completed the male portion of our team. My female counterpart was the fearless, freckled Allie – who crushed serious sandstone all weekend long. We left Tallahassee on an early Sunday evening, filled our bellies with some grubby Taco Bell, and trudged through the six hour drive to Sandrock.
I didn’t sleep a wink the first night on top of the mountain, which isn’t saying much since the rest of the crew only rested a handful of hours before the sunrise roused everyone from their slumber. I don’t know if we were too amped up about the awaiting climbs, or if we were simply delirious after such a long, dark drive, but sleeplessness was hardly an obstacle as we prepared for our first day out in the boulder field.
This trip saw the momentous occasion where I finally took life by the horns and decided to overcome my crippling fear of outdoor rope climbing – leading routes to be specific. A boulderer by nature, I avoided clips and bolts like my life depended on it. During an after-hours attempt at leading my way up the rock gym’s tallest wall, I made it a mere three bolts up before waving a white flag of defeat and lowering back down to the ground – weak, I know.
During our first day at Sandrock, I decided to start my foray into rope climbing with an easy top-roped route. I cruised up a simple 5.7, and immediately felt my confidence boost. Allie and I then summoned the courage to go for a true lead climb, our first of which was “My Dog Has Fleas,” a 5.8+ that asks you to burl your way up an ugly rock formation. It wasn’t our favorite route, but we both lead it like champions. Next up, we tackled “First Black Man in Office,” a much more enjoyable 5.9 shown to us by the local we met out in the fields.
Aside from the climbs, my time spent at Sandrock is best defined by a collection of beautiful moments. We spent each night sleeping out on top of a large rock outcrop that overlooked the many lakes and trees below, and in the early mornings, the sun rose in a fury of pinks and orange hues that spread out over the mountains and pleasantly woke us up.
Naturally, many of my favorite moments involved the discovery of little creature buddies. There were the dozens of blue-tailed skinks who slinked their way up rocks and through little tree branches, and the enormous green grasshopper who patiently sat with us while we climbed on our last day – I think he was succumbing to old age, but he seemed perfectly at peace with the world. Finally, there were the tiny little red insects, chiggers. I spotted one crawling on my arm during a nap on top of a boulder, and quickly squashed the parasite – but to no avail. By the time I got back to Tallahassee, I had a small family of chiggers who had buried themselves into my bellybutton, of all places. Very unpleasant.
Speaking of creatures, during a trip down the mountain to scour for grub, Allie and I spotted a small turtle attempting to cross the road. We forced the boys to bring the Jeep to a rapid halt, and launched ourselves out of the vehicle to go save our little friend – all while doning the ridiculous felt mustaches we had just won from a vending machine at a gas station barbecue joint. Enjoy.
I’ll leave you with a few more of my favorite shots from the weekend. Sandrock was a really beautiful slice of mountain, and I was fortunate to have spent my four days there with a truly wonderful set of climbers. Those lucky dogs are all back at Sandrock this weekend for a repeat visit, and I have full faith that they are all crushing routes and having a great adventure.