Starting to Circuit the Best of Southeastern Bouldering (With my Proudest Send!)

My crew of lady crushers at Rocktown in Georgia.One of my favorite things about the climbing culture of the southeast is our pride. Folks around here are proud of their local boulderfields, proud of hard-earned sends, proud to be a part of a community with camaraderie, hospitality, and deep-rooted, well, pride unlike any other population of climbers I’ve encountered on this trip. This is my favorite place in the entire country, and it feels so good to be home in the southeast.

For the remainder of my yearlong trip (less than 12 weeks, whoa!), Niko and I will be circuiting the climbing areas throughout Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and a bit of North Carolina. Our main focus is what we consider the true triple crown of the southeast: Stone Fort in Tennessee, Rocktown in Georgia, and Horse Pens 40 in Alabama. Now, I love Hound Ears more than anything, but it’s only open one day a year (and no days this year), so I think it’s about time Rocktown earned some respect with triple crown status.

We spent the weekend climbing at Rocktown with old friends from Tallahassee Rock Gym, and Vikki and Spenser from The RV Project. For once, the ladies outnumbered the men! It is so good to be crushing with Vikki again – she is the queen of short lady beta, and has helped me crush a few problems I was struggling with.

Finishing the top-out on Grape Ape (V4) at Rocktown in Georgia.Rocktown impressed us with some crazy autumn colors, easily the best we’ve ever seen out there. I spent the weekend getting a little mileage with a few new sends mixed in, like Belly Button (V3), and a totally-intimidating-can’t-believe-I-sent-it V4 called Grape Ape. It’s a fairly committing, tall boulder that demands you to trust your feet and lean over a funky slab to a great, but slightly out of reach, jug. I was mildly terrified at the top, but somehow made it work.

I’ve yet to find any big projects that really inspire me at Rocktown, but we’ll be spending a lot of time there so I’ll do some exploring until I stumble upon a climb that pushes my limits and motivates me to challenge myself on it. In the meantime, I returned to Stone Fort near Chattanooga to tango with a climb that has haunted me for way too long: Shotgun (V6).

During our last southeastern climbing trip before starting our yearlong trip, I fell in love with a boulder problem that was way out of my league, but absolutely enchanting. The fellas I was with quickly sent it, while I fumbled around on the first move without making any progress. For some reason, I was convinced that this was the one, and vowed that my goal for my yearlong adventure was to come back to the southeast and send Shotgun.

And I tried and tried. I came up with crazy beta that doubled the amount of moves I had to do compared to most folks who climb it. And I made progress. Then I got shut down, left Stone Fort for a while, and trained a bit at Tallahassee Rock Gym. And then I came back, and everything clicked.Gunning for the big pinch on Shotgun (V6) at Stone Fort. I’m still not entirely sure how I managed to get up to the top out of this boulder, but it happened. It was my last attempt for the day, and I wasn’t quite feeling it, so I decided to just really throw myself at the big pinch move that had been shutting me down – and it worked. I reached up to the victory jug, recollected myself, and prepared for the notorious top-out.

I’ll admit, I spent a LOT of time hanging out on those slopers. There’s seriously just nothing there. You have to slap your hands on the flat nothingness, trust your feet, and stand up. Luckily, I had Spenser snapping pictures from the top of the boulder, plus Vikki and Niko cheering me on from below. It was an ugly struggle, but I had to do what I had to do.

Sussing out the top-out on Shotgun (V6) at Stone Fort in Tennessee.Working out the slopers on the top-out of Shotgun (V6) at Stone Fort in Chattanooga.Photos: Spenser Tang-Smith of The RV Project – he’s the best. 

Folks, it was a big moment for this little lady. There was totally a happy-dance on top of the boulder. Now I need a new project to keep me motivated at Stone Fort. The icing on my yearlong trip cake would be to send a V7 before the adventure officially ends – but that’s definitely dreaming big.

Since we’ll be around the Chattanooga area for the next few weeks, Niko and I (along with Vikki and Spenser of The RV Project) decided to show some love to my favorite climbing organization, the Southeastern Climbers Coalition. We’ll be volunteering at the second annual Buy Your Own Boulderfield fundraiser party at The Crash Pad on Friday night – and if you’re in town you ought to be there! (And if you’re not in town, it’s totally worth making a weekend trip for – we’ll go crush some boulders afterwards!) The SCC will be auctioning off awesome swag like crash pads, climbing videography workshops, rock gym passes, and even a climbing day with Lisa Rands.

Come to the BYOB party in Chattanooga –
I’ll be serving up all-you-can-eat chili all night!

I’m adventuring north to Georgia and Tennessee for some climbing and Chattanooga lovin’

If you know me, you know one thing: I don’t like to stay put for too long. After two weeks of recovering from my adventures in (and around) Salt Lake City, I’m once again packing my bags –

I’m off on a climbing trip to Rocktown and Stone Fort!

Niko and I visited Stone Fort (more lovingly known as Little Rock City) earlier this summer, and nearly melted in the swelter while I sent my ultimate project, Super Mario. It’s still August, but the temperatures have leveled off considerably, and I’m looking forward to highs in the mid-80s, and a gorgeous low of 61°. Top off that forecast with a mere 0-10% chance of rain, and you’ve got my ideal summer climbing conditions.

We’re also spending a day climbing at Rocktown, one of Georgia’s best crags – but honestly, what I’m most excited for this trip is finally getting the chance to stay at The Crash Pad in Chattanooga. This hostel caught my attention when it was a mere concept and a patch of neglected land; it now proudly stands as one of the most innovative and inviting hubs for adventurers visiting Tennessee. I won second place in their Ultimate Adventure contest a few months ago, and after multiple failed attempts at booking my two free nights (seriously, these folks are killin’ it; they’re always booked solid), I finally snagged myself a private room! It’s going to be way snazzy, and certainly beats the hell out of camping in a Walmart parking lot.

Stay tuned for lots of updates on my experience at The Crash Pad!

Naturally, I’ve got my eye on a few boulder problems at these two classic crags. I’m keen on a repeat of Super Mario, but really want to send my first V5. At Stone Fort, I’m hoping to crush the juggy underclings and allegedly smooth mantle on Steam Roller – and if I have enough steam left in me, I might hop on a sweet roof problem called Bonesaw. My main project at Rocktown will be a V5 named Police Brutality, but I might also give Double Trouble a chance. Both Rocktown routes have been calling my attention since my first trip out there years agos, and now I’m finally strong enough to actually give ‘em a go.

We’ll see how it goes!

While I’m out romping around in the woods, you ought to keep yourself busy by entering my giveaway for a Rig 500 hydration pack system from GeigerRig! Check out the contest – all you have to do is submit your best summer adventure photo for a chance to win! (Giveaway ends August 31st.)

Psssst... You should also keep your eye out for some really exciting announcements from me and Niko’s yearlong 2013 Simply Adventure trip – we’ve got some awesome sponsors we’re partnering with, and we can’t wait to introduce ‘em! 

Finally sending my longest climbing pursuit, Super Mario, on the side of a golf course in Tennessee

Anyone can have confidence in the thought of completing a send, but confidence is moot without action. After a seven-hour drive up to Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, I wistfully fell asleep on my new Stonelick crashpad in the hatchback of my car at a Wal-Mart parking lot, trembling with shaky confidence towards the next day’s pursuit.

Niko and I got a fairly early start out to the Montlake Golf Course that houses the epic climbing spot called Stone Fort, and eagerly trekked out to the boulder field with an arsenal of crash pads. We eyed Art of the Vogi, warmed up on a few rounds of easy routes like Needless Things (V0-) and Fire Crack Flake (V1). Once our muscles had stretched out, we began our day of chasing climbs. 

We immediately trekked out towards the Super Mario boulder, where we met up with three rapscallions from Kentucky who took a liking to the strings of incoherent obscenities I bursted with every time I popped off the boulder. By the end of our time climbing together, we had all collected a few new curse combinations – but I still hadn’t sent Super Mario.

My morning session boosted my esteem over my efforts; I was able to stick a move I had never made it to before. Here’s how it goes: I had my left hand tightly perched on a deep, sharp crimp, with my right hand fulled extended out in a high undercling, while my leg was locked in a great knee-bar. The next move required me to ditch the security of the knee-bar, and balance my legs as far over on the right as possible. I then locked off with my right hand, and pulled on the undercling as I reached up above with my left hand to a solid pocket. 

And then I fell.

Again. My most familiar feeling on that boulder is the movement of falling off it. I’ve slipped, snapped, and popped off that route’s holds more times than I’d like to admit over the last two years.

*Note: This is an older photo; don’t worry, I’m not crazy enough to be wearing a
hoodie and sweatpants at Stone Fort in the middle of June.

Once the southeastern swelter began to bear down with relentless humidity, Niko and I retreated for a lunch break. We drove over to the Pep Boys crag parking lot, threw down our crash pads to make a little napping spot, cooked up some spaghetti, and prepared for our evening session.

As we hiked back out to Stone Fort, I decided I wasn’t going to hop on my project again until the next day – I figured I ought to give my tender fingertips a chance to heal before torturing them again. Instead, I gallivanted around the crag, following Niko to his own projects. I lounged on boulders, played with insects, and cheered Niko on as he sent ‘A Face in the Crowd.

Satisfied with his climb for the day, Niko urged me to hop on something else before we called it a day – so I decided to give Super Mario a quick burn.

Stone Fort was eerily deserted that day; Niko and I didn’t see a single climber during our evening session, which is unheard of at this popular climbing destination. It’s even more rare to have the Super Mario boulder all to yourself, as this rock tends to draw big crowds of boulderers projecting the many climbs that sit on it. Pleased with the solitude, I took my time working the route, and focused on cleaning up my messy footwork.

There were three unsuccessful attempts before I decided to just stop thinking about what I was doing. Without any intent of sending it on that particular burn, I shook out my arms, hoisted myself off the start holds onto the first big ledge, and cruised through the first series of moves.

When the knee-bar crux section approached, my technique became a little shaky. Feeling a slight instability, I jammed my knee into the space before the proper knee-bar, and ended up incorporating two into my beta. I swung out to the undercling, stuck it, and danced my feet over to the rightmost portion of the boulder. With a heavy burst of breath, I reached my left hand up to the pocket – and it stuck. 

From there, the route was all but sent. I brought my left hand up into a bowling-ball shaped series of solid pockets, shifted over to a large jug, and hoisted myself towards the sloped top-out area. Admittedly, my top-out was probably one of the most hideous sends that boulder has ever witnessed. Exhausted from my unexpected success, it was a struggle to beach myself up onto the rounded boulder – but I made it happen.

After two years of sporadic projecting, countless shredded finger tips, an outrageously bruised knee, two knee-bars where there should only be one, and the most ridiculous top-out of all time, I have finally completed my ultimate climbing project.

It wasn’t about the grade, it wasn’t the hardest climb I’ve ever attempted, and it wasn’t a glorious moment surrounded by cheering fans and snapping cameras. It was an intimate moment, shared only with Niko, with nary a single photo or video to bare evidence of my conquest – and it was the best feeling I’ve ever had while climbing, because it was mine

We retreated to Chester Frost Campground feeling pleased, sweaty, and famished. Niko whipped up a delicious campside dinner of quinoa, roasted tomatoes, black beans, and avocado – and then we promptly crashed in our tent. We woke up the next morning feeling more sore than we’d ever imagined, but it was one of the best mornings I’ve had in a while.

My epic send was celebrated with a trip to one of my favorite places in Tennessee – the Chattanooga Market, which was celebrating their annual Blueberry Festival on this particular day. One of the best farmer’s markets I’ve ever been to, this venue is loaded with produce delights like impossibly long green beans, crispy sunflower sprouts, golden zucchini, and the tastiest homemade bread I’ve ever tasted. We loaded up on the goods, slurped on frozen lemonade, and then hit the road back to Florida. 

I’m out in Tennessee, and I ain’t coming home until my climbing project is sent

In November of 2009, I set out on my first climbing trip to a place called Little Rock City in Tennessee – which I now more often refer to by its proper name, Stone Fort. I had only been climbing for a handful of weeks, and don’t even remember if I sent any routes during that inaugural outdoor excursion, but I do remember one distinguished boulder, and the legendary route that sat on the featured rock:

Super Mario.

Over the course of half a dozen trips out to Stone Fort, spread across a handful of years, I have always been drawn to Super Mario. The first few climbing trips spent working the route were admittedly doomed for failure; I was hardly a V4 climber when I decided this route would become my conquest. My most recent visit to the area was during January, during a time when I hadn’t been climbing consistently for about six months. It was no surprise when I was yet again unable to make the send.

This time, I’m ready. (I think.) I’ve sent multiple V5s in rock gyms across the country, I’ve been training for the past few months for both sport climbing and bouldering, and despite a two week break from climbing to galavant all over Arizona, I feel strong. This is it. Super Mario’s reign of defeat is coming to an end, and I’m not coming home until I finish it.

Mind you, Niko has to be back for classes on Monday,
so this boulder problem better go down quickly. I’m just sayin’. 

While I enjoy my weekend of chalky, sweaty hands, torn up finger tips, aching muscles, a tricky knee-bar, and (hopefully) a victory slice of Lupi’s Pizza after sending Super Mario, check out this great video by Andrew Kornylak that gives insight to the beta and beauty of this classic Stone Fort climb.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/7388463]

Send lots of positive, rock-crushin’ thoughts my way – I’m going to need as many good vibes as I can soak up!

The first climbing trip of 2012; wintry adventures at Stone Fort, Rocktown, and beyond

I confess: I’m wretched at embracing the moment and writing about my adventures right as or after they happen. I tend to let photos mull in my memory card, and have the awful habit of posting pictures on social media sites before I actually make proper use of them.

I hereby vow to never let more than 72 hours pass before blogging about an experience.

But first I have to clear out my vault of outdoor photos, adventure stories, and memories of all the tasty eats I’ve devoured along the way. Our first tick off the list of adventures to be discussed? My New Years climbing trip to Georgia and Tennessee.

The trip commenced with a late start on New Years Eve as Niko, Max, and I crammed into my beau’s small pick-up truck, and then barreled down rural back-roads towards the Georgia state line. Max quickly passed out in the backseat, so Niko and I shared a quiet New Years kiss – and in what I call an omen of good couple’s travel for 2012, the clock struck midnight just as we were passing over long bridge on the Chattahoochee River in Georgia.

The trip began in a rather wet manner, with a day of rain on the agenda. We left our lodgings in LaFayette, Georgia, in hopes that the hour trek out to the Chattanooga, Tennessee area would welcome us with some sunshine – but it didn’t. After a few hours spent killing time around town, we decided to brave the weather and drove out to Soddy Daisy.Miraculously, the sun came out for a few hours, so we drove out to a newly established, and very locally guarded, crag called Pep Boys. With locals who specifically asked that the location of this climbing spot be kept secret, I can’t quite divulge the whereabouts of this gorgeous destination – but let me tell you, it was enchanting.

The climbs were all still dripping from the morning storms, but I was pleased to wander around the trails and scramble up large hueco formations in my sneakers. Two beautiful cave areas sat divided by a gushing brook, and their magnificence alone was enough to make me determined to revisit this spot during a drier day.After declaring Pep Boys a bust due to climbs that were all sitting out of the sun, and therefore would take hours to dry, we retreated back up the mountain towards a favorite spot of mine, Stone Fort (Little Rock City). This crag sits directly on the Mont Lake Golf Course, making for a unique collision of dirty climber folk, and refined country clubbers.

We had much more success at this climbing spot, and I spent my day challenging myself on old classics, watching the boys defeat burly new discoveries like The Blacksmith, a surprising V9 that John crushed early in the afternoon.

Revisiting Super Mario (V4) was a frustrating affair for me. This problem holds a special place in my heart, because it was the first ‘real’ problem I ever witnessed outdoors. During my very first outdoor climbing trip in 2009, I sat transfixed in front of this iconic boulder as I watched climbers years beyond my skills easily traverse the route and top out over the bulging rock. I have been determined to send it ever since, but my return visits to Little Rock City have been few and far between.

Most recently, over summer perhaps, I had almost finished the problem – save for one tricky move. However, this return trip was a harsh wake-up call about the repercussions of my little climbing hiatus that began when I moved out to Denver; my strength and skills were totally trashed. I could hardly even get as far as I once had, let alone make any progress. I’ll admit, it was slightly frustrating to watch everyone else easily send Super Mario, but more importantly, it served to light a fire under my ass about getting back in shape. Satisfied with salvaging an otherwise rained-out day, we celebrated our trip with a visit to Lupi’s Pizza in Chattanooga before heading back to Georgia for the evening. At this point, I began obsessed over the morning’s weather forecasts; the Rocktown area was threatened with even more rain, and worse, below-freezing temperatures and gusting winds up to 30 mph. Yikes.

The day began relatively pleasant, albeit undeniably frigid. We felt our climbing inspiration surge as we spotted a few famous climbers in the gas station at the base of the Rocktown mountain.

I hardly climbed at all on this last day, largely because I could hardly warm my fingers up enough to even take my gloves off. The crew gathered around Sherman Photo Roof (V7) to watch Libbi work what has become her favorite project. In true Niko fashion, without even warming up, Niko surveyed the tricky route, said “this looks pretty cool,” tossed on his shoes, and flashed the problem as if he had climbed it a million times.

Eventually, our big group splintered off as we split up to focus on various problems throughout Rocktown. At this point, the wind began to really pick up, and the frosty gusts of humid Georgia air transformed from mildly unpleasant to unbearably frigid. Niko and I tromped around the crag in search of our remaining party members before retreating to the car, where we hid from the cold and stuffed our faces with Cheez-its while chatting with a group of Florida climbing friends we bumped into.

Eventually, our group convened in the parking area, and thus concluded our adventures to Georgia and Tennessee. Half of the clan continued on to Atlanta for an evening training session at Stone Summit, while our car gladly sped off back towards Tallahassee.

While my climbing was admittedly pathetic during this trip, it was a great way to motivate my New Years resolution to be crushing first V5s, then V6-7 by the end of the year. My move to Colorado saw an unacceptably long break in my climbing, and returning to my home rock gym in Florida was a huge eye-opener, mercilessly reminding me how much strength I had lost during my climbing hiatus.

You’ll all be pleased to know that since returning to Denver after this revealing trip, I invested in a rock gym membership at the climbing wall near my house, and have been consistently climbing ever since – I even sent my first V5.

Check out this sweet Jill Sompel climbing video featuring my good friend Libbi Gilson

During my new years climbing trip to Tennessee and Georgia, Niko and I met up with our climbing couple friends John and Libbi – and were immediately regaled with tales of Libbi’s superhuman bouldering skills and countless sends of tough routes. I was in awe of her stunning strength and balanced technique while I watched her crush boulder after boulder.

I managed to snag a few beautiful shots of her climbing during our time together at Rocktown and Stone Fort (aka Little Rock City), but another creative climbing enthusiast took documenting Libbi’s skill to a new level by filming her for a segment of a video series called “Lady Beta.” Paying homage to one of my favorite female climber phrases, this Jill Sompel‘s video features five sweet routes from Little Rock City. Watch as Libbi sends a tough V7 called “A Face in the Crowd.” Other featured routes include Sternum (V5), Tooth Fairy (V7), Jerry’s Kids (V7), and
Glamour Girl (V4).

If you want to cheat and skip ahead to Libbi’s segment,
which in my opinion exudes the highest degree of kick-ass,
skip ahead to the 4:00 mark.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/34752185]

Psst, hey Jill – if you’re reading this, you should totally drop me a line so we can collaborate on a little southeast lady beta fun!

Update on Sender, Rescued Climbing Pup Extraordinaire

Since last November when we first found a sweet beagle pup at the bottom of a mountain in Tennessee, Sender has been the unofficial mascot of the Tally Rock Gym. She hung out at the rock gym, spent a few months in Tampa fighting off deadly heartworms, and even went missing for a few days on her own little adventure.

This weekend, Niko and I had the honor to babysit Sender while Jeff was in Gainesville for a climbing competition. Honestly, Jeff is lucky we returned her at the end of the weekend – Sender is the most well-behaved, sweet heart of a dog.

Deathly allergic to anything cute and fuzzy, I made Niko promise that Sender wouldn’t sleep in the bed with us. What happened two minutes after we snuggled up? Sender snuck her way directly in between us. I couldn’t even be upset, she was too cute and slept like an angel the entire night.

Niko was manning the rock gym all weekend, so Sender and I got to play out in the beautiful Tallahassee spring weather. We went for drives around town, and Sender nearly jumped out of my window after making friends at a stop light.

We spent the majority of our weekend at the rock gym, but we weren’t climbing. Sender and I attracted customers by sunning ourselves out on the front dock of the gym, and I think Sender may have gotten a better tan than I did!

We toured Railroad Square a few times, and Sender made a bunch of friends who were blown away by her amazing story.

I’m still in awe as to how any human could possibly abandon this amazing creature. She’s six years old, and has a heart of gold. Did someone raise her, then just decide to ditch her once she caught deadly heart worms? I simply can’t fathom how cold your heart would have to be to look Sender in the eyes and then dump her at a gas station.

But you know what? If that foolish owner hadn’t left Sender at the Kangaroo gas station at the bottom of the mountain that houses Little Rock City, we never would have be blessed with her company.

 

Dreaming of the Mountains, Climbing and Nature

Folks, it is a miserable day here in Tallahassee. The sunshine is nowhere to be found, the air is tepid and raindrops are threatening to assault the ground at any moment. It’s days like this that I find myself daydreaming of the mountains, lakes and climbing. Today’s photos aim to give you a peek into the images floating around in my head. In less than two weeks, Niko and I will be setting out on our return trip to Little Rock City and Rocktown, both located in Tennessee. Until then, my mind shall be consumed by thoughts of:

Escaping back to Tennessee.

I miss waking up in Chester Frost Campground to the sound of rustling climbers making instant oatmeal and loading up cars with crash pads and gear. I miss sitting on the docks of Campsite #303, watching the fog dissipate as the sun warms the air.

Getting back into nature.

My Communications Geography course is discussing the idea of ‘opting out’ this week, which deals with notions of disconnecting from technology and attempting to live ‘off the grid.’ I can relate this concept to climbing trips, where we abandon the conveniences of modern technology in favor of embracing the simplicity of the outdoors. It is such a beautiful way to refresh your perspective.

Bloody fingertips and chalky palms.

This may sound unusual to a non-climber – This morning, I came across this photo taken by my friend Raychel  and felt my hands start to anxiously sweat at the sight of this self-inflicted carnage. The battle wounds one acquires while climbing are almost as gratifying as sending the problem; it’s a sign that you fought to the best of your abilities – your blood is a badge of honor.

I am very impatiently biding my time until the semester ends and winter break begins. I’ve got a weeks worth of papers, articles, projects and exams to tackle, so these photos will keep me truckin’ onwards until it is finally time to break free. It is going to feel absolutely amazing to escape back into the wild.

For this upcoming trip, Niko and I are doing things properly. No cramped cars, no ill-planned meals – it’s going to be perfect. Just me and him driving up in my car, packing delicious food like avocados with garlic naan, sleeping in my cozy hatchback. Hopefully Steve and McGoo will be able to join us for one final southeast trip before they move to Colorado, and maybe we’ll be able to meet up with other climbers — any takers?

Top 6 Reasons I’m Moving to Chattanooga

I didn’t come up with this plan on my own – in fact, I probably never would have realized how perfect Chattanooga is without outside influence. However, as soon as someone asserted that Chattanooga would be an ideal city for me to live in, everything clicked. How had I not seen it before? Everything about the Tennessee city is screaming my name. The local food scene, the amazing aquarium, the buzzing downtown area, the proximity to sweet climbing – it all makes sense. So here you have it, the Top 6 Reasons Why I’m Moving to Chattanooga:

1. Downtown Chattanooga

If you have never visited Chattanooga, you are truly missing out on one of America’s best ‘little’ big cities. The downtown district offers the best of both small local community and big city conveniences. Locally-owned boutiques sit beside apparel chains, yet the city achieves a seemingly perfect balance between the two different worlds. Strolling through downtown is easy and charming. One of my favorite shops is the mismatched book store on Broad Street, which is overloaded with a cluttered haven of books, knitted goodies and all sorts of trinkets. Local art adorns countless street corners, and some buildings have been entirely dedicated to artistic causes. The community here is humble, friendly and not the least pretentious.

2. The Food

By now, you should have a fully realized understanding of my passion for eating. I may be startlingly thin, but don’t let my skinny appearance fool you – I am a lean, mean eating machine. Chattanooga boasts some of the best grub in the southeast. First, there’s the Chattanooga Cupcakes shop that serves outrageous bakery creations. Then we have local grubberies like Lupi’s Pizza, comparable to Tallahassee’s hometown favorite Momo’s. If you’re looking for something more upscale, the Terminal Brewery serves the most fantastic – and beer-friendly – food in town. I ate there for my 22nd birthday dinner with Niko, and we still talk about our delicious meal of juicy burgers, sweet potato fries, freshly-brewed beer and tantalizing hummus. I can only imagine the culinary spread that awaits throughout the rest of Chattanooga.

3. Climbing Accessibility

One of the biggest drawbacks of living in Florida is the distance between my house and a decent crag. It’s at least a 5 hour drive to the nearest climbing area, which is a big bummer for days when I wake up craving some real rock. Living in Chattanooga would put me within day-trip distance to excellent spots like Little Rock City and Rocktown. Imagine, waking up on a Saturday morning to perfect weather, and being able to load up the car with gear and simply head out to climb in the boulder fields for a day. After a long day of crushing rock, it’ll be a short drive to the comfort of home. Chattanooga claims to have a pretty sweet indoor gym as well.

4. Chattanooga’s Beautiful Outdoors

I will defend Tallahassee’s modest attempt at autumn until I become blue in the face, but there is no denying that Chattanooga offers a vastly greater fall experience. The trees blaze with fiery shades of orange, red and yellow. Aside from the stunning fall foliage, the Tennessee area is home to a host of different natural wonders. You’ve got the Tennessee River, rolling mountainsides, roads winding through steep forests – it’s all right in Chattanooga’s backyard.

5. The Farmer’s Market

The tomatoes I bought at the Chattanooga Farmer’s Market during my birthday weekend were undoubtedly the best tomatoes I have ever tasted. The little cherry variety came in lush golds, deep purplish greens and bold reds. The market is bursting with fresh, local produce. Everything from string beans and sweet potatoes to warm loaves of bread and bison jerky can be purchased for an extremely reasonable price. I would love to have a reliable venue to stock up on quality food. I could seriously eat those tomatoes forever.

6. The Tennessee Aquarium

Words cannot describe my love for the Tennessee Aquarium. Personally, I think the word ‘aquarium’ is inappropriate for the facility; it’s more like an underwater and above-ground wonderland. Not only do they have enormous tanks filled with marine life, this establishment houses a beautiful butterfly garden and a sweeping collection of amphibians and reptiles. I could get lost in there for hours. I recently spoke of a little fantasy where I became the night staff of the aquarium, and hung out in the jellyfish exhibit with all the lights off except the changing colored glow from the jelly tanks.

My list of reasons could continue for quite some time. There’s the ridiculously affordable mountainside housing, the friendly community of green-minded people that inhabit the city, the beauty of the Tennessee River, etc. I may be nestled in Tallahassee for another year or so, writing for an online travel guide company, but the promise of Chattanooga will keep me forging onwards.

Little Rock City – My Battle to Conquer ‘Super Mario’

In climbing, we always hit those routes that stump us by only a few simple moves. Days, weeks, sometimes even months are spent tirelessly battling against the rock to complete a send. During last weekend’s trip to Little Rock City, the V4 route named ‘Super Mario’ became my new, obsessive project.

After working it the entire weekend, I fell short of sending by one simple move: a cross with my left hand up to a set of perfect honeycomb holds. I mastered the route’s infamous knee-bar, shredded my fingers on crimpy ledges and still I couldn’t complete the route before our weekend was cut short by a dreary bout of rain. I still find myself miming the movement sequence of the route when I’m walking to class.

Here are the best sequential shots of Super Mario. The boulder itself is stunning, perhaps lending to my obsession with the route. Thankfully for you, lucky readers, my dear friend Libbi sent the route – so you have a fairly complete set of Super Mario move-by-move documentation. The only moves missing are the first moves up to the block ledge you’ll see in the first picture, and the third move which requires the climber to throw right onto a crimpy little nook, then cross left on the other side of the crimp. Enjoy:

As disappointed as I was when my final day of working Super Mario was abruptly cut short by Mother Nature’s merciless desire to sprinkle the mountain with rain, it gave me a great reason to plan a return trip to Little Rock City. Niko is hellbent on spending a weekend at Rocktown, so I’ve compromised and decided on a post-finals adventure to both crags. Super Mario, you will be mine!

While we’re on the topic of climbing: have you voted today for the SCC Purchase & Maintain Land for Recreation & Greenspace Preservation effort through the Pepsi Refresh Project? Voting ends in a few weeks, and we are so close to the finish line. VOTE EVERY DAY! You can log in with your Facebook account, and it takes only a few seconds of your day to potentially help our climbing community.