When I first moved to Denver, CO last year, one of the first things I did was Google how far of a drive it was to Chattanooga, TN. (It’s only eighteen hours and fifty-one minutes if you were curious.)
Every time fall hits, I get that itch to flee south—especially as the days grow colder, meaning that prime sending temperatures are close at the Twall. My southeast friends were always heckling me, asking why my visits always fell between the spring and fall seasons. I suppose that Chattanooga has always felt like home to me, no matter what time of year it was. The climbing community is absurdly special there.
“I wish I lived here!” I moaned to Kirk Brode, one of Tennessee’s finest first ascensionists. His response: “We all wish you lived here! As does the sandstone. It keeps saying to me where’s that Kathy? When’s she coming back around to scratch my belly and scrub my dusty tips? Just stay as long as you can. This is the time of year to be here.”
We avoided the crowds by marching up to the wall with plans to head west, where there is a higher concentration of traditional routes. I love the east side of Twall; some of my favorite routes and proudest sends reside on the east side. In spring of 2014, I drove down to Tennessee for the first time and my girlfriend and I were immediately enamored with the idea Fists of Fury (5.12c), one of the three Triple Crown roof cracks at the Twall.
The following fall, in November, I took a visit and waffled all day with friends on climbs around the corner. McKenzi Lewis felt my growing disappointment as we started to lose daylight, and she encouraged me to try the first section. Needless to say, starting a project climb like Fists by headlamp was not the brightest of ideas, but I was filled with the spur she had given me on the first attempt. Luckily, I was able to down aid the first few bouldery moves, we all hiked down in the dark safely, and ended the day with Mojo burritos. Good trip.
Shaina Savoy was as ridiculously excited as I was to try Fists this October. I told her that I hadn’t climbed in three months, and we both decided that it was okay to flail on the roof together.
Getting into the wide section of the roof took both of us several tries. Growing frustrated with each attempt, we finally unlocked the moves to the wideness. Much like my trip to the Gunks, I was aware that Robinson, Goins, or Brode probably hadn’t tried to invert the wide chimney section—but who was to say it couldn’t work? A bomber right fist allowed for a perfect left knee lock, and protection was high in the crack and would require a long runner. Using all of the core strength I could muster, I fought the rock with my knee in place for that gear placement.
Kicking my feet above my head, I managed an invert off of a hand jammed in a small constriction and a perfect left wing. I shuffled quickly and placed a number 4 high above me, then continued towards the lip. This was the easiest part of the climb for me, but by the time I made it to the lip of the roof and righted myself from my bottom-side-up position, I was spanked and aided my way to the anchors. The size of the crack changed to butterfly stacks, and it’s possible to make another invert, but we won’t know for sure until next time.
What we are willing to attempt when we stop worrying about failure or success is remarkable. In 2014, I never thought I would feel ready to try and tackle such a monster roof. A year later, and then two years later, I’m still nowhere near as ready but I think it’s less about feeling one hundred percent prepared and more about the try-hard. Rock climbing isn’t exciting because it’s easy; it’s exciting because the outcome is unforeseeable, but with each new venture, we sometimes surprise ourselves. As my friend, Pat Kingsbury, would often tell me, “I don’t send the hardest, but I try the hardest.”
I said that this was my last east coast trip for a while, considering the distance and gas to shuffle from west to east and back again. There is a small part of me that knows that it would be much more pragmatic to kick my heels in some desert sand and explore more of Colorado, my current stomping grounds. But there is something about the sweet sandstone and warm southern hospitality that keeps calling me back, and every couple of months, I feel compelled to answer its call.
This winter will be no different. The truth is, Chattanooga might be one of the best climbing meccas I have ever experienced, and even though I planted myself in another climbing mecca for a little while, 1,305 miles doesn’t seem too far when you have a good mixtape and family waiting for you at the end of your destination.