Perfect to a “T”
The sandstone bluff Tennessee Wall, or T-Wall as it’s affectionately known, defies comparison. But here’s one anyway: the Indian Creek of the South. What my comparison lacks in imagination, it more than makes up for in, you guessed it, sandstone splitters, though T-Wall’s stone is diamond hard (almost quartzitic), blockier, and more featured. You could even say a few million years of geological inbreeding separate the crag from its Mormon second cousin twice removed, though geologists might wince at the comparison.
Despite T-Wall’s popularity, a certain wildness prevails. Bald eagles and vultures thermal the cliffline, and aside from the beat-in climber trail and welcoming rap anchors, T-Wall still offers Southern trad just as nature intended it.
Climate: Autumn through spring are best. T-Wall faces the sun, and even on winter days the temps can be downright pleasant. In summer, the fabled Southern humidity makes crack climbing seem like you just dipped your hands in pig lard.
Getting There: From downtown Chattanooga, it’s about 25 minutes. Drive over the mighty Tennessee River, heading north on Highway 27. Exit Signal Mountain Road and whiz between a tractor factory and Wal-Mart. Left on Suck Creek Road takes you along the river and past a huge concrete factory. Take a left again, after the bridge, onto River Canyon Road (marked only by a sign pointing to a Baptist church), and follow this about seven miles until you see a pullout on the left and climber cars everywhere. Go slow! Watch for loose dogs, loose kudzu, and loose trailer homes.
Camping: You can sandwich in for free between the parking area and the Tennessee River. Goes without saying, but leave no trace.
Guidebooks: Rob Robinson has released his new guidebookThe Tennessee Wall: A Rock Climber’s Guide ($27.95, tennesseewall.com) at it includes every route up there as well as loads of mouthwatering photos; to get your hands on the book, order it at southernsandstonepublishing.com.The Dixie Cragger’s Atlas: A Climber’s Guide to Tennessee, by Chris Watford ($30, dixiecragger.com) also includes the T-Wall and other areas throughout Tennessee. Find guidebooks, local Beta, and gear at Rock/Creek (rockcreek.com), with two Chattanooga locations.
Food: Carnivores can lick their chops at Shuford’s Barbeque, on the right before you turn on Suck Creek Road. Unfortunately, herbivores must settle for a Veggie Delite at the Subway next door. Omnivores will find a whole range of dilemmas in downtown Chattanooga.
Rest-Day Entertainment: Chattanooga has numerous tourist traps, such as this country’s tallest underground waterfall, at Ruby Falls, and the stone gardens of Rock City. If towing and salvage is your thing, the city is home to the world’s only such museum. Also, take a trip up to Lookout Mountain and soak in Civil War history. Careful though: good climbing lies below the perches Confederate soldiers used to watch the “War of Northern Aggression” unfold. So much for rest days. . . .
Gear Tip: Full rack of cams (heavy on medium sizes), with doubles depending on the crack. Nuts are bomber. Long slings are handy for the wandering climbs and tying off the occasional feature. Most routes sport rappel/lowering anchors.
- Nutrasweet(5.7) — suh-weeet hand crack up a left-facing dihedral
- Golden Locks(5.8+) — bouldery start leads to splitterest of splitters up golden rock; very popular
- In Pursuit of Excellence(5.9) — 90-foot dihedral featuring laybacking and straight-in crack
- Cake Walk(5.10a) — fingers to a small, tricky roof; step around and be greeted by perfect hands
- Finger Lockin’ Good(5.10b/c) — route name gives away the plot; better for smaller-fingered suitors
- Moon of the Crow(5.11a) — classic line on the less crowded T-Wall South; takes you up a beautiful corner to a roof seam
- Hands Across America (5.12c) — idyllically adjacent a waterfall, this route leads out to a massive roof with a splitter; the quintessential Southern-sandstone testpiece