Hospital Boulders: High Quality Sandstone in the Hills of Alabama

Hospital Boulders offers climbers textured sandstone yet to be polished down by hordes of weekend warriors.
Hospital Boulders offers climbers textured sandstone yet to be polished down by hordes of weekend warriors. Adam Johnson
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On November 15, 2012, climbers throughout the Southeast let out a collective, “Yes!” (or should have) as the Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC) added the Hospital Boulders to its docket of protected climbing areas in the region. Tucked away on a neighborhood hillside in northeastern Alabama, the Hospital Boulders are just an hour and a half from Chattanooga and guarantee climbers a full day of thrashing on textured sandstone yet to be polished down by hordes of weekend warriors.

If you’re planning a day trip, first zip over to the SCC’s website and peruse its guidelines for climbing at Hospital. Climbers must sign an electronic waiver agreeing to the Leave No Trace Policy in order to gain access to the gate lock combination that bars entrance to the boulder field. The website also provides a topo of the field, complete with names and grades for many established lines, ready to download. The topo has recently been updated—to the chagrin of many, some problems received a downgrade, while still fewer received a bump—and most names and grades referred to here reference the most recent information from the SCC’s topo.

Smash Alley (V8) is hidden in the Eddie corridor, but not to be overlooked.
Smash Alley (V8) is hidden in the Eddie corridor, but not to be overlooked. Adam Johnson

The drive to the Hospital Boulders from Chattanooga is a breeze—straight down I-59 south with few turns once off the interstate.

The approach is even easier. Once you have navigated the gates (please close them behind you), park at the barn or slightly uphill by the water tower. Act considerately and park as if the area will be packed by the day’s end (though it rarely is). An obvious trail cuts down hill from the barn and in no time you will come upon clusters of beautiful sandstone blocks.

The field is divided into three main areas that lead into one another as you move farther down the hill: the Barn Area, the Eddie Area, and the Lower Area. The root-threaded trail mostly hugs the periphery of the field, but at times you can cut through corridors between the looming sandstone faces for quicker access. The topo is a valuable resource for finding a good warm-up spot for any group—easy to moderate lines are scattered throughout the field. Whatever your goals might be for the day, it’s worthwhile to take a quick tour of the entire field to take a peek at some of the most classic lines. Up front, don’t miss the Arch Problems (V3-V5), Don’t Look Back (V4), and Mosquito Technique (V7 and deceptively tricky at that).

No Parking on the Dance Floor (V5) works out a steep arete—an area classic.
No Parking on the Dance Floor (V5) works out a steep arete—an area classic. Adam Johnson

The Eddie Area is perhaps the most densely packed section of the field. The first two boulders you come to—a suspended triangular prow and an intimidating, slightly overhung face—are host to 12 problems alone, V1 to V8. The namesake of the area, Eddie (V8) climbs the blunt prow in the corridor behind Mystified, arguably the best V5 of the field. Mystified climbs the left side of the tallish boulder (Boulder A; see topo) next to the Eddie Boulder (B).

Within sight of Eddie, about 20 yards downhill, you will find a mostly blank boulder marked with a deep water groove on the top right corner. The water groove marks the topout for one of the area’s test pieces, Mega Man (V11), one for crimping and dyno-ing aficionados alike.

Not far away, the Hustle & Flow boulder (K), an overhanging face marked with a variety of features from comfy crimps and underclings, to fat slopers, is host to three more classics. The namesake Hustle & Flow (V9) moves up the middle section of the face, No Parking on the Dance Floor (V5) climbs the left arete, and Dunbar’s Number (a devil of a V4) moves through slopers and crimps on the right. Core tension seems to be the common thread for all three lines. Finally, Smash Alley (V8) is a line not to be missed, but that is missing from the topo. Find Smash Alley in the corridor behind Eddie; look for an overhanging arete with a protruding undercling to start, make moves up and right to end on a jug in the seam.

Fight the barn door! Mega Man (V11).
Fight the barn door! Mega Man (V11). Adam Johnson

Moving down the hill, the trail splits at the end of the Eddie Area bringing climbers to the lower third of the field. Looking at the topo, splitting right will lead to several boulders with a handful of incredible moderates. Hero (V3), a top notch roof climb, Pittman Arete (V5), a steep arete, Pocket Arete (V4) and Rampart (V4) are all well worth making a stop for. Splitting left leads to a sparser selection of boulders, one of the last of the field being the MC Pee Pants Boulder (L; see topo). The MC Pee Pants boulder is the most noteworthy of the left split; Meatwad (V3) moves up the left side through jugs and edges, and a variation (V4) starts the same but traverses right through smaller edges, topping out the same as Scarecrow (V6).

Scarecrow moves up the right arete, compressing on slopers and edges until a big move out left gains you a jug. MC Pee Pants (V7/8) starts as per Scarecrow but stays low moving up left to a good sloper then busts to a bomber jug. From the jug, keep traversing left through iron-banded edges and topout as per Meatwad. If visiting Hospital on a busy day, pop down to MC Pee Pants first, then work your way back to give others some space.

Good holds at a steep angle makes Hero (V3) a must-do.
Good holds at a steep angle makes Hero (V3) a must-do. Adam Johnson

It seems that new areas like the Hospital Boulders are being continually developed in the Southeast—making the list of possible destinations grow longer by the year. This helps the climbing community in the region to grow in tandem. Chattanooga, a city close to so many high quality climbing areas, is a rare find indeed. So make the trip and see why the SCC fought so hard to protect Hospital Boulders—you won’t be disappointed.

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