Getting Traditional on Sunset Rock

Jake Wheeler
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Just south of downtown Chattanooga lies one of the city's first-established, most iconic climbing crags. Sunset Park, a place that many Scenic City residents are familiar with for its easy day hiking and unrivaled views of Lookout Valley and Moccasin Bend, is also a place that offers stellar rock quality and purely traditional climbing. Considered by many to be the "Crown Jewel" of Chattanooga climbing, the high friction sandstone, fun single-pitch routes, easy approach, and beautiful views all contribute to reinforce this fact.

Sunset Park made its first mark in the history books during the Civil War when the northwest-facing vantage point was used by Confederate generals to look for approaching Union troops in the valley below. In more modern and peaceful times Sunset's history has turned more towards recreational opportunities like climbing and hiking.

Amazing views await at Sunset Park.
Amazing views await at Sunset Park. High Point Climbing School

Route development first started here in the 1960's by Tom Kimbro and Tom Martin and later Steve Roper, along with several other known and unknown climbers. After seeing several first ascensionists throughout the 1970's, development continued into the 1980's and 90's by pioneering climbers like Rob Robinson , Forrest Gardner, and Justin and Travis Eisman. According to Robinson, Sunset's high-star crag status is achieved by its relative ease of access in a civilized setting, consistent superior rock— compact and fine grained—as well as a huge inventory of quality routes and steep "in your face" climbing. ( ChatTrad, A Comprehensive Guide To Chattanooga Trad Climbing .)

Today, the Sunset cliffs encompass close to 300 established and documented traditional routes. While the crag climbs are great in the spring and fall, they're also excellent summertime spots because the rock stays in the shade for most of the day keeping the rock cooler and temperatures more comfortable.

Flagstone (5.11a)
Flagstone (5.11a) bbrock

Sunset Park is divided into two sections, Sunset North and Sunset South. Sunset North tends to be the more popular side as the classics are easy to find here and the cliffs see less sun exposure than the South end. In the summer, the sun hits the rock in the early afternoon but climbing without too much sun exposure is still possible until the early evening. The routes at North are typically less exposed and shorter but still stellar in quality. The North end of Sunset is more exposed and offers beautiful views of the Tennessee Valley below (so don't forget to turn around every once in a while). The cliff-line tends to be more vertical here but certainly does not lack in quality because of it.

With a long-standing ban on fixed gear at Sunset it has become more or less imperative to bring a guide book, a climbing guide, or a local to locate the lines. There are, however, fixed anchors that were added to minimize damage to trees and other vegetation for lowering. For Sunset Rock there are two options for guidebooks; Dixie Craggers Atlas: A Climbers Guide to Tennessee or ChatTrad: A Comprehensive Guide to Chattanooga Trad Climbing. Both can be found at local outdoor retailers.

Big air at Sunset.
Big air at Sunset. Rocky Top Guiding

The approach is a breeze and starts with a 10 minute jaunt down a rocky path to the gorgeous (and popular) Sunset Rock lookout, where you should stop for an obligatory photo or at least to take in the view. Parking is generally easy but traffic can sometimes be slow-going up the the mountain during peak tourist-season. Unfortunately, there is no camping available at Sunset, and you must make your exit before sundown when the park closes. Pets do need to be kept on a leash at all times, should you decide to bring yours. Be sure to follow these rules and regulations so that climbing can be preserved for future generations at one of the most unique and lovable crags in the Southeast.

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