Alabama - A Brief History of Rock Climbing at Sand Rock (Cherokee
Rock Village), Alabama
Compiled by: The Alabama Climber's Association,
the Access Fund, and the Southeastern Climbers Association.
The first recorded climbing activity at Sand Rock occurred around 1977 when climbers Rich
Gottlieb, Richard Tyrell, Ken Pitts, and a few others discovered the area and
established most of the obvious natural crack lines and boulder problems. At the time the
current access road ended well down the mountain and they had to hike a couple of miles
uphill just to reach the rock. With the lack of access and the fact that there simply
weren't that many climber's in the area, Sand Rock enjoyed relative obscurity for many
Soon after the completion of the access road in
the early 1980's, Sand Rock became a popular climbing area with it's ease of access,
camping, and terrific bouldering. It was now a county park with cement slab that carried
picnic tables. With improvements in shoes and gear, many more traditional lines fell to a
new wave of activists such as Shannon Stegg, Gene Smith, Rob Robinson, Maurice Reed,
James Dobbs, to name a few. Among these routes were Champagne Jam, Comfortably
Numb, White Gold, Split Cracks (Sandburger, Sandburger Platter, etc.), though the bold
unprotected faces were still not ignored. Almost all of these were toproped, and many,
such as Popular Science, First Black in Space, and Wall of Horns were led ground up
with no fixed gear. These routes were/are extremely bold and became test-pieces requiring
great mental fortitude and skill, and were done by most of the climbers of the time.
Almost all of the climbers frequenting the area aspired to do these routes, and it was
simply a given that you waited until your skill level and boldness were up to snuff until
attempting them. They still remain the measuring sticks that today's traditional climber
compares himself/herself to.
The third wave of activity happened in the late 1980's when sport climbing was in its
infancy. Many of the established topropes that had not been led in ground-up style, were
bolted and led, as well as many new hard routes on blank faces that were of dubious rock
quality, or lacked cracks or features for natural protection. Climbers like Philip
Fisher, Hidetaka Suzuki, Chris Watford, Mark Cole, and James Dobbs established many of
the classic sport climbs that currently see much traffic. These include Whammy, Mud
Wall, Misty, Rave, Dreamscape, Midget Digits, etc. During this time, the establishment
of these routes did little to raise any ire in the climbing community because they were
legitimate first ascents that no one had lead climbed before. Most of the climbing
community felt that Sand Rock was indeed a place where traditional ethics and the emerging
sport climbing ethic could peacefully co-exist. Sand Rock became, though few realized it,
a shining example, representative of both climbing styles existing with little or no
friction. Any climber regardless of his or her chose style of climbing could go to Sand
Rock and have a great time and have routes to aspire to.
From here there was a lull in development until the mid 1990's. Most of the climbers
that had frequented the area had gone on to develop other areas. Occasionally climbers
like Shannon Stegg would return and establish a new bold test piece but very little
development occurred during this time. Meanwhile climbing in the South was slowly growing
and with it the number of new climbers visiting Sand Rock. These new climbers were
somewhat left to fend for themselves in finding existing routes, the ratings etc. There
were questions of what had been climbed, at what grade, where "x" climb was,
etc. With little direction from developers of the area, climbers began to do what they
thought was right. A trend started to emerge. Bolts began to slowly appear on established
traditional routes and cold shut anchors began to appear on nearly every route on the Sun
Wall. These anchors were strictly for convenience to avoid the necessity of rigging
topropes with slings and webbing. Toprope anchors even began to appear on boulder
In late 1993 a guide book to the area
appeared and for the most part answered everyone's questions about existing routes. There
was however a growing conflict between the first ascensionists and people who retro-bolted
the routes that they had established.
The last couple of years has seen a new wave of development from climbers like Shannon
Stegg, Greg Scott, Bernard Wolf, James Tindill, Jerry Roberts, and Chris Chestnut.
Mainly these new lines have been sport climbs with an occasional gear going up.
Unfortunately some of these climbs happened to be retro-bolted gear climbs which the first
ascensionists chopped. Where climbers has once enjoyed a happy co-existence, they were now
introduced to the opposite side of climbing with distinct divisions according to chosen
climbing styles. There is no reason why climbers of different styles cannot climb together
at Sand Rock without any conflict.
There has been a huge resurgence in the popularity over least few years which
corresponds with the large number of new climbers to the sport. Largely, the people who
frequent Sand Rock have no idea of the history of the area or the time and energy that
went into developing an area that, as a result, we can all now enjoy. We all must have
respect for everyone's accomplishments. Whether you are a traditionalist or sport climber
or just enjoy both, you should respect the effort, time and mental energy that went into
developing a route that you can enjoy and/or aspire to climb. Everyone needs to realize
that your actions at Sand Rock affect everyone who chooses to climb there, even those who
enjoy climbing in a different style than you. Sand Rock offers a diverse selection of
climbs, offering everyone a climb to aspire to in the style that they prefer. You must
realize that your preferred climbing style doesn't take precedence over a differing style
and it doesn't mean that everyone will enjoy climbing like you.
At Sand Rock they are equal and deserve the same amount of respect. We'all have the
right take advantage of the opportunities of Sand Rock because it offers something for
everyone. Whether it is a gear route or a sport route respect the style in which it was
established. If you think the route needs to be changed, ask the first ascensionists, they
might surprise you.
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