When the Triple Crown Bouldering Series makes its way to Chattanooga on October 17th, it will be for an impressive 13th consecutive year that the Stone Fort bouldering field has hosted a leg of the Southeast's premier climbing competition.
Founded in 2003, with the goal of drawing awareness and funds to the Southeastern Climbers Coalition and to the Carolina Climbers Coalition, as well as providing an opportunity for vendors to promote the sport of bouldering, the Triple Crown has been a mainstay for Southeastern climbers for over a decade now. And Chattanooga’s most well-known bouldering field, Stone Fort, has been along for the ride since the beginning.
This year, Stone Fort will play host to the second leg of the series. The first leg will take place at Hound Ears in Boone, North Carolina, on October 3, and the last at Horse Pens-40 in Steele, Alabama, on November 21. Climbers are not required to compete in all three events, but they'll have a chance to win additional prizes and sponsorships if they do.
But back to Stone Fort for a moment. This world-class boulder field, known to some as Little Rock City, is truly one of the most impressive boulder fields in the country. And the Triple Crown competition is perhaps the very best way to experience it. Not only will competitors have access to the normal maze of house-sized sandstone boulders nestled within a patch of forest near the Montlake club house, but special to this event is access to the boulders on the Montlake Golf Course itself, which are otherwise closed to bouldering every other day of the year. This means 50+ additional problems, to the already impressive 700 documented problems that exist at Stone Fort, are free to be climbed.
Before the event, the routes are marked with their rating to make the participant’s selection of routes simple. Event photographer and sometimes participant Andrew Kornylak says,“The organizers work hard every year to keep it fresh and relevant, to grow it and make each year have a big impact on access in the South, so it's not just an event that kind of runs itself for no good reason anymore. It’s just as important and exciting as it was when it first started.”
The judging process is just as simple—winners are determined by the highest scores. According to event directors, “Each problem has a point value. You can do as many as you want, but your score is determined by adding the total of your 10 highest valued problems. In the event of a tie, the next highest problem will be added, and the person with the highest average will win.”
If you haven’t competed in a bouldering event before, the event management offers the following helpful advice: “Choose a category based on whether or not you could complete two previously unclimbed problems (in a given day) of that grade. That will likely put you into the appropriate category.” If you do place yourself in the wrong category, meaning you underestimate your ability, or overestimate it, the judges will put you in your (right) place.
Kornylak likes the event’s history: “It's been going on long enough that there is some good history and lore associated with it. The old timers, like me, still love it, which is a good sign. Plus it’s cool to go there year after year and see new faces—people who have never been there before—doing routes that I remember climbing before they even had a name. And then seeing impossible routes get done by the new generations. That’s always motivating.”
Even for those not competing in the event, the Stone Fort leg of Triple Crown is a blast for anyone who visits. There are all sorts of pop-up tents with vendors showing off merchandise. There are games and live music and beer. And all around, it's just a great way to spend a fall afternoon, watching world-class climbers send seemingly impossible routes, taking sunny naps on a crash pad, or tossing a frisbee on the golf course. Or just drinking beer and chatting with friends.
Money from the event goes to the Southeastern Climbers Coalition to promote and support bouldering and to maintain access to climbing areas. And when you see Stone Fort, you’ll understand why the event directors work so hard, why the climbers have so much fun, and why you should participate (or spectate) yourself.