Rock climbing in the Southeastern USA


Photo by Wayne Busch - View north of Cliff line at Sunest RockTennessee - Sunset Rock

Image - relief map of Tennessee with location of Sunset Rock  show by yellow starLocation

The cliffs around Sunset Rock are located in Chickamaugua and Chattanooga National Military Park on the northwest side of the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee atop 83 mile long Lookout Mountain. Numerous popular attractions like Ruby Falls, Rock City, and Point Park are located within the affluent neighborhoods overlooking the Tennessee River and the city.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Jackie Busch on One-Ten 5.6Description

Sunset Rock is an exposed outcropping of rock offering a strategic view of the valley below. The prominence is faced with 80 foot cliffs, and has a large flat top. The view from this point was influential in a significant Civil War battle. The cliff area extends for more than a mile along the top of Lookout Mountain. A trail descends to the base of the cliffs, then to the north and south.

The climbing areas are located within Chickamaugua and Chattanooga National Military Park . The first National Military Park, it serves as both memorial to those who fought here and a source of enlightenment of the history of our nation. Climbers should be aware of the reverence of this place and be respectful of other visitors.

Is one of the oldest and most established climbing areas in the southeast, most likely due to its close proximity to the city of Chattanooga. The cliffs are made of hard layered sandstones. They run north from Sunset Rock about half a mile, and twice as far to the south, with access trails along the base. Almost all climbs are single pitch, most can be easily rigged with top-ropes. Very few bolts exist, almost all routes are traditionally led or top-roped. Sunset offers hundreds of excellent steep crack and face climbs, with a smattering of challenging roofs.

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PPhoto by Wayne Busch - Beh Birmingham tackles S'More 5.8+Directions

Follow the innumerable signs to Ruby Falls on Lookout Mountain from I-24. Pass Ruby Falls on 148 and continue to the top of the mountain. Follow the road straight across the mountains top until you come to the softball fields. Bear to the right following West Brow Road, looking for a small paved parking area on the left about 1/2 mile from the ball field. There are 8 spaces available, 5 are unrestricted, 3 are one hour parking - you will be ticketed/towed. If no parking here, continue to Point Park and pay your $2 to enter. If there's still no parking, go to the Access Fund parking lot.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - The sign at Sunset RockCliff Access

There are three points of access for the trails that run along the base of the cliffs. The determining factor is parking. Lookout Mountain hosts several major major tourist attractions, the affluent neighborhood is choked with traffic in the summer. Parking spaces disappear fast. The park gates open at 8 AM. Be there when they open if you hope to find a parking space. The Access Fund parking lot at the base of the mountain almost always has room.

The primo spot was once the tiny parking lot at Sunset Rock. A short trail leads to the top of the 90 foot cliffs. A trail leads left from atop the rock, then descends via a long staircase onto the trails at the base of the cliffs. Much of the climbing in this immediate area is closed. (Climbing Management Plan). There are 8 parking spaces here, 5 are unrestricted, 3 are one hour parking - you will be ticketed/towed if you break any rule! Don't even consider parking in the rangers space, alongside the road in the neighborhood, at the softball field, or anywhere else. YOU WILL BE TICKET AND TOWED. I no longer park at the Sunset Rock parking lot out of sensitivity to the purpose of the park. The view from atop Sunset Rock played an important role in the civil war. When you park for a long time in one of the few parking places, you deny the experience to others of seeing the historic view.

Photo by Wayn Busch - Trail at the base of the cliffs at Sunset RockThe correct thing to do is park at the base of the mountain and walk up. Unfortunately, it is the least convenient. The Access Fund Climbers Parking Lot is located at the base of the mountain, below Sunset Rock. From atop the mountain, return down West Brow Road, turning left at the ball fields. Pass Ruby Falls , then turn left at the dangerous intersection at the hairpin turn (there is a sign for the Sky Harbor Motel here). Follow the signs to Reflection Riding Stables at the bottom of the mountain. Drive past nice houses, then look for a gravel lot on the right side of the road, with parking for about 20 cars. There is a map posted on the signboard at the Sunset Rock parking lot.The easy trail up to Sunset Rock is across the street from the climbers lot, and takes about 40 - 45 min. to hike to the base of Sunset Rock.

The third access point is Point Park at the north end of the mountain. Admission to the park is $2, be sure to keep your ticket, the rangers do spot checks. Follow the path to the end of the point, descend the stairs and walk south along the trail to reach the north terminus of the climbing area. A sign indicates where climbing is permitted. Don't try to exit from Point Park if you entered from another site (i.e.. Sunset Rock Trail). If you pass through the gate, you better have a ticket stub. There is parking in the visitor center parking lot near the ranger station.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Andy Mitchell leads S'MoreClimbing History

(from the park Climbing Management Plan) - A popular guidebook to rock climbing within Chickamaugua and Chattanooga National Military Park refers to the Sunset Rock area as the “birthplace" of sandstone climbing in the South. This same volume traces some of the early history of climbing in the park back to the 1940's. It further states that during the 1960's several climbers began developing routes on the cliffs of a limestone quarry on the northwest end of Lookout Mountain known as the Eagles Nest. Climbing then moved to the cliffs on the west side of the mountain around Sunset Rock. During the ‘70's that area received considerable attention as a large number of routes were developed. It was at Sunset Rock during the 1980's that local climbers achieved what was probably the first climb in the south rated at 5.12 (a very difficult climb). Use of motorized drills and installing bolts on routes also proliferated during the 1980's. In 1995 over 250 routes existed on the cliffs at and around Sunset Rock.

Enlarge photo of Andy leading S'More

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Out of printSouthern RockDixie Cragger's AtlasGuidebooks

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

Southern Rock A Climber's Guide by Chris Hall. 1985, Published by East Woods Press Books, Fast & McMillan Publishers Inc. 820 East Boulevard, Charlotte, NC. Second Printing.

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

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Nick Bosse on Copperhead 5.7Routes

**Afternoon Delight 5.7, ***Train Time 5.10a,***Walk In The Park 5.8, *Jugular Vein 5.7, ***Second Sun 5.9, ***Blonde Ambition 5.7, *Airbrush 5.6, *More Fun With Dick And Jane 5.9, **Prisoner Of Zenda 5.11 A/B, ***Rattlesnake 5.9, ***Headwall 5.10 B/C, *S'More 5.8+, ***Flagstone 5.11A, ***Scream Wall 5.10 A/B, ***Rusty's Crack 5.10 A/B, **Thin Pockets 5.8, **Ghost Dancers 5.8, **Water In Motion 5.12A, ***Stan's Crack 5.8+ ***Wind Walker 5.9, ***R.J. Gold 5.9, ***Jefferson Airplane 5.10A, ***Bills Route 5.8, **Bubble Bath 5.9

Some of these climbs are now closed, check the Climbing Management Plan.

Enlarge photo of Nick on Copperhead

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Land Manager:

Chickamaugua and Chattanooga National Military Park
PO Box 2128
Fort Oglethorpe, GA 30742
fax 423-752-5215
phone Visitor Information 706-866-9241 - Please include your name and postal mailing address with your inquiry.

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image - caduceus -  symbol of medicineEmergency Information:

911, You are in Hamilton County.

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image - carabinerGear:

A well rounded rack of nuts, hexes, cams will suffice for almost all routes. 50m ropes will do for most climbs, but some of the nicer ones will require a 60m rope to top-rope them. There are few permanent anchors, you must use padding on the trees to protect the bark, you can (will) be fined $50 / thrown out if you don't. Heavy canvas, old towels, plastic tarp pieces will do. Bring a few long slings for top-rope anchors. Wear helmets - there is a lot of small loose rock near the top of climbs, and tourists like to toss things off the top of Sunset Rock. In popular areas, you may find trees with webbing anchors to rappel from, most are kept in good shape. Please replace any suspect webbing, rings with camouflaged webbing (gray is good). The new climbing management plan calls for the installation of permanent fixed anchors at Sunset Rock for top-ropes, and the closing of several areas for restoration. You should be aware of areas where climbing is closed and avoid them.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - The gate at the entrance to Point Park on the northern tip of Lookout MountainFacilities:

The Park is located in an affluent neighborhood atop Lookout Mountain. Several attractions share this location, including Rock City, Ruby Falls , the Inclined Railway, Point Park, leading to a lot of traffic through the neighborhood. Be sensitive to the parking regulations. There is no primitive camping available in the immediate vicinity. Raccoon Mt. Campground (I-24 Exit #174) is nearby, kinda cheesy though (kids/families may like it). I think the best camping can be found at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park hang gliding landing zone at the base of the mountain near the town of Trenton, Georgia. $3/night, it has a bathroom with hot showers, you can buy a pass for the pool. Pitch a tent near the clubhouse / pool and party with the para - pilots, or drive to the far side of the landing zone for some (relative) privacy and quiet near a stream. To get there, drive south on Lookout Mountain, past the religious college until you come to Burkhalter Gap Road (about 20 minutes). Follow it down to into the valley, turning onto Creek Road. Follow Creek Road to the Flight Park. The nearest exit off I-24 is #174 (Raccoon Mt. ), with numerous motels including the Country Inn, Ramada, Super 8, Best Western, Econo-Lodge, Hampton Inn, Lookout Mountain Inn, and Baymont Inn. Try the small Bavarian Inn (Sky Harbor) located at the dangerous intersection just before Ruby Falls . The city of Chattanooga offers a wealth of entertainment, hosts an excellent aquarium, museums, dining (don't miss the brewery downtown, and the delicious Mudpies restaurant), and more wallet-sucking fun than you can handle. "I pity the fool that don't eat at Mr. T's Pizza", ", located at the base of the Inclined Railway. A rain day here can be devastating to the finances.

Enlarge photo of gate at Point Park

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The cliffs face northwest, keeping them cool and shady during the sultry summer months. It is usually mid to late afternoon before the sun comes over the ridge, and warms the shady trails. Spring and fall climbing can be cold, be prepared for the breezes. Because so little sun hits the cliffs, they may take longer to dry after rainy spells. Some moist climbs trend to grow moss and lichen, meaning less climbed routes are sometimes greasy ora little slippery.Winter climbing at Sunset is usually avoided, and may be icy.

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Photo by Wayne Busch - Jackie Busch dances up one of her favorite climbs, Thin Pockets 5.8Access Notes

Access has been a constant issue since I've been climbing at Sunset. The area sees heavy traffic from climbers, hikers, sightseers, and the locals. Be sensitive that many other people are using the trails along the cliffs around Sunset Rock. Do not block the trails or rig across them. The National Park Service has recently devised a Climbing Management Plan. It is posted on the Internet at Permits are required for groups over 10, and are easy to get via fax. Charlie Spearman is the Chief Ranger, and Ranger Dennis Currey is in charge of climbing issues. The park is regularly patrolled, you must be out before the posted closing time or you will be fined. Pad all trees. Stay on the trail and respect closed areas. There has been a lot of restoration work done by climbers through the efforts of the Southeast Climbers Coalition and the Access Fund . There are frequent opportunities to contribute. Climb safe, clean up, and maintain good relations.

Enlarge photo of Jackie

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Photo by Wayne Busch - To learn more about the park and the histroy of the monumnet, go to the Visitor Center across from the gate at Point Park. Miscellaneous

About Chickamaugua and Chattanooga National Military Park

(from the park Climbing Management Plan) The Battle of Chickamaugua and Battles for Chattanooga, in 1863, were significant events in determining the outcome of the American Civil War. The purpose of Chickamaugua and Chattanooga National Military Park is to preserve the significant resources of the Civil War campaigns and battles of Chickamaugua and Chattanooga, and to educate the public about the events memorialized. The park was established in 1890 “for the purpose of preserving and suitably marking for historical and professional military study, the fields of some of the most remarkable maneuvers and brilliant fighting in the war of the rebellion”. (26 Statute, 33HR6 US4 - August 19, 1890). This act of Congress was the first to authorize the preservation of an American battlefield. In creating the first, and largest, National Military Park, Congress laid the foundation for the national historical park concept in the United States. From this concept evolved future national battlefields, memorials, and monuments. Thus, the legislation establishing Chickamaugua and Chattanooga National Military Park provided the cornerstone for the preservation of historic sites throughout the United States.

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Sunset Rock Trip Reports

4/24/99 - Sunset Rock, Chattanooga, Tennessee - submitted by Wayne Busch - small group weekend trip.

5/22/99 - Sunset Rock, Tennessee May 22 - 23 - A Stormy Trip - submitted by Wayne Busch - small group weekend trip.

7/17/99 - Itching to climb! - submitted by Wayne Busch - Saturday at the Tennessee Wall, Sunday at Sunset Rock. An encounter with chiggers.

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