In no way do the thoughts or ideas expressed in this article reflect the opinions of Moja Gear. We do, however, support a platform for freedom of expression and open discussion within the climbing community.
A big thank you to Moja Gear for allowing me the opportunity to grace their journal with my self-proclaimed comedic prose. When first learning of Moja Gear, I discovered they are based in California, which means some of the readers are definitely Californian. With that in mind, I decided to educate the Left Coasters about climbing in the dirty, aka “the South” for y’all.
My backstory: I am a southern climber; I was raised a Yankee, but learned to climb in North Carolina and on road trips all over the Southeast; therefore, I consider myself a southern climber. I am not the definitive expert on all things southern, but rather a carpetbagger enjoying the experience.
1. Agree to disagree about geography
The first thing a person must know about climbing in the South is that everyone is going to disagree about what defines the “South.” Like in politics and geography, no one quite agrees about who’s in and who is really just the Midwest. A climber pulling rope at Foster Falls in TN will inform a person that the bouldering in North Carolina does not count as the South. A climber bouldering in North Carolina will definitely consider Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas outside the lines of the South. Then there is the conundrum of Texas, but we won’t get into that. The south to me is anything south of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and any area east of Texas and Oklahoma. All the states encompassed in this area is the South, except Florida, nobody wants Florida.
2. Check the weather religiously
Weather is a major factor in climbing in the South. Become obsessed with the weather. Anyone who wishes to climb in the South should have every imaginable weather app on their phone, tablet, computer, or fancy watch if you’ve got one. Check them religiously about every thirty minutes, it will determine your day. California and Colorado have beautiful dry crisp days often, but the south has extreme sun, heat, rain, fog, rain, heat, humidity, and wind all in one day. This past weekend, on Friday I was wearing shorts and sweating, then the weather took a turn and Saturday I donned a puffy coat, and scraped ice off my tent Sunday morning. The weather here is like a bipolar ex; reason and understanding won’t work. Accept that eight of ten weekends will be bad, but the two that are perfect are the reason climbers put up with the South.
After mastering the weather, pick a camp: Red River or New River. There are people who will argue neither, but those people are crazy and deserve to be ignored, remove them from social media immediately and insult their parents regularly. This rivalry pits two of the greatest sport climbing crags against each other and it is imperative to make a choice between the pump fest that is the Red and the power endurance of the New. The best way to choose a side is to climb at both, so tell the boss an extended road trip is impending – about six months of paid leave should cut it!
3. Access to climbing is not guaranteed
The next thing to know about climbing in the South, is that access is not guaranteed. Many of the South’s favorite crags have been closed and reopened within the last twenty years. Knowing what is public and what is private is integral for keeping the climbing community in harmony. Do not, under any circumstances, sneak into a closed area. This is the South, the land owner will most likely have a gun and will not take kindly to trespassers, I am not kidding. Getting shot greatly reduces ones onsight ability.
4. Be prepared for football fanatics
College football is huge in the South; it’s a close second to bbq and church. The southern climbing community is not exempt from rooting for their Alma Mater, so prepare to see phones propped up at crags with ESPN blaring. Do not ask them to turn it down, they will tie the poor victim up with a checkered Tennessee scarf, roll them out to the tide, and leave them to the Hogs. Just cheer when everyone else cheers, and swear when everyone else swears, the crag will be a happier place.
5. Don’t forget your Ps and Qs!
A picture of the south evokes a backwoodsman wearing overalls, now while this may be stereotypical in a sense, sometimes it is not a far cry from the locals in Steele, AL and La-Fay-ette, GA. Remember to include “sir” and “ma’am” at the end of sentences, hold the doors for older ladies, and mind your Ps and Qs, and the south will open its hospitable arms. “Y’all” will be rampant as will “coke” for any soft drink, even Sprite. Embrace it, don’t mock it. That’s a sure fire way to never be invited back. If you’re mindful of the customs, people will invite you over for cornbread and soup beans, and won’t “bless your heart” (which is polite code for, “check out that fool over there”).
6. Enjoy the local cuisine
Last, the most important part of climbing in the South is always sample the local cuisine. After a hard day at the crag, find the darkest, scariest looking BBQ joint imaginable, order a chopped pork plate and enjoy. The bbq here is not chicken with glorified ketchup splashed on it; the bbq here is pulled pork, melt in your mouth heaven, with vinegar, mustard, or tomato sauce (depending on the region). This food will heal split tips, ease sore muscles, and make a person forget all about tofu dipped in soy glaze on a bed of kelp, or whatever people eat in California.
Come climb in the South. The variety will blow anyone’s mind. Slap slopers at Horsepens, chase goats and 5.12s at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, wrestle power and sandstone at the Obed, run it out at the Red, grow biceps at the New, and last visit God’s gift to climbing, Boone, NC where flaming crimps and big hucks will teach a person humility and desire. Just be sure to bring a rain coat, puffy, sunscreen, bug spray, portable grill, an appetite, a mile wide tarp (to stop the rain, duh!), and a sense of adventure.