Active and aspiring rock climbers should get to Chattanooga

So there I was – all 50-plus years of me, 55 feet up from the platform floor of the outdoor climbing wall at High Point Climbing & Fitness, my right leg trembling in exhaustion, holding on for dear life, several fingers of one hand secure but fatigued in a pocket-style hand hold above me, the other hand barely managing to get a grip on a ridiculously small "crimp," contemplating the final move, the most important one, the one that lifts me up high enough to ring the bell at the very top of the wall to signal a successful, complete climb while hopefully not making me lose my grip in the process. I breathed out, in again deeply, pushed off with my aching, shaky leg, while pulling up on the pocket hand hold, letting go of the crimp, and grabbing the short bell cord – all in one beautifully orchestrated smooth move I wasn't at all sure my exhausted body could pull off. And I didn't lose my footing or my grip! Tired as I was, I rang the CLANG out of that bell with a huge grin on my face.

Then I remembered I still had to make my way back down. Whoo, boy!

But make my way down, I did. It was while doing so that it occurred to me that I had to have been something like 100 feet up from the actual street, which is well below the raised High Point platform. Wow! I had been safe the whole time of course, securely strapped up to an auto-belay system that would have controlled my descent should I have lost my grip. That fact, thankfully, lessened neither the challenge nor the thrill.

Chattanooga ( is a dream for rock climbers, whether of walls inside or outside, or of natural rock boulders and mountainsides. Blessed with a stretch of the Appalachian Mountain Range and the Cumberland Plateau for the real thing; a truly impressive indoor climbing facility with an outside wall; another prominent indoor bouldering and rock climbing venue; and a very cool lodging designed with rock climbers and other outdoor adventurists in mind, Chatt is the place in the South to get set up for rocking a rock-climbing getaway. It was named "Best Town Ever" by Outside magazine, if that tells you anything. Best. Town. Ever.

But all that isn't what Jordan Haag, rock climber and assistant general manager at The Crash Pad (29 Johnson St., Chattanooga, Tenn., 423-648-8393), a great Chattanooga lodging that's for adventurous outdoorsy types, first mentions as what makes the city such a great climbing locale.

"It's the people in this town that make climbing great," said Haag. "Southern hospitality is a real thing here. And almost everybody in this city is outdoorsy, wants to go outside and climb, hike, bike – that makes it a great community for rock climbers."

Of course, Haag recognizes the importance of all the great climbing spots in and around the city.

"There are just so many boulders and climbing areas in town. Within 30 minutes I can hit five or six different spots. Lookout Mountain is only about 30 minutes away and has one of the best trad climbing places in town. It was also one of the first established rock climbing places in Chattanooga."

Much of the climbing on Lookout Mountain is in Georgia, rather than Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, of course, though it's all conveniently close to Nooga. Two highly regarded bouldering locales near Georgia's Lookout Mountains are the appropriately dubbed Rocktown and the Zahnd Natural Area, both north of Lafayette in the Crockford-Pigeon Wildlife Management Area.

Sunset Rock on Chattanooga's Lookout Mountain is a great spot for beginners. And Stone Fort, otherwise known to the climbing community as "Little Rock City," is about a half-hour north of Chattanooga on the Cumberland Plateau. It's famous as one of three venues for the annual Triple Crown of Bouldering competition.

High Point Climbing & Fitness also operates the High Point Climbing School (219 Broad St., Chattanooga, Tenn., 760-920-5348), which provides outdoor climbing instruction and outings guided by professional climbers with over 55 years of experience between them.

For exceptional rock wall climbing, High Point Climbing & Fitness (219 Broad St., Chattanooga, Tenn., 423-602-ROCK) offers not only its 30,000 square feet of exceptional indoor/outdoor climbing in downtown Chattanooga but also 10,000 at its High Point Riverside facility not far off (1007 Appling St., Chattanooga, Tenn., 423-475-6578). Climbing Magazine last year called the Broad Street facility "the country's coolest gym."

Chattanooga's first bouldering and rock climbing facility, however, was Tennessee Bouldering Authority (3804 St. Elmo Ave., Chattanooga, Tenn., 423-822-6800), located not far from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee's famous Incline Railway. It's smaller than High Point, at about 3,000 square feet of walls and training space, but is also a quality operation.

For those who want to start out slow on an easy rock climbing wall, Outdoor Chattanooga (, 423-643-6888) offers a Ready to Rock Climb introduction to the sport at the Walnut Wall in Coolidge Park. There's a 50-foot-high limestone pier of the historic Walnut Street Bridge there on the north shore of the Tennessee River.

Wherever you decide to climb, or even if you're not visiting to climb, one very good place to stay while in Chattanooga is The Crash Pad. The name is a double entendre and the place is a new take on hostel lodging – very clean and stylish, offering both private rooms and shared rooms in the heart of the city's Southside. It has a full kitchen and living room.

The Crash Pad was created with visitors coming to Chattanooga for its magnificent rock climbing and outdoor recreation opportunities in mind. Its onsite managers are outdoor enthusiasts themselves and the place is stocked with topo maps and climbing guides and the like. But anybody's welcome to stay there, rock climber or no.

So get yourself to Chattanooga, rock climbers! Be adventurous! But be safe. Beginner climbers should always have an experienced guide, high-density foam crash pad and a spotter or an auto-belay system.