A Conversation With 6 Local Rock Climbers

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On the Rocks

 

It’s no secret that the Scenic City is home to world-class rock climbing. In fact, in 2015, Climbing magazine dubbed Chattanooga as “America’s new climbing capitol,” citing its excellent variety of climbing opportunities as a major draw to climbers from across the country. The city welcomes climbers of all experiences, ranging from beginners at the gym to those who’ve been tackling crags for most of their lives. Here, we talked to six local outdoorsmen who’ve been doing this for a decade or more to learn just what it is that’s keeping them on the rocks.

 

(Above) Photo by Kyle Jones

Photos by (left) Corey Wentz, (top right) Adam Johnson, (bottom right) Matthew Gant

 

Micah Gentry, Red Bank

How many years have you been climbing?

26 years.

What got you into rock climbing initially?

Working at a summer camp during college introduced me to climbing and rope access work.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of rock climbing? 

Balancing life’s responsibilities while filling the insatiable need to climb has always been my biggest challenge. Dealing with an injury when all of your friends climb can be a lonely time as well.

Describe some of your most memorable climbing experiences.

Traveling and climbing through British Columbia and the Patagonia area of South America come to mind as some of my most memorable trips. Generally speaking, my most memorable climbing experiences have less to do with the height, grade, or the complexity of a climb and are more about the beauty of the land and the company I shared the experience with. I’m guessing that my most memorable days are still to come as my children grow and I am able to share similar experiences with them.

What advice do you have for those looking to get into rock climbing? 

I’d advise any local aspiring climbers to grab the Chatt Steel guidebooks online from Rockery Press. I’d also suggest finding someone who has been climbing for a while and trying to learn as much as you can from them.

What’s the most rewarding thing about rock climbing for you personally? 

The climbing experience within a wilderness setting provides a mental cleansing, a creative outlet, and a reminder about what is important.

 

FAVORITE SPOTS

“Big Soddy is easily one of my favorite spots due to the wild setting and abundance of classic routes.”

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Photos by (left) Todd Clark, (right) Josh Fowler

 

Paul Morley, Highland Park

How many years have you been climbing?

22 years.

What got you into rock climbing initially?

In the summer of 1999, I was finishing an internship and was determined to learn how to surf. I went to the beach, rented a board, and paddled out. I was amazed at how clear my head was when I came back in. I had never experienced anything like it. I consequently took a ropes course while at the Ocoee that same summer, and I ironically found climbing to be similar. Climbing had a different impact, though – it immediately felt right, and I have never questioned my obsession with it. 

What are some of the most challenging aspects of rock climbing?

Challenges change from person to person. Some people are natural athletes, and others have to work really hard at it to excel in performance. Some have ready and quick access to climbing areas, and others have to drive long distances. Some have a good job where they can afford gear and travel funds, others struggle to pay bills. Access to our resources will always be a challenge due the nature of land ownership in the South, but I’m thankful for the Southeastern Climbers Coalition and the Access Fund who work to preserve access. From land acquisition to trail days to working to promote the concept that climbing is for anyone, these organizations are incredibly important.

Describe some of your most memorable climbing experiences.

I have countless good memories of climbing: helping open crags that have been threatened or closed, exploring new areas or new places to me, traveling across the country, sleeping under the Milky Way, re-bolting an entire cliff with several friends hanging off ropes while talking smack, watching a friend enjoy a route I established, hiking out at sunset, watching my mom and uncle see Little River Canyon for the first time, passing the access torch to the new generation, and every moment I have spent with my climber friends who have passed. The list goes on.

What advice do you have for those looking to get into rock climbing?

I recommend going to Synergy or High Point, renting some shoes, and giving the movement a try. Learn the proper skills for rope management and anchors when climbing sport or trad. Enjoy the newness and learn about the history of the climbing areas. Give back. It is a great ride.  

 

FAVORITE SPOTS

“My favorite climbing in the U.S. is in Tennessee and Alabama!”

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Photos by (left) Caleb Timmerman, (top right) Mary Claire Stewart, and (bottom right) Chris Broecker

 

Caleb Timmerman, Chattanooga

How many years have you been climbing?

10 years.

What got you into rock climbing initially?

I used to be terrified of heights, but when some friends in college invited me to go bouldering at the gym on campus, I figured I’d give it a shot. I fell in love with the movement, the balance, and the mental gymnastics of problem-solving and overcoming fear. I was hooked. Nowadays, I say, “The taller, the better.”

What advice do you have for those looking to get into rock climbing?

Get involved with the Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC). Rock climbing is a team sport. We rally together to share in the stoke that adventure and defying gravity offers. Whether you’re trying climbing for the first time in a climbing gym or outside, the best thing you can do is connect with other climbers. The SCC helps to organize trail days and is responsible for protecting access to outdoor climbing areas all over Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. Going to one of their stewardship days or fundraising events is not only a great way to meet other rock climbers, but also to learn the history of climbing in the Southeast and the ways we can all be better stewards of our outdoor resources.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

If you are a rock climber in the Southeast, there’s a huge responsibility on our shoulders right now. Our sport is growing rapidly, and outdoor adventure sports are seeing a huge increase in traffic that has the potential to negatively impact our outdoor public spaces. I like to say if you don’t have time, you can donate your money, and if you don’t have much money, you can donate your time. If you want to help keep Chattanooga beautiful, there are so many ways to step up, volunteer, and do your part to help create sustainable access to the outdoors for future generations.

 

FAVORITE SPOTS

“Cherokee Rock Village in Alabama is a favorite because that’s where I learned how to climb outside. It has a good range of entry-level climbs all the way up to really hard routes, and it’s very accessible. Denny Cove near Jasper, Tennessee, is also an all-time favorite because of the really tall overhanging walls. The cliffs are beautiful, and some of my favorite climbs have been there.”

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Photos by Honey McNaughton

 

John Wiygul, Northshore

How many years have you been climbing?

Most of my life. I used to skip elementary school in order to go climbing with my older brother! I climbed just about every day from when I was a young teenager through college. So, if I had to put a number on it, I suppose around 19 years. It’s really a lifelong passion.

What got you into rock climbing initially?

I’ve always loved being outdoors and the thrill of heights. My father took me and my brother when I was a child to an outdoors store with a climbing wall, and I was instantly hooked.  

What are some of the most challenging aspects of rock climbing?

Imagine clinging to a massive rock face with your fingernails while hundreds to thousands of feet off the ground. Now that’s real excitement. It’s a mental and physical combination I haven’t found anywhere else.

Describe some of your most memorable climbing experiences.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed growing up in Chattanooga and learning to climb in the surrounding area at places like Sunset Rock, Foster Falls, and Stone Fort. Of course, taking trips exploring the world is amazing, but my most memorable experiences are simply with friends out climbing. There’s really nothing better. From the journey getting to the cliff to the hilarious moments in between, friends make the experience fun.

What advice do you have for those looking to get into rock climbing?

Rock climbing is a set of specific skills that requires absolute attention and respect – please seek professional instruction.

What’s the most rewarding thing about rock climbing for you personally?

Rock climbing is when I feel most alive.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Check out your local climbing gym, join the community, and have fun!

 

FAVORITE SPOTS

“I first learned to top rope at Sunset Rock as a child and still climb there today. The quality of sandstone and proximity to Chattanooga are exceptional. Woodcock Cove is great as well. It’s another case study of how a community of climbers can raise funds through the Southeastern Climbers Coalition and continue to expand their footprint by purchasing their own cliff line.”

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Photos by Nathalie DuPré

 

Matthew Gant, Red Bank

How many years have you been climbing?

22 years.

What got you into rock climbing initially?

My love for the outdoors and for exercise.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of rock climbing?

Injury prevention and sustainability. It is easy to get injured if you’re overtraining or not warming up properly.

Describe some of your most memorable climbing experiences.

My most memorable moments were on multi-pitch climbing adventures in the mountains. I also enjoy repairing climbing safety anchors and introducing new people to climbing. However, nothing beats simply spending time with friends in the outdoors!

What advice do you have for those looking to get into rock climbing?

Figure out what you most enjoy, and do it, whether that be rock climbing or something else! Have fun and don’t take it too seriously.

What’s the most rewarding thing about rock climbing for you personally?

I can sum this up in two categories. First, climbing has taken me outdoors. Experiencing nature is something we all need, and outdoor climbing has allowed me to experience some of the most amazing places on earth in a unique and challenging way.

Second, climbing has taught me a lot about my character and also helped to build it. Climbers encounter stressful and uncomfortable situations, and I find the way people navigate these situations (such as a calm, methodical approach vs. throwing a tantrum) closely parallels the way they handle other obstacles in their lives. There is much opportunity for introspection and growth after going through an epic climbing adventure!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

If you are a climber, consider supporting a local climbing organization such as the Southeastern Climbers Coalition by attending a trail day, fundraiser, or becoming a member. Protecting outdoor climbing resources will not only ensure you have places to get out in nature and climb, but also provide that same opportunity for future generations.

 

FAVORITE SPOTS

“I like them all! Leda on Mowbray Mountain is particularly special to me, as it was the place I first learned to climb.”

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Photos by Nathalie DuPré

 

Isaac Caldiero, Northshore

How many years have you been climbing?

25 total, 18 as a professional climber.

What got you into rock climbing initially?

My best friend introduced me to rock climbing back in Utah, and it changed my life forever. Being outdoors and around healthy, motivated individuals inspired me to devote my life to it.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of rock climbing?

Every time I attempt climbing, it’s a completely different challenge. The variety it offers is what makes it so enticing and exciting for me. The challenges never end, even as you progress into an elite level with the constant physical and mental battles that you endure with climbing. At the end of the day when you look back at what you have accomplished, it is the most amazing feeling to be had in life.

Describe some of your most memorable climbing experiences.

Definitely when I made an ascent of a death-defying highball rock climb in Bishop, California, called Ambrosia. Combining a free solo-like ascent with a very high level of difficulty is something that is rarely accomplished in climbing, and it was one of the greatest moments in my life and climbing career.

What advice do you have to those looking to get into rock climbing?

Rock climbing can be dangerous, but it can also be very safe and offer so many positive elements. I would highly recommend it for people of all ages to try, but in a safe environment with proper instruction, such as at a local climbing gym like Synergy Climbing & Ninja.   

What’s the most rewarding thing about rock climbing for you personally?

The most rewarding thing I get from climbing is not only the physical benefits, but the social benefits of being able to travel anywhere in the world knowing that there are like-minded individuals who share the same passion.

 

FAVORITE SPOTS

“There are so many amazing areas in and around Chattanooga. That’s why I moved here from Utah six years ago. The one that really stands out is a world-class destination known as Stone Fort up on Mowbray Mountain. My friends from Utah and I recently purchased it, and we plan to preserve its access for many generations to come.”

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