Rock climbing in the Southeastern USA


Photo by Wayne Busch - Foster Falls, TennesseeTennessee - Foster Falls

Image - State of Tennessee with location of Foster Falls indicated by a yellow starLocation

Foster Falls is located about 40 minutes northwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It is named for the 60 foot waterfall formed where Little Gizzard Creek pours over the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau. The gorge cut by the creek has exposed a band of sandstone cliffs along the north rim.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Guy Humphrey on Therapist 5.9+ at the Rehab SlabDescription

Rock Climbing at Foster Falls occurs on the cliffs which line the northernmost side of the gorge cut by the Little Gizzard Creek. The climbing is predominantly bolted "sport" routes on sandstone overhangs, aretes, cracks, roofs, and faces. Routes are typically vertical or overhanging, blocky with roofs, averaging about 60 feet in height. There are some excellent thin face climbs and aretes, routes are often strenuous. There is no low-angle climbing. You must lead all routes to rig top-ropes, there is no access to the top of the climbs. I know of no bouldering. There are a handful of fine traditionally led routes, but if you are looking to climb trad routes, go to T-Wall. Foster Falls is all about the best sport climbing routes in the Southeast.

Foster Falls has little to offer new climbers as most routes are strenuous and must be led to set up top ropes. There is no approach from the top. There are a handful of 5.8's, some excellent 5.9's, but the area really favors 5.10+ climbs.

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Photo by Wayne busch - Guy Humphrey on Fish-Eyed Fool 5.10a at the Sanford WallDirections

From Chattanooga, head west on I-24. Exit I-24 at Jasper (exit 155), after the highway goes into and out of Georgia, and crosses the Tennessee River at Nickajack Lake. Turn right onto Highway 28. After a few miles on highway 28, exitonto Highway 41/64/72, go left into Jasper, then right at the second light onto 150/41 out of town (toward Tracy City). Bear to the left onto US 41 and go up the mountain. The large rock outcropping high up to your right is Castle Rock.

Wind on up the road. Foster Falls Scenic Area is found 3 miles beyond the Mountain Mart store on the left. The park is easy to miss at night, the sign is dark in color. The gates close at 10 p.m. If you get in late, park on the left by the gate - it's a short walk to the campground. Select a site, you can pay in the morning. You might consider spending the night at the Raccoon Mt. Campground, or get a motel room in Chattanooga (there are several at the I-24 exit).

[ Yahoo! Maps ] Yahoo scalable Map of Foster Falls

Logo - Topozone.comTopo map ( link)

See large photo of the Sanford Wall

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Foot bridge over Little Gizzard Creek on the new trailCliff Access

There is a well maintained access trail leading from both the campground and the day-use parking lot to an overlook of Foster Falls (cross under the power lines). From the overlook, you can get to the climbing areas by two trails - one along the top of the rim and one at thebase of the cliffs.

To approach from the top, follow the trails toward the falls, cross the creek on the steel footbridge, then along the trail that skirts the cliff tops (white blazes). There is a primitive camping area (Father Johnz with an outhouse) on a marked side trail. There are two marked climbers access trails (signs) that lead down from the rim of the gorge. The first will bring you to a point midway between Jimmywood and the Dihedrals. The second access trail will bring you to the base of the Rehab Slab.

There is a relatively new access trail to the base of the falls which provides more convenient access to the White Wall and the Bunkers, as well as a generally faster approach. From the main parking area, follow the trail, go left at the power lines (away from the falls). Look for a trail exiting the campground, crossing under the power lines, then follow the steps down (sign). Cross the creek on the suspension bridge, then follow the trail up and along the base of the cliffs. I prefer this trail as it is more scenic and seems a lot shorter.

The cliffs are divided into sections as they naturally occur. Starting at the falls, a trail leads along entire the base of the cliffs. The first section encountered is the White Wall. This is followed by the So What Area, the Crime Buttress, The Bunkers, The Dihedrals, (first rim trail intersects here) , Jimmywood, the Gutbuster Area, the Sanford Wall, the Rocket Slab, the Rehab Slab, (second rim trail intersects here) the Snatch Area, and finally, the Red Light District.

Enlarge view of foot bridge

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Out of printDixie Cragger's AtlasGuidebooks

The Dixie Cragger's Atlas by Chris Watford. 1999. Published by Market Place Press, 425 Market Place, Roswell, GA. 30075.

The Deep South Climbers Companion by Rob Robinson and Chris Watford is currently out of print, unavailable.

Warning - some routes have been changed since the publication of even the most recent guidebook. For example, all but one of the bolts have been removed on Sport Puppy 5.9 requiring it be led on gear. I am not aware of how many other routes have been affected by the bolt police, so be alert. If you come across other routes that have been altered, please report them to me so I can list them here.

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Ankles Away 5.9***, Pillsbury 5.10D***, Sport Puppy 5.9 (trad), Therapist 5.9+*, Bear Mountain Picnic 5.8+*, Mammplitude 5.9**, Fish-Eyed Fool 5.10B, Rode Hard, Put Up Wet 5.10B, Miss Scarlet 5.9+*, Timeless Christian Values 5.9*, Junkyard 5.11A, Wristlets 5.11C***, Afterburner 5.5, Gravity Boots 5.8

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Land Manager:

Foster Falls Small Wilds Area is jointly owned/managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the South Cumberland State Recreation Area.

For information go to Friends of South Cumberland State Recreation Area

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image - caduceus -  symbol of medicineEmergency Information:

You are in Marion County. Marion County Sheriff's Department 423-942-2525.

During the season a campground manager lives in the manufactured home near the pavilion and parking area. Foster Falls Campground (423-942-5759)

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image - carabinerGear:

50m rope, a handful of quickdraws, and a few slings are likely all you'll need to climb the sport routes at Foster Falls. You might want some bail biners and webbing if you plan to try some of the classic test-pieces. Caution though, recently some routes have been altered requiring traditional gear to lead them.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Jackie usch on Mammy 5.10a in the Jimmywood AreaFacilities:

Being close to Chattanooga, the area sees a lot of visitors. There is a campground ($11/tent/night), with warm showers, tables, tent sites, and a picnic area with a covered pavilion. (The main access trail is near the pavilion, there is also a trail from the campground).

The campground closes mid October - March. Car break-ins have been reported during times the campground is closed (winter). You can also camp at a few sites across the foot bridge at the primitive sites.

The new trail down to Gizzard Creek makes swimming in the pool at the base of the falls very convenient! Great way to cool down after a hot day climbing.

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The climbs are generally well shaded, making for good summer climbing when other areas may be stifling hot. Spring and fall are good, as are warm winter days.

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Access Notes

Foster Falls Climber Appreciation Day, Foster Fest, and The Foster Falls Trail Day are events coordinated by the Southeastern Climbers Coalition, the Access Fund, and other sponsors each year at Foster Falls. The climbing community enjoys a good relationship with the managers here, and contributes to trail maintenance and improvement. Please be respectful of this good relationship when visiting Foster Falls and leave no trace.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Sean Kroah on Junkyard 5.11a at the Sanford Wall Miscellaneous

Foster Falls Campground opens April 6 and closes November 1. Phone (423-942-5759). The campground has about 30 sites, 3 - 4 water spigots, bathrooms/showers, trash cans. Try to avoid a site beneath one of the all night street lights. Alcohol is prohibited in the campground (a trash can full of bottles may be incriminating). There is a convenient trail from the campground to the falls near the entrance. The manager makes regular patrols of the loop road in a white golf cart collecting fees. Select a campsite, and she will find you.

The Mountain Mart has gas and the basics. It's about 15 min. into Jasper, where you'll find an Ingle's and Big Freddie's Pizza. You'll find a better food/supply selection in Kimball near the Interstate.

The campground phone number is 423-942-5759. My cell phone did not work at Foster Falls.

The park is located in the Central Time Zone.

Enlarge photo of Sean

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Foster Falls Trip Reports

11/8/99 - So many places to climb, so little time.. - Submitted by Wayne Busch. Wayne, Dede and Guy Humphrey spend a day at Foster Falls

5/31/01 - The Spell is broken! - Submitted by Wayne Busch. Wayne and Jackie spend an afternoon at Foster Falls.

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