Contributed by Justin Fricke of The Weekend Warrior
Finding an outdoor climbing spot in the southeast is tough to do when the warm and humid, summer air starts rolling through the region in April. Lots of places become overgrown with Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, the holds get slimy, insect swarms are inevitable, and it’s so flippin’ hot. What’s a southeast climber with a hankering to climb some real rock to do, aside from head out west?
Go climb at Foster Falls Recreation Area.
Foster Falls is located about 30 minutes to the west of Downtown Chattanooga, TN, giving climbers the choice to pay $17/night to camp on-site or find a cheap place to stay in Chattanooga and make that daily commute to climb. If climbers choose to camp onsite, they’ll be welcomed with clean bathrooms, a water spigot, and spacious campsites with a fire ring at each site. Just park your car at an open site and the land manager will cruise by in her golf cart to pick up your camp fee.
Be aware that weekends, especially holiday weekends, bring big crowds that are sometimes just looking to camp. If all the camp sites at Foster Falls are occupied, climbers can camp offsite at the Nickajack Lake Campground or park their car at the Foster Falls parking lot and hike their gear to the primitive sites just down the trail, after getting an access pass from the land manager.
Even though the days can get warm, the tall trees provide plenty of shade around the campsites and climbing walls. Climbers can expect temperatures to comfortably dip into the 50’s at night, making for perfect tent camping and hammock camping weather.
There are two trails that climbers can take from the Foster Falls campsite. The first one is just off the observation trail and provides easy access to the climbing walls nearest the waterfall. The trail becomes more technical and requires some precise foot placement the further climbers go, until it evens out towards the back climbing walls.
The other trail is gentler and takes climbers around the waterfall and eventually intersects with the trail that’ll take climbers to the primitive campsites. There are two distinct trail markings that’ll take climbers down to the climbing areas. While this trail’s gentler, it also takes twice as long (30 minutes) to get to the climbing areas.
Three my favorite climbs that I try to hit every time I go to Foster Falls are: Gravity Boots 5.7, Jacob’s Ladder 5.8, and Premarital Drilling 5.10.
I like to start my climbing day off with Gravity Boots. It’s a slab route with great holds and great feet the whole way. This route’s right near the trails and it’s a great route for a beginning climber to gain some confidence.From Gravity Boots, I’ll start making my way towards the back of the climbing area and take a lap on Jacob’s Ladder. This is a longer single pitch that finishes out at 80 feet of climbing. A stick clip would be helpful to start this route since the first bolt’s at least 20 feet off the ground. Halfway up the route climbers pass by some climbing history, a big piton wedged into the rock. Whatever you do, look, don’t touch or use that piton.
Whenever I climb at Foster Falls Recreation Area, I like to end my day by climbing Premarital Drilling. This route’s close to the waterfall and has some great holds for a 5.10. The first few moves are by far the crux, since climbers start the route by heel hooking their first move up to a decent hold, followed by a mantle before pulling a jug of a flake the rest of the way to the finish.Shorter climbers will probably need to stack some loose boulders on each other to be able to reach the start holds. Stick clipping the first bold on this route will also put a lot of climbers minds at ease.
Before heading back to camp for dinner, I always find it relaxing to cool off at the bottom of the waterfall. Anyone can jump into the cold mountain water for a quick swim, but the real fun starts behind the waterfall. Swim to the bank to the right of the waterfall and start climbing your way behind the waterfall. It gets loud really fast and the holds disappear. I like to jump for, what I think’s going to be, a huge hold, only to plunge into the water from about 10 feet up.
Foster Falls has climbing for all skill levels from beginning to seasoned climbers. With grades from 5.5 to 5.13+ with the real fun starting with 5.10 graded routes. Any sport climber in the southeast is bound to have some fun climbing at Foster Falls during the summer months.