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.

Join me for a month-long trip down to sunny Florida and the southeast – if I can figure out how to pack…

After two cross-country climbing trips, one epic seven-week solo trip, and countless excursions around the country, you’d think I’d be a seasoned expert when it comes to packing my bags and gearing up for traveling – but this upcoming trip has me stumped. I’ve grown so accustomed to road tripping that the idea of fitting everything I need in a small suitcase and backpack is befuddling. Not to mention that this will be the first time I’m traveling via airplane in over two years.

In less than 24 hours, I’ll be boarding at plane at Denver International Airport to head south like a migrating goose escaping the cold. My first stop will be a brief layover in Atlanta, then I’ll hop another flight that will leave me in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The plan from there is to scoop drinks on the bay with my dad, then make the short drive home to Miami – to do lots of this:

I’ll be spending the first ten days of my trip in my hometown of Miami, sipping cocktails while tanning by the pool, feasting on real Cuban cuisine, hiking through the Everglades, and catching up on all the sunshine I’ve been missing. After Christmas, Niko will be driving down from Tampa to spend a few nights in Miami before whisking me away to the panhandle. We’ll make a pitstop in Tampa for a night, then it’s off to Tallahassee for two weeks of hanging with hipsters – and copious amounts of time spent at Tally Rock Gym.

Somewhere in all that Floridian exploration, Niko and I hope to find time for a climbing trip somewhere in the southeast. Chattanooga, Alabama, Georgia, who knows.

Follow my travels in real time on Twitter @themorningfresh!
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