Climbing has been a part of Chattanooga since the 80’s, but Rob Robinson’s discovery of the Tennessee Wall put the city on the radar of climbers around the nation. In the past five years, the climbing scene in Chattanooga has experienced a surge in its popularity.
Outdoor hobby magazines such as Outside Magazine and Climbing Magazine recognized this boom in attention. In 2015, Climbing magazine coined Chattanooga, “America’s new climbing capitol.”
Climbers nationally have noticed the endless amounts of climbing that Chattanooga offers and are moving here to pursue it.
According to Chattanooga Climbing Impact Report, climbers had a total economic impact of $694,055 in Hamilton County. Additionally, 16,565 non-resident climbers visited Chattanooga in the 2015-2016 season.
“The influx of climbers is constantly outweighing the exodus of climbers in Chattanooga,” said Mike O’mara, a sales representative at High Point Climbing and experienced traditional style climber. O’mara previously lived in Illinois and would drive eight hours with the sole intent of climbing in Chattanooga. After frequent weekend excursions, he decided to make the leap to move.
“The climbing here was definitely a big factor in why I moved because it’s just that great,” said O’mara.
There are two main contributors to a great climbing environment, the rock composition and accessibility, and Chattanooga checks both of those boxes.
In this region the rock is sandstone, which has a soft but gritty texture like a fine grain sandpaper, and lends itself to better climbing.
“Chattanooga is a great place for climbing for several reasons, the sheer abundance of rock here which allows for new routes and cliff lines to be developed constantly,”said O’Mara. “The rock quality and composition is some of the best in country as far as density and hardness.”
Although rock composition is a major factor for a climbing, accessibility is just as important.
Phil Purney, rock climber of 20 years and local climber of 10, shed some light on what makes Chattanooga rock climbing unique to anywhere else. “It’s a fun small city, where in just a few minutes, I can be outside, out in the woods,” said Purney. “The access is not common. It’s world class convenient climbing.” Purney specializes in sport climbing, a style that emphasizes moderate to tall climbs ranging from 30ft to 120ft with a few pre-placed bolts in the wall to attach a rope to in case of a fall.
Drew Mayo is a local climber that is recognized for developing much of the Upper Middle Creek bouldering area, located on Signal Mountain. When asked about what makes Chattanooga a great climbing city Mayo said, “It’s the proximity to some of the greatest quality stone and some of the most loved stone.”
Mayo said that when he originally began developing the area, he didn’t intend on telling anyone else about his discovery, but later changed his mind and began spreading the word of this new spot.
“At first it was a selfish pursuit and then it turned into “I want to enjoy this with my friends,” said Mayo. “Only for so long can you sit there in the woods and be alone and enjoy something. Nature’s really enjoyable, but when you don’t have anyone to share it with it kinda feels a little empty.”
Although the future of Chattanooga is uncertain, the climbing community will continue to grow and evolve.
Climber Profile-Drew Mayo
Drew Mayo is a local rock climber and dedicated developer of climbing areas in Chattanooga. The Upper Middle Creek boulders on Signal Mountain are one of the most notable areas he has helped to establish.
There are several steps that go into the process of developing a rock climbing area; his first step is to look at and examine the rock.
“I’d usually just sit there maybe five minutes in front of the rock by myself, just looking and wondering, ‘Can I use that?’, ‘Can I grab on to that?” said Mayo. “If I did end up finding something that was usable, I would take my brush and I would try to clean off any of the lichen or moss.”
Mayo said that since the Cumberland Plateau is home to the world’s largest hardwood plateau forest, the leaf and branch buildup on these rocks can be extremely dense and take extensive amounts of time to clean.
“Usually it was like a two, three day process because once you clean all the leaves and dirt off the top, you throw that to the side, you throw that away, and usually it’s wet,” said Mayo. “So you get all the moss off and the holds that you saw, the incuts and such, they’d be soaking wet; and if you know climbing, you’re not supposed climb on wet sandstone because that’s when it becomes fragile and can break really easily.”
Mayo said at that point, he would have to wait a day, or sometimes several, until the rock was dry enough to be able to try the climb he’d worked so hard to clean.
There are still many undiscovered places around Chattanooga for climbing, said Mayo, and he already has a new location in mind to start developing this fall.
About the Storytellers
Abby Ray, a senior at UTC studying Communications and Business Administration, is from Memphis, Tennessee. She currently works as an intern at Delegator, which is a digital advertising agency in Chattanooga. A few of Ray’s passions are working out, watching the Memphis Grizzlies and scrolling through twitter.
Elian Richter is an climbing instructor and action photographer. Elian works at High Point Climbing gym as a certified instructor and as a backup photographer. He now combines the skills learned from climbing with the skills he’s acquired in photography to do photo shoots for climbers and outdoors enthusiasts.
Ayriel Ayers is a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She’s skilled in photography, human development, and public relations. As the NAACP President, Resident Assistant for UTC housing, and a Community Service and Membership Development Chairwoman for her sorority, her leadership and positivity characteristics continually pointed her to success.
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