Inform and Inspire

Welcome to Upstate Bouldering, designed around bouldering in the Upstate region of South Carolina. This website is intended to inform the reader of local spots in SC, Western NC and Northeast GA, as well as a blog of my experiences climbing at these great spots. I hope everyone learns of a new place to climb or is inspired to climb somewhere close to them. If you have any comments, please send me an e-mail.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rocktown Bouldering Guide: A Review


That’s was my first impression of the new Rocktown Bouldering Guidebook as soon as I pulled the book out of the shipping envelope…and the WOW factor didn’t stop as I read through the book for this review! With eye popping, brilliantly colored, high resolution action photos jumping off of nearly every page, this guide doesn’t disappoint those that love some good eye candy!

Atop Lookout Mountain in Northeast Georgia exists a labyrinth of sandstone boulders with practically every shape, size and variety of hold and route possible…Rocktown!  Rocktown is one of the Big 3 boulderfields in the Southeast, Little Rock City (or Stone Fort to those that haven’t been bouldering for a while) and Horse Pens 40 being the other 2. Rocktown is typified by steep and slopey sandstone, with some routes requiring the same technical and powerful climbing that LRC is known for, and others more similar to the bubbly slopers and slabs of Horse Pens 40.

There are tons of boulder problems at Rocktown, some estimate over 1000 problems if you include all of the variations and eliminates, but this guidebook has whittled that down to around 500 quality problems worth visiting, and still left many boulders out to provide a little exploration for those that don’t like to be spoon-fed beta all the time.  Unlike the convenience of LRC and HP40 though, Rocktown isn’t a “pull up” bouldering crag where you can practically throw the pads out of the car and onto the landing zone. The hike in to Rocktown will get you a little warmed up and you’ll definitely break a sweat by the time you make it all the way out to the famous Crock Block. The boulderfield is in the middle of a beautiful hardwood forest and feels a lot more wild than the sometimes (OK, almost always) overcrowded blocks at HP40 and LRC. Rocktown is also bigger than the other 2 boulderfields, in size and in number of boulders and routes.

Did I mention that this book is PACKED with incredible photography?;) Even during the usual introduction/general info section at the beginning of the book, there are stunning action shots thrown in to make sure you don’t get bored. Rocktown isn’t as convenient to get to as many other boulderfields in the south, requiring a gravel/dirt road drive up the mountain that can confuse and confound some folks (and their low clearance vehicles). But the guidebook gives great directions and GPS coordinates to make sure you don’t get lost along the way. Also provided in the introduction is enough information about camping/lodging, gear shops and even a small map of Lafayette, the nearest town to Rocktown, pointing out gas stations, grocery stores, the movie theater and the library.

After the short but sufficient introduction (I'm personally not a fan of seeing a long introduction, especially packed wit advertisements, that lulls you to sleep before getting to the real meat of the guidebook), the best of the best routes are listed for all the grades that have been established here, V0-V12, so everybody can find a few uber classics to pull down on during their visit. Following this is an overview map of the entire area, showing all of the mini-areas of boulders and each boulder or cluster of boulders is numbered for easier reference. From there, the book dives into each mini-area and gives another overhead topo of the mini-area showing each subset of boulders within it and then each subset has its own overhead topo showing each boulder within that subset of boulders.

After getting you around to each individual boulder, there are overhead topos of each boulder and many photo topos to make sure you’re on the right route. Some guidebooks can become confusing when they transition between the various overhead maps/topos, and get the boulderer lost before they can find their target problem. But this guidebook makes sure you’re tagging along the whole way and you don’t get lost and confused as to which mini-area, subset and boulder you are at or headed to.  Check out the various images in this review for the variety of topos used in the book.

I commend Dan for his layout and foresight to make sure he doesn’t lose a pebble wrestler along the way. As you thumb from area to area and between all of the problems, one thing kept sticking out to me…there aren’t a ton of obnoxious ads that detract from the book and make it feel more like a magazine or even worse, like you just paid for DIRECTV and all you’re getting are the commercials. Over the years, the advertising in some guidebooks have gone so overboard that it feels like you have to really search though the book to find your beta and route descriptions, but Dan has strategically placed the ads as to flow with the design of the book and the absolute TON of spectacular action shots. You’ll still be informed about some great sponsors of the book, but its more like product placement during a TV show, rather than just sitting through a commercial.

Overall, the guidebook is a big winner and I haven’t found any mistakes or typos to make it seem less professional. Dan Brayack did an amazing job with the layout, design and photos and Sean Kearney and Zak Roper’s writing keeps the mood light and playful while still delivering the beta you need to know for your road trip to Rocktown.  The photography is amazing as it engulfs and transports the reader to the boulders and gets their psyche up to send!!!  Even if you don't plan on going to Rocktown any time soon, the guidebook is a great book to have around for the eye candy alone!  I really enjoyed the fact that this guidebook is truly packed full of useful, valuable information and there are very few pages wasted on advertising or ramblings that most readers care little about.  I commend everyone involved with this guidebook and give it my highest recommendations!!!

To order this amazing bouldering tome, click over here and it'll be in your mailbox before you know it!!!

Dan Brayack is a well known climbing and bouldering photographer, whose photos have been in all of the major climbing magazines, as well as authoring the Coopers Rock Bouldering Guidebook. His photos are known to be descriptive, telling a story between the protagonist climber and the antagonist route or boulder problem. You’ve probably skipped past other boring shots and paused to stare at one of his photos, while flipping through your favorite climbing rag and you just didn’t know it. Now he has taken his talents to the next level by starting Brayackmedia Publishing and the Rocktown Guidebook is his first and rather beautiful publication!  Dan was very kind to provide me with all of these great images for the review, along with a copy of the guide, without thinking twice!  Thanks again Dan for giving back by donating 10% of the profits of the book to support local climbing!!!   


The duo of authors, Sean Kearney and Zak Roper, both bring a unique perspective to the guidebook. Sean is a hometown, Chattanooga boy who’s been bouldering at Rocktown since 1995. He is very familiar with the boulderfield and problems and his expertise helped to ensure accuracy and consistency of the route locations, names and grades.


Zak Roper, originally from Knoxville, spent the better part of a season at Rocktown, preparing the guidebook and descriptions, and has since moved on to live in West Virginia. Both of these guys, like many of us, enjoy exploring for lesser known/new areas and Sean is living the essence of the enlightened boulderer by discovering, sending and then leaving the unnamed and ungraded problems for the next enlightened one to come along and learn the lessons these mysterious routes teaches them. This trio of boulderers have created a beautiful tome that appeals to those familiar with the boulders of Rocktown, those planning a road trip or just those that love looking at incredibly stunning images of others crushing problems most of us could only dream of.

I was intending to have this review up almost a month ago, but life got in the way of me getting it out until apologies to those that have been waiting patiently for this review! In the meantime, I was able to swing by Rocktown for a quick visit during the heat of the summer...check out the trip report here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Summertime Chattanooga Roadtrip: Rocktown and Little Rock City

Back at the end of July, when the mercury was popping out of the thermometers, an incredible new guidebook arrived in my mailbox...the Rocktown Bouldering Guidebook!  Over the years, I’ve bouldered at practically every southeast boulderfield worth visiting, including a lot of trips to LRC and enough visits to HP40 to know my way around…but I’ve never made it out to Rocktown. So the new guidebook gave me new motivation to get out that direction and give an honest review of the book from the perspective of a newbie to the area. Unfortunately the guidebook came out during the summer and 100 degree heat, but fortunately I have a wonderful wife that was game for a roadtrip!  Here is a recount of the roadtrip and coming very soon is the full review of the new guidebook, so check back often!!!

When we got to the parking lot, we were greeted by a couple of dads and their sons (all non-boulderers) that had just got back from a long hike through the boulderfield and upon returning to their car, realized that they had lost the car keys and were locked out…with no more water, no cell phone reception and no way of getting back home to Atlanta. So, we decided to help these guys out, and my wife shuttled one of them down the mountain, so they could make a call for help, while I packed Lily, my crashpad and gear into the boulders. Not the best situation for bouldering, but I’ve always had a dream of taking Lily on a bouldering trip with just the 2 of us, and this was as good of a time as any!

So we hiked in to the legendary Hueco Simulator area, I unloaded Lily and the gear and got her playing with some toys before I shoed up and set the pads for the first sends. I climbed all of the fun V0’s along the perfectly featured wall and turned around to my daughter eating a fist full of dirt…so we decided to just do a little recon of the area together instead, until my wife caught back up to us. Once I could focus again on the sandstone giants and their perplexing puzzles all around me, we headed to one of the poster routes for the area, The Scoop V2. The Scoop climbs a slabby scoop to a slabby top out with a couple of good holds…needless to say, not a warm weather problem. But this is one route that everyone has always recommended to me, so I had to give it a good effort to say I at least tried. I love slabby boulder problems and thought The Scoop would actually not be that bad, even with diminished friction due to the heat…I mean it is just a V2 slab…I can send that in my sleep…right?....NOPE! I was able to send The Scoop Left V1, an easier version of the V2 classic, The Scoop Right V3, a harder version of the V2 classic, and Imaginary Pathway V2, a slab around the corner from the V2 classic…but I just couldn’t pull off the V2 classic. I was happy to have a reason to come back as soon as the weather cools off though!

I had poured a lot into trying The Scoop, and along with the intense heat, I was getting pretty wiped out at this point, even though I had only seen 2 boulders, but I didn’t want to leave until my fingertips were screaming at me, so on the way out I hit the Lucky 7 boulder at the beginning of the boulderfield. Lucky 7 is a nice beginners or warm up boulder with plenty of V0’s and a couple of harder routes. I was able to squeeze my remaining strength out on the top section of the problem Lucky 7 V2 and sent Squat Low V3 with a lot less effort. Because of its size and complexity, Rocktown is not an easy boulderfield to navigate, but the whole time I was in the boulderfield, the guidebook kept me on track and if I found myself confused, it didn’t take very long to use the book to reorient myself and get to where I wanted to be. The maps and topos are very user friendly and with minimal effort, even the newest bouldering gumby can find their way around the maze of boulders in this amazing boulderfield. Once to the boulders, the photo topos make it super easy to find your route and before you know it, you’re topping it out! There will be a lot more about the Rocktown Guidebook in the next post, coming very soon!

From there we headed to Chatty and our lodging for the night…the Chattanooga Choo Choo. We rolled the dice on the Hotwire hotel deal where you pay a really cheap rate, but you don’t know which hotel you’ll stay in until you pay. The Choo Choo is the reconditioned train station of the famous train, the Chattanooga Choo Choo. With old trains on the premises, some you could even stay in, a great pool and hot tub and clean rooms, the whole family had a blast! And The Terminal next door has some great food and beer and makes for a fun place after sending all day.

The next morning I got up early and headed out the Little Rock City for a few hours, before the heat set in for the day. I wasn’t feeling all that psyched for some reason when I got there…I’ve been to LRC quite a bit and have sent most of the quality routes in my grade range, so there wasn’t any specific route that I was focusing on. So I decided to just hit some routes I hadn’t really focused on too much in the past towards the front of the boulderfield. I sent a few V1’s (maybe Green Label and Black Label…I can’t remember off the top of my head) before heading over to check out Genghis Khan and Manute Bol. Neither looked remotely doable for me right now, but I ended up climbing the easy terrain to the right of these routes and to the left of The Wave. After sending a few V0 slabby problems, I took a crack at Green Machine V4 and flashed the thang!!! I really enjoy slabby bouldering, and after making the first few hard feeling moves to get really established on the slab, the second half of the problem felt like a walk off. I was a little shocked to send a V4, especially a slab problem, while on this summer trip, but it totally sent my psyche through the roof! Then it dawned on me that I had really wanted to work Art of the Vogi V4, but never had…so I headed over to the impressive overhang and bubbly face and started digging in. Vogi let me know quickly that I wasn’t going to flash it and I was going to have to work hard for the send. After about an hour of figuring out the best way for me to get past the lower overhanging moves and sending the top out once, I linked it all together and pulled onto the bubbly face and stood up for the send. To be a problem that you don’t top out, I thought Art of the Vogi was one of the best routes I had ever sent!!! Seriously…I got it up there with Bumboy at HP40, the 5a going up the face of L’Elephant in Fontainebleau, Shady Grove, Slave Driver, and Morning Star at Rumbling Bald, Hooker and Flexorcisor at Lily, Lost Digits and Sourwood ArĂȘte at Boat Rock, Use The Force and New Jedi Mind Trick at the Jedi Boulders and Meat Grinder at the Bearfields. Whoa…did I just list my top 13 problems I’ve climbed over that past 20 years??? If these aren’t the top 13, then these routes are definitely some of my all time favorites...that's for sure!!!
I had plans of heading to the Lily Boulders and to Boat Rock on this same trip, but the weather didn’t cooperate enough for me to make it to Lily, and it was 100 degrees during the time frame I had to hit Boat Rock…so I ended up passing on sessions at both spots and just savoring the taste of the send of Vogi more!  I hope everyone has had a chance to get out and climb lately…if not, get off the internet and go send something fool!!! Just make sure to check back real soon for the Rocktown Guidebook Review!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Real Life and Pisgah Bouldering

I have been swamped with life lately...the wife and 15 month old daughter keep me busy and with less time to boulder and get out than ever before!  Along with the usual stresses of being a Family Guy, and soon after my last post, my mom was diagnosed with uterine the last month plus have been focused on helping her to her doctor appointments and then eventually to her surgery, hospital visit, and recovery.  I'm very excited to say though that after what seemed like a time in hell, she is now doing incredibly better, making a full recovery, and does not need any chemo or radiation therapy!!!  You only get one mom and I was happy to help mine out through her hard times, as she's helped me out through multitudes of hard times throughout my life:)  Mom's oncologist, as well as the hospital for her surgery, Mission Hospital, were in Asheville, so I spent a lot of time in one of my favorite cities and when I got the chance, I stopped off in Pisgah on my way to or from her.  Over the past month or so, I've had a chance to hit the boulders in Pisgah around a dozen times and have thoroughly enjoyed getting back to the roots of some of the spots where I began climbing and bouldering! 

Pisgah has been a special place to me for over 3 decades, and to my family for well over 100 years. Well before I began hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing in Pisgah, my great grandfather emigrated from Italy, to work for George Vanderbilt as one of the first foresters in the forests near Looking Glass. My grandmother was born at the Biltmore House, and when she was 6, they moved to one of the little wooden houses in the Pink Beds, that is now on display at the Cradle Of Forestry. My grandmother lived within sight of Looking Glass, in the truly pristine old growth forests, for much of her life, before moving to a house in downtown Brevard, where she lived the rest of her life. When I was younger, we would visit her and Pisgah often and we enjoyed family reunions in the forest a couple of times a year.

The smells of Pisgah are unique and take me back every time the earthy musk rushes into my nostrils!  I really started to understand how much I appreciated Pisgah when I was in high school...I started hiking, swimming and camping in the forest pretty regularly and soon after started riding my mountain bike across some of the worst goat paths in the forest.  I became strongly connected to the forest in these years, with it feeling like a welcoming family member every time I walked across its doorstep!  Towards the middle of my undergrad college career, I started climbing and bouldering around Looking Glass, and I still consider this area to be one of my home crags.  For me, real bouldering in the forest began around 1996 or so, when I first visited The Nose and North Side of Looking Glass with my first pair of climbing shoes. I bouldered around the base of the cliffs and on nearby boulders, and I especially enjoyed the boulders beneath Glass Menagerie. After a few years of focusing mainly on roped climbing and not really bouldering much, Pisgah and the North Side became one of my favorite summer bouldering areas, and has remained so for the last 10 years or so.

Beside the North Side, there are plenty of other boulders planted along the base of Looking Glass, John Rock and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the backdrop too...including boulders at the Nose/Sunwall, South Face, East Face, Nowhere/Horse Cove and Stony Bald.  Over these 12 or so visits I've been able to put in lately, I stopped off at least once in each of these areas and spent multiple visits at a few of these spots, including 4 sessions at Stony Bald, 4 sessions at the North Side, and a couple of sessions at the Nose/Sunwall.  Each of these areas have some incredible problems and it has been a ton of fun touring through familiar boulderfields and sending some of my favorite routes!!!  It helped me to reconnect with the land, the sounds and smells that recall such incredible memories from throughout my life, and the awesome bouldering that is hidden amongst the hardwoods and evergreens.  Thanks Pisgah for always being there for me with open arms:)

Be on the look out early next week for the review of the new Rocktown Guidebook!  I've had this review almost finished for the last month, but have been too busy with my mom to get everything wrapped up...but this weekend should give me a chance to finalize the review and get it up next Monday or Tuesday!!!